The city of Barcelona welcomed housing experts and professionals to the first of two days of the third edition of the Barcelona Housing and Rehabilitation Forum (FHAR). The Palo Alto venue, located in Poblenou in the city of Barcelona, was the ideal setting to welcome the attendees, who filled the main hall where the different presentations and debates took place.
In a day where industrialized housing has focused entirely the attention of the morning session, the evolution of wood construction has been the first topic on the table. An alternative material to others much more common, such as concrete, which significantly reduces construction times and has a faster and more efficient assembly phase.
Among the notable advantages of using wood, the reduction of CO2 emissions was one of the most commented items by the architect founder of Urbanitree and director of IAAC, Daniel Ibáñez; as well as Josep Maria Fabregat (Fabregat & Fabregat Arquitectes); Maria Asís (COMA Arquitectura); and Isabel Pérez (Vivas Arquitectos). A model with strong roots in Europe, which is still in an incipient phase in Spain, despite the fact that Barcelona is developing the tallest building constructed with wood in Spain.
Without leaving industrialized construction, the next topic of debate was another model for which, as the data show, Barcelona has made a firm commitment. Modular housing and APROP, which, like the use of wood, also brings substantial gains in terms of solving urgent housing needs, as well as cost reduction and time control.
A system where Barcelona is a pioneer at Catalan and national level, as highlighted by the speakers present on the stage Marc Obradó (Exe Arquitectura); Yaiza Terreno (Yaiza Terreno Arquitectura); and Lluís Roig (Tribuna Arquitectura). Among the optimistic forecasts, however, a consensus has been reflected in the call for the administrations to speed up the legal processing of projects.
A model to be reflected
Towards midday, attendees were able to enjoy a debate between two internationally renowned figures in the field of housing and architecture, Christophe Hutin and Anna Ramos. The South African architect has shown one of his most outstanding projects, and deserving of the European Union Prize for Contemporary Architecture – Mies van der Rohe Award 2019. The renovation of three large blocks of social buildings in Bordeaux (France) that radically transformed the space and the quality of life of its residents, in addition to significantly lowering economic and environmental costs.
And precisely at his side, the director of the Mies van der Rohe Foundation, Anna Ramos, complemented this story with an overview of the contribution and interconnection of architecture with social housing projects being developed in Barcelona. In this sense, the role currently played by the catalan city in terms of innovation has been emphasized, being a reference in the European field as emerging architecture, and in many cases focused on reducing social emergencies.
The right to housing in the spotlight
The afternoon session of the first day of the event focused on renting, its regulation, and the measures that can be taken to avoid speculation. Andrei Quintiá, a postdoctoral researcher at the Faculty of Law of the University of Groningen, was in charge of dealing with an issue as complex as it is currently and of an urgent solution, sharing with the attendees an approximation of the state of rentals throughout Europe, and the main differences between countries and, especially, between regulatory frameworks.
As Quintiá has stated, the measures to regulate rents cannot be the only ones to be implemented by the administrations, but they are fundamental to changing the current trend. And, in any case, they are complex measures that are difficult to compare between countries.
An eminently theoretical presentation that has complemented the subsequent presentation, the last of the first day, where three speakers have put into practice a problem that affects thousands of people in many European cities. The Councilor for Housing and Rehabilitation of the Barcelona City Council, Lucía Martín, was accompanied by the national secretary of Living Rent (Scottish Tenants’ Union), Megan Bishop, as well as the member of the Berlin Parliament for Die Linke, Katalin Gennburg.
Despite the differences between the three countries represented, the presentation highlighted the problems affecting the current system in large cities, where housing is not perceived as a right, but as a commodity to be traded and speculated on. A difficult situation, however, that each country is striving to reverse and improve, through policies that halt the rise in rental prices, prevent evictions, and prevent the enrichment of a few to the detriment of the majority.