Life in Kit Form. Mass Customization in Playful Housing Experiments (Belgium, 1968–1983)

by

Élodie Degavre

&

Gérald Ledent

Keywords

  • experimental housing
  • industrialized housing
  • mass personalization
  • inhabitant’s expertise

From the Modern Movement until today, industrialized housing incarnated for many architects, a solution for the future (Davies, 2005). The postmodern turn is a particular episode of this quest, seeking to merge two opposing concepts: the mass housing and the individual experience of the habitat. It offers a hybrid ideal: mass customization, a contradictory term leading to a “kit architecture,” based on a series of components that are assembled according to the user’s choice. Architecture becomes a system, and therefore, it shifts the traditional limits of expertise between inhabitants and designers. By intertwining new construction systems with participatory considerations, architectural experiences based on mass customization were meant to open the way for a socially sustainable architecture. Did they succeed in producing a qualitative bond between inhabitants and habitats? Focusing on little known Belgian cases (1968-1983) offers new insights in system-based architecture and an opportunity to reveal its relevance to current issues related to housing. To address these issues, the research investigates inhabited places, protagonists’ opinions, and archives through cinematographic means. This “research by filming” is implemented as a method for data gathering, arguments ordering and discussion. The output is twofold. Both writings and a documentary expose the results of a long-term observation. The research seeks to understand the implemented forms, to document the reception of their users, and to evaluate the efficiency of the participatory tools. It also aims to share the results and interrogations with a wider audience, in order to reach specialists as well as potential users, and discern the levers of appropriation for architectural forms to come.