Housing, Dwelling, Thinking – a UoM and Text Catalogue Workshop

If it were possible to claim any single building typology ubiquitous in the local architecture scene of recent decades, it would be the apartment block. Whether for better or worse, the apartment block has revolutionised the way we dwell, and it is with good reason that the University of Malta second year architecture students were tasked at unpacking this system of living and offering insight into the multiple ways the typology can come under scrutiny through design in their 2019-2020 studio sessions. 

The encounter with the apartment block as a typology necessarily involves elements of ‘sharedness’ or ‘publicness’ entering what we understand as the experience of ‘private residential space’. With this comes the need to understand the underlying politics and negotiations between people over space. These invisible political undercurrents are amplified in social housing projects which broadly present a large variety of potential tenants of diverse social backgrounds, as explored in Text Catalogue’s first conversation series on ‘affordable housing’

The Housing Dwelling Thinking workshop took the opportunity to situate the interrogation of the apartment block in the wider context of “collective” dwelling, opening the conversation towards discussion on multiple mutations of housing typologies for (successful or otherwise)  community living. With the lens on such archetypes, the outlook onto that outlined politics of space is rich for exploration.

The collaborative workshop sought to work through the unwritten rules of negotiation that surface in the observation of dwelling in a multifaceted way, becoming concerned with political, social, economic and material narratives. Fieldwork at Mtarfa’s Binja Qlejgha offered students a case study to document the various layers of one such intriguing social housing site, and further discussions throughout the workshop helped to shape the research and debate, encouraging participants to question what it means “to dwell”. 

In testing the approach to housing design, the workshop sought to think through the experiences of practitioners in the field; architecture studios Local Office, Openworkstudio, Valentino Architects and urban anthropologist Dr Rachael Scicluna presented case studies and engaged in discussions to offer various entry points onto the theme. In doing so the workshop’s discourse took on new trajectories to layer onto the groundwork of exploring social housing sites and examining personal observations on our ways of dwelling. This moved the conversation to encompass varying challenges; from apartment design for private clients, to housing which addresses transgressions and trauma of individuals re-entering a community to policy making which exceeds the stereotypical family unit; all to further our understanding of the meaning and role of dwelling in the current local context.

Special thanks to the Faculty for the Built Environment at the University of Malta and tutors Alex Spiteri and Peter Brincat, student participants Martina Ancilleri, Mirco Azzopardi, Charlene Borg, Sumaya Ben Saad, Rebecca Mifsud, Ryan Saliba Vidal, Kurt Scicluna, Francesca Zammit, and guest speakers Local Office, Openworkstudio, Valentino Architects and Dr Rachael Scicluna.