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Modernism is not Practical for Social Housing

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One of the main concepts that is repeated throughout the modernist movement is “form follows function” by Louis Sullivan. This goes hand in hand with a concept by Le Corbusier: “a house is a machine for living in”. Modernism gained popularity after WWII, however, this movement would not last due to the fact that it “could not adequately comprehend and cater for the social dynamics of family and community, and as a result, many modernist buildings were pulled down in the seventies”. Although this movement could not stand the test of time, the innovation and inspiration for movements to come makes modernism very important. “Removing home comforts from the domestic interior may well purify within the design, but it does little to encourage the creation of a ‘home’ rather than a house”, which we see in social and public housing. The concept of social housing began in 1937, when “the federal government became officially involved with public housing under the United States Housing ACT”.

Modernist ideals were first applied in this housing system that same year by Maxwell Fry in Kendal House for the first time. Design became all about the building as the focus was no longer on the occupants and more so on the structural aesthetics of the building, and how exposing them would create an impact. Designs such as the skyscraper were made possible due to the introduction of new materials: glass, concrete and steel. These were the materials that inspired the removal/limitation of ornamentation, as they provided a new aesthetic of their own. The term “form follows function” could not find a better paring than social housing, as the buildings form is entirely based on its function, or at least, this is what was believed at the time. This form of housing requires the building to be easily replicated and provide a neutral space where it may be customized to the users liking.

Although modernism provides this, the occupants may not have the ability to customize their home due to socioeconomic factors: social housing, like public housing, is budget based, and for people who may not be financially stable. This MUST be taken into consideration when designing social/public houses. Should the WELL standards be applied to social housing? To fully grasp the idea of making WELL standards a priority in social housing, we must first develop a better understanding of the occupants. “The new housing was mostly developed for the World War II veterans and did not provide much aid to those who were not”. The second Housing act in 1954 “focused on conserving and rehabilitating the slum areas”.

Social houses of the modernism movement, initially intended for veterans and people in poverty, did not provide the comforting, ‘homey’ feel, leaving the house, just a house. Though this may be considered an affective design to some, others may disagree due to the fact that these occupants may have mental health issues that could be worsened with a cold, institutional feel in the design of their homes. WELL Standards are intended help to improve the mental and physical wellbeing of occupants, which would be very impactful in social housing. Not only would this practice provide more than adequate living conditions, but this would also help the occupants to feel pride in their home due to the quality of their environment.

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Modernism is not Practical for Social Housing. (2019, September 13). GradesFixer. Retrieved March 21, 2023, from
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