Social housing in many countries has a typically austere and deprived feel. Whole communities are often stacked high in apartment blocks designed only to provide the minimum in functional value. Innovative approaches to social housing are showing the possibilities of a different way. Is it possible to create an environment that fosters human connection, social wellbeing, and a capacity for love? Today there are stunning examples of precincts in the Netherlands that show a more holistic approach to human needs.

Visiting the World Architecture Festival in Amsterdam while promoting their ‘Young Husband’ rejuvenation project, Dr Erin Castellas and James Fitzgerald have this week spoken about the possibility of building an environment that can prevent longer-term social illnesses. In particular they highlight the possibility of spaces designed to build trust, social capital, and meaningful relationships.

An existing example is Rotterdam’s Markthal space, opened in October 2014. A social housing tower flows continuously into a private housing tower, with a connection to a vibrant market and ground floor retail space below. The building offers an example of how social housing could be integrated into wider communities.

Dr Castellas and Mr Fitzgerald were keen to highlight that delivering social projects at such scale can unlock attractive commercial returns for investors and developers involved. Building sustainable, self-reinforcing communities can help to deliver measurable benefit for local citizens, driving financial returns and simplifying government services. Through effectively designing social housing, we have the opportunity to unlock value for all.