The fourth edition of the International Social Housing Festival (ISHF) has come to a close after three intense days of debate and analysis at the Palau de Congressos in Barcelona, with over sixty activities led by speakers of great global prestige and with the confirmation that the Catalan capital has become an international reference in the defense and promotion of housing.
“We have shown that, in the face of the enormous challenges ahead of us, there are many people around the world willing to confront them. And we have done so in Barcelona, which is an example and has been the best possible host”, said Ben Madsen, the President of Housing Europe, minutes before closing the fourth edition of Europe’s most important social housing congress.
The third and final day of the festival featured three presentations that once again filled the auditorium. The first one, titled ‘Understanding and regulating the private housing market’, delved into rental control and how it can be improved and expanded to help the thousands of tenants who suffer from abusive practices or are simply unable to access housing due to high market prices.
The debate, moderated by economics professor Jordi Jofre, featured the opinion of the acting councilor for housing and renovation of the Barcelona City Council, Lucía Martín; the lawyer from ICAB, Cristina Vallejo; the head of housing and cities research at IDRA, Jaime Palomera; and the head of the Liaison Office of the International Union of Tenants (IUT) in the European Union, Barbara Steenbergen. The latter has pointed out that “Barcelona is doing things very well, providing solutions to real problems. But, like in many other cities in Europe, we are late”.
Architecture as an essential tool for improvement
Precisely, the Catalan city will be an international protagonist in 2026 as the World Capital of Architecture. The importance and connection that this discipline has with housing have been discussed in the second plenary session titled ‘The transformative power of architecture: Barcelona 2026 UNESCO-UIA World Capital of Architecture’. Moderated by the director of the Mies Van der Rohe Foundation, Anna Ramos, the presentation explored the different aspects of architecture.
“Barcelona has become a laboratory for urban fabric, where housing plays a fundamental role”, highlighted Xavier Matilla, the chief architect of the city council. Alongside him were Ivet Gasol, the co-founder partner of Cierto Estudio; Josep Bohigas, the general manager of Barcelona Regional; Sandra Bestraten, the president of COAC in the Barcelona region; Maria Buhigas, the urban architect at Urban-Facts; and Paul Karakusevic, the founding partner of Karakusevic Carson Architects.
They all agreed on the importance of analyzing cities from within the housing units themselves, and all the elements that come into play in an architectural project, although, as Buhigas warned, “data shows that worldwide, planning in housing construction is not the norm, but rather the exception.”
The experience on the other side of the ocean
To address the final session of the edition, the ISHF has traveled thousands of kilometers to discuss ‘Emerging housing initiatives in the Americas.’ And to do so, the first to take the floor was Adrianne Todman, the deputy secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development of the United States of America, who assured taking note of all the progress Europe is making in terms of housing and explained the projects driven by the U.S. government across the country.
Next, five representatives from Latin America have offered a perspective on the state of housing in their countries, with significant challenges ahead but also with knowledge and enthusiasm to overcome them. They have been Alejandro Echeverri, the co-founder of URBAM from Colombia; Ana Falú, a doctor professor at the Universidad Nacional de Córdoba in Argentina; Elizabeth Añaños, the vice minister of housing and urbanism in Peru; Gervasio Muñoz, the president of the Federación de Inquilinos Nacional in Argentina; and Carlos Araya, the head of the Housing Policy Division at the Ministry of Housing in Chile. All of this is under the moderation of Zaida Muxí, a professor of urbanism at ETSAB-UPC.
It was a globally significant presentation, precisely what the fourth edition of the ISHF has been. To conclude, Barcelona has passed the baton to Dublin, the city that will host the next edition of the congress in 2025.