Our Project

The challenge set out by the Leipzig Charter may seem vast; nevertheless, it is only through joint efforts that we can truly aspire to better new housing developments – good, green, safe, and affordable – which will eventually give birth to the cities we want for the future of our continent. Hopus Group brings together five universities and one city administration, each working on different aspects of housing: from the urban to the building approach, from building regulations to construction technology, from environmental quality to energy certification: a multi-faceted and interdisciplinary vision, trying to cover a wide range of different problems, joining theory and practice.

In May 2007, the Council of European Ministers for Urban development set out the Leipzig Charter: an ambitious document for the future of our cities, advocating a new way of working on our environment. One year later, European cities face the task of bringing those propositions to life, providing higher-quality housing for more and more citizens, making access to affordable housing as simple as possible. In times of economic drought this might not prove easy: yet the real challenge consists in governing the economic forces which shape our cities, organising them through processes involving both public authorities and private stakeholders from the outset, reducing conflicts along the way.
Good housing is what shapes our cities, creating space and the quality to make them attractive places to live and work in.
Green housing is needed to mitigate environmental impact, reduce energy consumption, create buildings which interact more efficiently with the environment, and produce less pollution.
Safe housing is important to protect the wellbeing – both physiological and psychological – of its inhabitants, helping cities acquire that quality of life which makes them attractive places to live and work in.
Affordable housing is fundamental to guarantee the widest access to high-quality living to citizens of all income, by controlling the housing market, building costs and energy costs.
The aim of the Urbact II Working Group Hopus – Housing Praxis for Urban Sustainability – is exactly this: to study, disseminate and implement the ways through which new housing in Europe can be efficiently oriented, using modern governance tools such as design codes or other forms of “smart” project guidance.
Hopus brings together five universities and two city administrations, each working on different aspects of housing. From the urban to the building approach, from building regulations to construction technology, from environmental quality to energy certification: a multi-faceted and interdisciplinary approach, trying to cover a wide range of different problems, joining theory and practice.
The challenge set out by the Leipzig Charter may seem vast; nevertheless, it is only through joint efforts that we can truly aspire to better new housing developments – good, green, safe, and affordable – which will eventually give birth to the cities we want for the future of our continent.
Project Hopus aims at promoting and implementing the use of design coding and other forms of "smart" project guidance for the development of sustainable housing stock in European cities.
Design codes, widely adopted in practice, are basic manuals setting guidelines and standards ranging from urban design to building construction, and are addressed to both technical operators and local administrations. If correctly used, they can guarantee a high level of integration of sustainability strategies, with particular reference to developments carried out by private investors.
Through the help of the local support groups, the working group aims at experimenting the use of Design codes in all process phases, from the drafting to their final application in real urban situations. 

TOPIC

Challenges

1. Governance
In order to be successfully implemented, urban governance requires a number of basic conditions: firstly, a mutual trust between public and private, between citizens and government. Governance implies true participation of stakeholders at all levels, and consultations are needed to assess the needs of everyone involved. In some contexts, this participatory process is not well seen, since in the face of new ideas of urban democracy the city’s government is still a “top-down” process.
Furthermore, a balanced power relationship between local authorities and private investors is needed: in housing development, governance can be impaired by builders who exercise strong economic pressures on the city, and are therefore in the position to strongly influence the outcomes, imposing solutions which are based on profit maximisation only. In some contexts, public limitation to private undertaking is negatively perceived.
 
2. Design coding and guidelines on housing
Regulations, if drafted and applied in the wrong way, can stifle innovation, force architectural expression and produce monotonous outcomes by reducing possibilities, complicate bureaucratic processes and, in some extreme cases, even lead to illegal building activity. The aims of design coding are exactly the opposite: to speed up and guarantee the outcomes of the process by providing a shared document for both private developers and local authorities, who should use the codes to assess submitted designs.
 
3. Definition of quality standards for urban and architectural design in housing developments
Being based on quantifiable parameters, environmental efficiency can be quite easily measured, in terms of energy consumption, heating and cooling costs, water recovery, LCA, etc. Urban and architectural quality is more elusive, and, to promote it, it must become a shared and transparent factor, no longer pertaining to specialists only, but to the wider public also. End-users should be fully informed of what they are buying, no less than when they buy produce or meat.

Key point of focus

1. Governance
Since design coding is a governance tool, it is likely that its implementation could only be feasible in contexts where urban governance is already an established way. One of the tasks of Hopus will therefore be that of outlining the basic governance conditions which need to be in place in order to attempt the implementation of design coding.

2. Design coding and guidelines on housing
Another task for Hopus will therefore consist in surveying how design coding and similar forms of project guidance have been successfully or unsuccessfully applied throughout Europe. This will take in special consideration the process through which the implementation has taken place, in order to form a critical understanding of the advantages and disadvantages which design codes actually present.

3. Definition of quality standards for urban and architectural design in housing developments
A further task which Hopus could thus set itself is to outline a system of European urban and architectural quality labelling for housing developments. This should take in consideration sustainability standards, but also specific parameters bound to standards of good urban and architectural design, variable depending on local contexts and understanding of quality.

A word from the lead partner

What are the reasons which led to the birth of the Hopus project?
In 2007, the municipality of Rome gave CITERA - Faculty of Architecture "Valle Giulia", the opportunity to study in detail the factors and processes that determine the quality of urban housing. About twenty researchers at developed a code of practice for new public housing developments in Rome. The goal is to provide private construction contractors with a document that imposes the quality standards to be respected and that gives recommendations. It is an innovative project, not only for Italy, but also for Europe, where these types of guidelines have only been limited to isolated initiatives. Through Hopus, it will be possible to investigate the use of design codes and other forms of "smart" project guidance as they have been implemented in Europe.

Which is the European added value in a working group like Hopus?
It is really fascinating to be able to compare the work and research done in different countries. Based on the observation that the idea of quality differs with one’s culture, Hopus focuses on the beginning of the development process, notably on governance and mechanisms to get private businesses adopt design codes. One of the main hesitations developers have is the fear that construction will cost more: in order to provide them with tangible benefits, Hopus is working on a quality labelling systems. The goal is for the buyer to be able to refer to precise criteria that guarantee quality.