Housing Adaptability

Housing Adaptability

This special issue advances the understanding and implementation of housing adaptability and flexibility across a range of issues: spatial, social, environmental, economic, time and multi-use and multiuser adaptability.

The adaptability of our homes is a social, emotional and cultural issue as much as a technical or construction challenge. The need for housing adaptability and flexibility became apparent during the pandemic, when an increasing range of activities, such as working, studying, home-schooling, exercising etc., occurred in homes that were never designed for this purpose and thus ill-suited. However, the need for adaptability and flexibility is also necessary at other times during a building’s lifespan. Dwellings need to accommodate new working practices promoted by digitisation, or a changing demographic (ageing population, migration, fluctuation of household members).

Guest editors: Sofie Pelsmakers and Elanor Warwick

This special issue explores how to best adapt spaces to accommodate different and changing user needs (on a daily, seasonal, long term basis) and user generations. The papers in this special issue explore:

  • Concepts of adaptability and flexibility in housing and their implications
  • The potential for existing and new housing to become more adaptable over time
  • Drivers and barriers to implementing housing adaptability
  • How residents may overcome unadaptable spaces
  • The benefits and unintended consequences
  • What shapes inhabitants’ needs, perceptions and expectations for adaptable spaces

The papers in this special issue challenge policymakers, planners, clients, developers and designers to make new and existing dwellings more adaptable. This special issue makes clear both the needs and benefits that accrue from providing adaptability in housing. Moreover, it is financially viable to do so. When embarking on retrofitting strategies to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions from the housing stock, it would be wise and cost-effective to include adaption in retrofit programmes. But there is an equal justification for making the housing stock more widely adaptable – especially given the decreasing size of dwellings and changing nature of work and education. A home’s adaptive capacity supports an individual’s and community’s resilience when faced with different life events and their associated disruptions and consequences.

Launch Events – Videos

To promote a wider international dialogue, an international virtual event was hosted by a leading UK building industry think tank, The EDGE, on 27 February 2023 (chaired by John Palmer, UK Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities).


Introduction to Adaptable Housing

Elanor Warwick (Clarion Housing Group)

The Value of Adaptability to Residents

Jyrki Tarpio (Tampere University)

Housing Adaptability: Design Strategies

Astrid Smitham (Apparata Architects)

Balcony Design: Do We Know What Inhabitants Need?

Marta Smektala (Wroclaw University of Science & Technology)


Three key respondents from industry, government and academe briefly consider the whether and how adaptability in housing can be fostered:

Kirk Archibald (Director, Think Three)

Amy Burbidge (Head of the Master Development and Design Team, Homes England)

Philip Graham (University of Cambridge)

Latest Commentaries

Mombasa City, Kenya. Photo: Sebastian Wanzalla

Brian Dean and Elizabeth Wangeci Chege (Sustainable Energy for All) respond to the Buildings & Cities special issue Alternatives to Air Conditioning and explain why thermal comfort is not only a construction industry problem to solve but needs to be placed in the policy agenda on global warming. Thermal adequacy is still not understood as an essential need for human survival and that governments have an essential role.

Image: Dedraw Studio, Getty Images

Tom Hargreaves and Nickhil Sharma (University of East Anglia) comment on contributions of the Buildings & Cities special issue Energy, Emerging Technology and Gender in Homes on the role of gender in technology development and the energy transition. This must be broadened further to social justice issues. A failure to do so risks fuelling resistance and pushback to new and emerging energy technologies. Three key avenues for future research and practices for a just energy transition and emerging technologies are set out.

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