Housing, more specifically the right to adequate housing, was recognized under the right to an adequate standard of living, in both the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Yet, the problem of providing sufficient affordable housing for all is one that has still not been addressed to its fullest extent, despite it being an important component of the UN’s 2030 Agenda. In this light, the Norman Foster Foundation, in association with the Holcim Foundation for Sustainable Construction, organized the first edition of their “Public Debates on Cities: Affordable Housing”, bringing together an esteemed panel of speakers to discuss global scenarios surrounding housing for all in the cities of the future.
Each of the experts was given a five-minute slot to elucidate their own perspective on the problem at hand, alongside avenues towards solutions discovered through their individual practices. While Peter van Assche stressed on the need for community and process-oriented solutions, Tatiana Bilbao dove into how “architecture can create platforms for people to experience and develop their own existence, accommodating life as a process.”
Jonathan Ledgard’s presentation outlined the gravity of the housing situation that cities of the future will face, particularly with respect to the speed at which the problem is hurtling in our direction, faster than most can even begin to comprehend. Finally, Maria Vassilakou presented her own experiences working as a public official, citing a three- fold strategy – “Affordability, Livability, and Community” - for building better cities with high urban quality of life. A panel discussion moderated by Stuart Smith followed, where the panels’ cultural and professional diversity was put on full show, each commenting on different facets of the problem as seen in their individual geographical contexts.
During the second segment, a more intimate discourse between the two Pritzker Prize Laureates, Norman Foster and Alejandro Aravena took center stage, with both architects presenting their own outlooks on participatory design, the need for simplification, sustainable construction, and means to politically define ownership in the domain of affordable housing. The development of the built environment and the responsibility of everyday citizens in directing this evolution was also a central theme during the discussion; As Norman Foster himself concluded: “And in the end, everything is about design. Combating climate change is about design.”