Sovereignty of Use: Reframing Ownership

Valerio Massaro:

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Posters by the New York City Housing Authority from the 1930’s

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New Deal, USA: The modern apartment and a transition from slum dweller to productive citizen

Housing is political. The design and production of dwellings in large quantities is always a political project. Historically, housing has been shaped by ideas of morals, hygiene, social control and economic interests. Architecture is the physical mediator between governmentality and subjects. Homes are a concrete expression of ideas of household, families and individuals. Services, corridors and walls define more than the boundaries of domesticity. They define aspirations, lifestyles and expectations. Designing housing means also designing a social diagram.

The London housing problem is commonly defined as a problem of affordability and quantity. The way the crisis is problematised, however, shows the very limit of this neoliberal framework of discussion: economic efficiency. But like any crisis, by definition, it cannot be overcome without a radical rethinking of the problem. Is it thus possible to rethink the housing problem from the perspective of the subject? Who is this neoliberal subject and how does he appropriate his living space?  

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Margaret Thatcher after handing over the deeds of the house in 1980.

The UK is a country obsessed with ownership. Neoliberal polices have over the last 40 years reshaped the relationship between people and their home, the way a home is owned and lived in. From the home during the welfare-era as a right to today’s commodification of housing. Housing has become the ultimate urban commodity. This changed the way we understand home, but also how the city is owned. The change in the pattern of ownership was also a change in the concept of sovereignty. Only recently, the housing commodification turned more absolute. Housing became a financial commodity. A good that produces value via credit.

Can an architectural project spatially reframe the meaning of ownership and create new ways of spatial appropriation?

This project develops proposals that deal with questions of ownership, investment and their relationships to a neoliberal living condition. It asks questions about ideas of sharing and owning, and explores existing ownership models: shared ownership, club membership and state ownership. The proposals attempt to develop how different ownership models create new spaces of living and urban images. Housing is not defined anymore by its spatial but by its use value. Rethinking housing today means rethinking ownership. Ownership is a cultural-institutional construct. Therefore, it can be re-institutionalised. Politically reframed.

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Ownership through membership
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Welfare housing for a new multigenerational living
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