Social housing – between design and social practices: The case of the 670 social housing units in Oran

Bachir Benyamina, Sidi Mohammed el Habib Benkoula

Cite this article
Benyamina, B., Benkoula, S.M.e.H. (2024) ‘Social housing – between design and social practices: The case of the 670 social housing units in Oran’, Architecture Papers of the Faculty of Architecture and Design STU, 29(2), pp. 45-54.



Habitable architecture, intrinsically linked to its user, has an essential social dimension that finds its meaning in a specific context. This context defines space as both a physical and a cultural entity, which raises the fundamental question of the spatial organisation of housing, particularly from the modern era to the present day. This spatial organisation is based on the idea of harmony between the designed space and the values of the society that generates it. The dialectical relationship between the intimacy of private space and the collective aspect of housing in relation to its immediate environment is analysed from a social perspective, taking into account family dynamics and everyday practices.

With this in mind, the interior of the housing and its external environment form a spatial whole that responds to the needs and expectations of the occupants, materialised in the plans and façades. Aesthetic and decorative choices, such as the paintings and photographs adorning the walls, bear witness to the culture and lifestyle of the inhabitants, reflecting the objects and values of contemporary civilisation. However, several factors can create a gap between the space designed and the space lived in, including the layout of rooms, their relationship with the outside world, access to the home, proximity to neighbours, and many others.

Collective housing policy varies between socialist and capitalist regimes, with significant differences from one country to another. Its implementation depends largely on government action. In Algeria, the collective housing strategy has been a means by which the relevant institutions have been able to guarantee the right of homeownership for Algerian families, an achievement stemming from the housing policy put in place by the authorities since the 1980s. However, the mass construction of social housing has put considerable financial pressure on state resources, with difficulties in making a profit. From the 1970s onwards, the demand for housing urgently intensified, prompting the state to resort to the industrialisation of the construction sector. This led to the import of various construction technologies and methods to meet the growing demand.

Despite these efforts, the social housing built in Algerian cities does not always correspond to the needs and expectations of local families. Programs such as the ZHUN formula, designed within the framework of urban planning, often without taking into account the socio-cultural realities of the inhabitants, have been criticised from their inception to the present day. The cramped nature of housing and the high number of people per household remain among the main obstacles to their adaptation to the real needs of Algerian families.

Residents tried to adapt to these housing units by making modifications to gain more space, both inside and out. While these adjustments benefited occupants in terms of interior comfort, they also hurt the overall appearance of the city. Indeed, these redesigns have often deteriorated the urban aesthetic. The compromise between quantity and quality was not fully taken into account, despite the initial objective of rapid construction to relieve pressure on the real estate market. The aim of this article is to explore residents’ practices in order to establish a connection between the housing designed and built on the one hand, and residents’ expectations on the other. Indeed, the question that concerns us is this: how do Algerian households approach redeveloping housing that was initially designed without taking their needs and preferences into account?

This article presents the initial results of a study of social rental housing (LPL) in Oran, Algeria, a city that has benefited from large-scale social housing programs since the 1970s. From 1980 onwards, it was widely recognised that a reallocation of resources was needed to guarantee access to housing for low-income groups. At the December 1979 meeting of the Central Committee of the National Liberation Front, clear resolutions were made concerning housing, as part of the preparation of the new national development plan.

The study involves collecting data on the housing, as well as interviewing residents to compare the initial state of the dwellings with their subsequent evolution. The aim is to evaluate the ability of users to adapt and personalise their housing to improve their quality of life according to their needs and preferences. The study object is the 670 housing estate (LPL) at Hai El Sabah. The analytical method used is the Post Occupancy Evaluation (POE) approach, a multi-method approach to data collection that includes direct observation, plan analysis and questionnaire. The housing units studied were not selected according to any particular method, but rather chosen on the basis of the residents who agreed to answer the questions and share their lifestyle and expectations regarding their housing. By comparing the initial plan drawn up by the designer with the current plan modified by the inhabitant, we were able to deduce the differences between the two plans and understand the ways in which the housing interior is appropriated.

Keywords: social housing, housing designed, occupant expectations, occupants, needs, preferences