User-centred Design for Social Housing

A matrix for social housing design built around people's needs and values.

Last updated: 5th February 2021

Date uploaded:

Approved for use

Edit this story

Summary

People who live in social housing are rarely asked about what they want from the homes they live in. With restricted social housing budgets driving architects and housebuilders to design houses that cost the least and make most use of land space, people's health, wellbeing, feelings of pride and safety are not being taken into account. A research team from Teesside University set out to change this. Through consultations in the North East and Birmingham, they developed a matrix that compares the needs of occupants, architects and social housing providers equally and turns the whole-life values of tenants into specific design factors that social housing providers can embed into new buildings. By now asking the right questions and putting values at the heart of design, future social housing can improve people's lives and communities rather than restrict them.

Innovation type: Process
Organisation type: Research centre

Story building blocks:

Story building blocks:

Learn more about this innovation below and use these building blocks to craft your own story to share.

Open allClose all

Project pioneers

Professor Nashwan Dawood is Associate Dean (Research & Innovation) at Teesside University School of Computing, Engineering & Digital Technologies and is leading a research team looking to put social housing occupants at the heart of construction. Professor Dawood is a specialist in project construction management and the digitalisation of construction processes.

The problem

There is a gap between the way social houses are designed and built and what people actually need from the houses they live in. Social housing providers are working to tighter margins, and architects and housebuilders are struggling to design within these budgetary constraints - using the guidelines in place as maximum requirements not minimum standards. Not only is this approach no good for occupants, it's unsustainable. These cheaper builds draw on wasteful and inefficient processes and materials that have higher energy consumption and emissions. The longer term knock on effect has shown buildings that overlook user needs end up being abandoned.

Vision

In its recently published white paper, the Charter for Social Housing Residents, the government restated the importance of the home as a place that 'should provide safety, security and dignity'. The research conducted by the team at Teesside University and the matrix they have developed gives social housing providers, architects and manufacturers the guidance they need to commission, design and build homes in a timely and cost-effective way and that have people's needs, comforts and lifestyles at the heart. This increased emphasis on whole-life value will result in better buildings and improved outcomes for individuals, communities and the environment.

Key Insight

The Teesside University team responded to an increased emphasis on whole-life value following calls to improve the approaches, processes and outcomes in social housing programmes. Areas like the North East and Birmingham have some of the greatest needs in the UK. Through the Transforming Construction Challenge, they saw an opportunity to improve the way tomorrow's social housing is designed, manufactured and built by inviting the people that will live in them into the process. This early engagement with occupants of the homes and social housing providers would provide valuable insight throughout the build - from conceptual development to the choice of materials and manufactured components used.

First step

The funding from the Transforming Construction Network Plus allowed the Teesside University team to run a series of consultations to explore the different value systems held by each of the main stakeholders: architects, social housing providers and occupants. They found that they were rarely aligned. So the team started there. They set out to develop a matrix that could take into account the needs of everyone, but could also be flexible to fit specific project requirements. The team combined deep analysis of existing literature with quantitative and qualitative research amongst critical stakeholders. Their goal? To identify a hierarchy of user experience (UX) needs/values, value creators and design factors that could then be applied to new social housing builds and help:

  • optimise whole life value and safety of homes
  • realign the value systems of the stakeholders involved
  • improve productivity, quality and safety in the build
  • reduce wasteful energy consumption and carbon emissions
  • ensure that future social housing construction uses the Design for Manufacturing and Assembly process
  • understand how users interact with digitally-enabled smart energy systems

Barrier

Social housing providers are working to tighter margins. So when it comes to commissioning new build programmes, architects can feel increasing budget pressures and so use the minimum design guidelines as the maximum allowances. This leads to design drivers being cost and land optimisation, rather than whole-life value. A matrix that values the needs of occupants, architects and social housing providers equally to support better decision making at design stage.

Whole life innovation

The research achieved a number of important firsts for social housing construction. It showed that architects, housing providers and occupants have very different value systems; it incorporated occupants from the very start; and it used psychology to inform the outcome. Interviews and online surveys were designed to explore people's values such as safety, physical health, mental health, pride, sense of community and comfort. Each value can be improved through one or more value creators, and each value creator can be achieved through one or more design factors. For example, someone might value feelings of 'wellbeing', which can be improved through the value creator of 'natural light', which in turn can be solved through the design factor of 'window size'. In the findings, it became clear that priorities for users and tenants of social housing (pride, safety, relatedness, sense of community) differ to a large extent from those of the social housing providers and design teams (wellbeing, safety). The matrix embeds user values into design considerations, so quality of living can be improved. The research team also interviewed occupants about their energy use and needs so that new active energy technologies and smart energy systems could be incorporated into the final design. The resulting matrix helps architects and house-builders select the right technologies that will best support occupant and environmental outcomes. This matrix process is already being adopted by one of the biggest social housing providers in the North East, Thirteen Group. It will act as a starting point for future research projects so the developed matrix can be tested with a bigger sample and ensure user experience (UX) is drawn on, systematically, by social housing providers, architects, off-site manufacturers and the wider supply chain.

Collaborators

To conduct this work, the team received advice and support from key stakeholders in the industry through their steering group:

  • Alison Thornton-Sykes, Principal Architect at JDDK Architects
  • Mark Barlow, Managing Director at Logic Architecture
  • Tom Dollard, Architect at Pollard Thomas Edwards
  • Jane Hobbs, Senior Compliance Business Partner at Thirteen Group
  • Samantha Granger, Senior Projects and Program Manager at Thirteen Group
  • Tom Eshelby, Buildoffsite Residential Hub Chair The team at Teesside University has also established a strategic relationship with one of the main social housing providers in the North East, Thirteen Group, which will take forward the results from this research project and incorporate them in the design of their new housing projects.
  • Buildoffsite
  • JDDK Architects
  • Logic Architecture
  • Pollard Thomas Edwards
  • Teesside University
  • Thirteen Group

Lead support

The Transforming Construction Network Plus funded the research and the consultations needed to develop the matrix.

Long Term Vision

Research is critical to help inform any changes in a process, but the groundbreaking approach this project took was ensuring that the voices of social housing occupants were heard alongside architects and providers.
The resulting matrix gives social housing providers, architects and manufacturers the guidance they need to commission, design and build homes in a timely and cost-effective way and that have people's needs, comforts and lifestyles at the heart. This increased emphasis on whole-life value will result in better buildings that support improved physical and mental health, create a greater sense of local pride and community, and are more sustainable for the environment - creating a blueprint for social housing that is truly social.

Human Stories

People are at the heart of this project. For the first time, social housing tenants have been consulted and their needs have been valued alongside the needs of social housing associations, architects and housebuilders. Professor Nashwan Dawood and his team at Teesside University School of Computing, Engineering & Digital Technologies were motivated to put people at the heart of social housing when they researched the different value systems of the main stakeholders and found that they were rarely aligned. To ensure that they had a balanced view from everyone in the supply chain, the team sought support from individuals, communities and teams that best represented occupants, architects, social housing providers, manufacturers and housebuilders. Bringing together such a strong steering committee representing the many different stakeholders was key to this project's success.
The priorities for users and tenants of social housing (pride, safety, relatedness, sense of community) were shown to differ to a large extent from those of the social housing providers and design teams (wellbeing, safety).

Powerful Processes

The teams research and literature review showed the conflicting value systems of architects, providers and occupants and was a major step towards creating the matrix platform at the heart of this project. As well as being the first time anyone had identified these different value systems, it was also the first time social housing occupants has been consulted from the outset, and that psychology was applied to a decision-making matrix of this kind. By starting with the occupant and harnessing the expertise of the architects with the infrastructure of the social housing provider, the team created a matrix that could help create a blueprint for future social housing.

Fascinating Facts

Of the 26 interviews carried out:

  • 7 were with housing association representatives
  • 9 were with designers/architects
  • 10 were with social housing residents with an even gender split and included those with reduced mobility or who were visually impaired The priorities for users and tenants of social housing (pride, safety, relatedness, sense of community) were shown to differ to a large extent from those of the social-housing providers and design teams (wellbeing, safety). 'Pride' was the most important occupant value above safety, privacy, and wellbeing. This shows that the issue of stigmatisation associated with social housing is still very much present in a resident's mind and needs to be considered in the design and maintenance of social housing.

Benefits

Diversity
Often those people who most need to access social housing are the ones who are disproportionately marginalised. The research approach adopted by the team meant that currently underrepresented voices in construction are not only heard, but their needs and values are embedded into the way homes are designed and built going forward. The interviews during the consultation were designed to ensure good representation across the different stakeholder groups. Of the 26 interviews carried out:

  • 7 were with housing association representatives
  • 9 were with designers/architects
  • 10 were with social housing residents with an even gender split and included those with reduced mobility or who were visually impaired

Health
The matrix addresses residents’ health in two values: Physical Health and Mental Health. For example, Physical Health can be achieved by addressing value creators such as air quality, thermal comfort, natural light or outdoor space. In turn, a value creator like natural light can be achieved through design factors such as orientation, window size, interior layout, or floor to ceiling height. The priorities for users and tenants of social housing (pride, safety, relatedness, sense of community) were shown to differ to a large extent from those of the social-housing providers and design teams (wellbeing, safety). The team is now conducting research with housing provider Thirteen Group to improve their built stock by prioritising the aspects that lead to a higher wellbeing.

Regional Balance
The value-based decision making from this project is key to successful levelling up.

Whole-life Value
Incorporating people's current and future needs and aspirations into the design and construction of social housing will have a significant impact on individual's and families’ relationships with the wider community and their contribution to society in terms of social responsibility. For example, the research showed that 'pride' was the most important occupant value above safety, privacy, and wellbeing. This shows that the issue of stigmatisation associated with social housing is still very much present in a resident's mind and needs to be considered in the design and maintenance of social housing, by providing quality housing that can help tenants integrate with their local communities.