Beth Lord’s reflections on “Equalities of Wellbeing and Housing” workshop

Our first project event yesterday was a great success, with 6 speakers, 2 respondents, and some very high quality discussion. Much of the material was new to me, making it all the more interesting to think about ways of linking current housing design debates with Spinoza.

For example, it became clear through the presentations that the concept of wellbeing must be understood to be dynamic: it changes with people’s circumstances. This was particularly thematic in Sarah Wigglesworth’s presentation of the DWELL project, which is focused on designing housing for older people. But it also emerged in Andrea Phillips’s paper on how we might develop art – and public art – in housing developments for differing (and maybe unforeseen) kinds of wellbeing rather than in the interests of privatization. Phil Hamilton’s discussion of the projects of Peter Barber Architects, and Brian Quinn’s presentation on CABE’s Building for Life report, also drew this out: different kinds of wellbeing may be served by different, context-specific, approaches to the design of housing and public space. A surprise question that arose was whether access to a car improves wellbeing or not – which reminded me of Anthony Paul Smith’s paper in Spinoza Beyond Philosophy which treats this as a Spinozistic question of “personal capacity vs. environmental responsibility”.

It was also great to hear the development of discussions we’ve previously had with Alex Ely of mae Architects and Deborah Garvie of Shelter; and wonderful to have the interdisciplinary contributions of lawyer Anne Bottomley and historian Andrew Saint.

My own contribution to the day took the form of live-tweeting: a new experience for me, and one that helped me to understand the potentialities of Twitter as a mode of networking and broadcast.