Project Description

This interdisciplinary project explores whether a philosophical angel from the perspective of Design for Values can provide fruitful input for housing systems and whether the housing system angel may provide for a fruitful case study for discussion in applied ethics, and more specifically for Design for Values approaches.

Project background

The values in housing systems

Housing systems connect land, bricks and finance with the need households for a roof over their head. Organizing adequate housing may look like a rather technical issue. In practice however values and political ideologies play a key role in shaping housing systems. Values such as social equality and community influence social rental housing and connect to social (and Christian) democratic ideologies. Home ownership as well is strongly connected to particular values, such as achievement and ultimate security – as demonstrated in “the American dream”. These values are rooted in conservative political ideologies.

The Dutch social housing system

The Dutch social housing model has an international reputation for being successful. Its success can partly be explained by its underlying values, such as social equality, that have been supported by large parts of the electorate. Decades of broad support enabled advanced innovations, in particular in the finance of the sector, which have contributed to its success. However, the Dutch social housing model can no longer count on broad public and political support in the Netherlands. Since the 1990s market efficiency seems to be the dominant value in housing debates and therefore the private rental sector is embraced and promoted by policymakers.

Home ownership in the Netherlands

That home ownership (and the associated value of housing security) can count on serious political support in the Netherlands is clearly demonstrated by the debate on reducing the tax deductibility of mortgage interest payments. For decades supporting this idea was considered political suicide. Politicians even ignored the plea of the association of home owners to reduce the deductibility for reasons of sustainability. Only a financial crisis could change this dynamics: a very modest reduction for existing home owners and a substantial one for future generations.

Changing and conflicting values

The examples of social housing and home ownership in the Netherlands demonstrate that public values and the extent to which they are being endorsed by society can change, often slowly but sometimes relatively fast as a result of certain societal events and crises. The materiality of the built environment can however not always be changed so easily to reflect such value changes.

At the same time apparently strongly rooted values which are intertwined with political ideologies – such as social equity – appear to hinder finding solutions for contemporary problems connected to the built environment. Sustainability as a globally shared key value for example may be in conflict with the locally supported value of housing security.

Transferability of housing solutions

The fact that housing systems and innovations are locally embedded furthermore means that they cannot always easily be transferred elsewhere. The reputation of the Dutch social housing system, for example, has been attracting students from all over the world to Delft University. However if foreign students copy advanced innovations to their home countries without understanding the societal dynamics and public values that underlie them, this could imply a high risk of failure.

These were the participants in the values and housing seminar organized as part of this project:

Participants in the values and housing seminar

About the project

Delft University has a reputation in housing and aims to play a role in the worldwide housing debate. However, current students in Delft which were initially inspired by the Dutch model are now starting to wonder what the lesson is.

This project will shed a new light on that question by combining experts from two fields in which Delft University of Technology excels, namely housing and applied/engineering ethics. The project not only aims to contribute not only contribute to a better understanding of future debates on housing, but also to provide an interesting case study of Design for Values, by which it will contribute to the literature on applied/engineering ethics.

Approach taken

By using the Design for Values approach the project will unravel the role of values in housing systems, which helps to create housing systems that better accommodate current housing needs while taking into account future societal demands and requirements. It will tap into the literature on housing and well-being as valuable individual capabilities, but it will broaden the discussion to a more comprehensive set of values against which backdrop housing practices must be realised. The project will furthermore look at both technical design and the design of the institutional environment in an integrated way

Project activities

  1. Organising two events for about 10 people: 50-50 philosophers and housing experts
  2. Producing a special issue on values and housing systems for the journal Housing, Theory and Society
  3. Exploring opportunities to write a joint research proposal for H2020

Values and Housing (seminar)

Thursday, 14 March - Friday, 15 March
The seminar is meant to enhance the debate on housing and values in a setting of maximal 40 participants. A focus paper is distributed among invited participants with the intention to produce a themed...

Values and Housing (explorative workshop)

Wednesday, 21 March 2018 - Thursday, 22 March 2018
This workshop explores whether a philosophical angel from the perspective of Design for Values can provide fruitful input for housing systems and whether the housing system angel may provide for a fru...


  • Marja Elsinga
    Marja Elsinga
    Professor of Housing Institutions & Governance
  • Behnam Taebi
    Behnam Taebi
    Associate Professor of Ethics of Technology

In collaboration with Mohamad Sedighi (PhD candidate Faculty of Architecture and the Built Environment)