The starting point for this edited work on models of social housing is the ambitious aspiration which had inspired the Bauhaus of creating models for affordable housing for industrial workers during the Weimar Republic, where social justice and aesthetics were considered. The product of an initiative at the Münster School of Architecture in collaboration with the Harbin Institute of Technology this compact volume combines a number of essays on housing, with a compilation of architectural interpretations of affordable housing from many countries including Germany, China, Japan, Mexico, USA and India. This book’s USP is its carefully set out methodology presenting the information on each project: Affordability, Area and Use Structure, and Cost Values, in a series of diagrams and checklists so that the main evaluation data can be easily digested. However we are warned not to take this as a comparative evaluation, due to the disparity in cultural norms between such widely different countries. If, like me, you think this rather defeats the point of an evaluation methodology then you will have to content yourself with the illustrations.
The figure-grounds, plans, sections and photographs are very clear, although no drawing scales are shown. I particularly like the new interpretation of a six-storey Chinese Hakka circular village and the project to create a helical one – three times the size. There are comparative densities and habitable spaces per person as well as comparative cost data and a baffling table showing Amplitudes of Qualitative Evaluation with black arrows facing one way and white arrows the other. I would have liked a larger format publication, bound with a ring binder so that I could keep a page open long enough to read the minute text and examine the drawings but perhaps its pocket size has advantages for the housing architect on the go. Urban designers looking for that elusive pattern book of clearly codified housing typologies will have to keep up the search, because this is an academic work rather than a handbook. Although replete with digestible information and novel housing projects, the small context diagrams and the lack of common scales make this less useful than it could have been.