Place and belonging: what can we learn from Claremont Court Housing Scheme?

Lead Research Organisation: Northumbria University
Department Name: Fac of Engineering and Environment


This project engages with a key area of public concern: sense of belonging. The proposed research asks how place influences belonging to place and community.
This question, which brings together three researchers from different disciplines (Architecture, Sociology and Social Work) and a collective of residents, is the basis of a unique cross-disciplinary approach that studies both physical and lived space, using as a case study Claremont Court housing scheme (Edinburgh). Claremont Court is a large post-war mixed development housing scheme, which included place-making as one of its founding principles. Over time and with significant societal changes and shifts in housing policy, the composition of the scheme has changed. It is therefore an apposite site for uncovering connections between place and belonging.
The research is built on two assumptions: first, it understands place (lived space) as the physical space together with the spatial atmosphere (those phenomena or lived aspects that give meaning to it). Second, it takes dwelling and belonging as interchangeable. Our assumption is that the process of place-making leads to belonging.
The proposed research identifies three interlinked strands that frame the underlying research question: space, atmosphere and belonging. These research strands require a five-stage new cross-disciplinary methodology that combines methods and evaluation processes from architectural theory with those of the social sciences. The originality of this research is the use of cross-disciplinary research in a deductive approach to confirm or not an architectural theory of place-making.
A phenomenological approach (i.e., one which studies human experience) has been used already to explore people's experience of place and how architecture can be a vehicle for place making. However, the gap between the conceptual approach of architectural theory and the study of lived space has still to be bridged.

Planned Impact

Who will benefit from this research?
The immediate beneficiaries will be the collective of residents of Claremont Court.
In the medium-term, beneficiaries will include local authorities involved with the management of housing developments (such as City of Edinburgh Council) professionals involved with the design of the built environment (such as architects) and other communities of residents.
How will they benefit from this research?
The finding of the project will benefit the collective of residents of Claremont Court as helping them understand how Claremont Court as place influences them feeling as a community. This understanding can improve the way the housing development is managed as it will inform decisions to be taken by them (ie changes to communal areas).
The findings will also inform local authorities and other communities for better management by understanding the influence of place on the sense of belonging of their residents.
Finally, the influence of place on belonging is valuable information for those architects and other professionals involved in the design of future housing developments.
What will be done to ensure that they will benefit from this research?
The community of residents will be engaged throughout the project, and one of the outputs (a WordPress multi-user blog platform) will offer a live tool for their future community management.
The dedicated project website will be a source of dissemination to all beneficiary groups towards the end of the project and beyond. A dissemination event will be organised in Claremont Court to which study participants, local residents, architects and policymakers will be invited. An end-of-award seminar will be organised to which leading academics, architects and policymakers will be invited. Information about the study will be distributed through social media such as Twitter, and the Morgan Centre and College of Social Work's existing links with local and national media will also be used.


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Description The most significant contribution of the research is the introduction of the concept of 'architectural affordances' into the discussion of post-war Modernist social housing. The 'architectural affordance' is a theoretical concept which allows us to include the physical, spatial and relational dimensions of architecture.

When we consider the 'affordances' that Claremont Court represents, architecture's capability of conveying meaning comes to the fore. Even when these meanings are externally imposed by wider narratives (such is the case of social housing), they strongly influence residents' experiences. Based on this evidence, our research urges the critique of Modernist social housing to consider how domestic paradigms are idealised, but also how they are lived by residents and reconstructed by wider socio-cultural narratives.
Exploitation Route Both the architectural and the social critique of post-war Modernist housing may use the concept of 'architectural affordances' in order to consider how domestic paradigms are 'lived' by residents and 'reconstructed' by wider socio-cultural narratives. Such consideration problematizes deterministic readings of architectural design which link spatial arrangement to social behaviour.

Public bodies that investigate, care and promote the built environment may also take forward our findings. The consideration of 'architectural affordances' brings light to how dominant socio-cultural narratives of the dystopian attached to Modernist social housing may be reversed through listing processes or building on life histories, for example.
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy,Environment,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

Description The findings of the Place and Belonging project were first shared with both non-academic and academic audiences at the End of Award Event hosted at Historic Environment Scotland (John Sinclair House, Edinburgh) on 22nd January 2018. Alongside academics from architecture, sociology, geography and architectural history, the non-academic audience included representatives of the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland (RIAS), DOCOMOMO, Collective Architecture, Claremont Court Residents Association and Historic Environment Scotland. They all took part in group discussions to reflect on the project's findings. The group discussions indicated a route towards cultural and societal impact, indicating the possibility of contributing to a change in attitudes in relation to the dominant discourse on social housing. Feedback from the audience has been captured in the Place and Belonging Film, available at: In 2021, the academic impact of the project's findings is acknowledged by Housing Studies in a review of our research monograph (Felder, 2021). Maxime Felder highlights that the book shows that "community studies, which once seemed to be on the verge of being abandoned in favour of the study of social networks, have regained relevance through the material, visual, and sensory turns".
First Year Of Impact 2018
Sector Communities and Social Services/Policy,Environment,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural,Societal

Description editorial review in Housing Studies
Geographic Reach Multiple continents/international 
Policy Influence Type Citation in systematic reviews
Description At Home with Children: Liveable Space for the COVID-19 challenge
Amount £436,149 (GBP)
Funding ID AH/V014943/1 
Organisation Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 01/2021 
End 07/2022
Description End of Award dissemination event 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact 45 people attended for a presentation of the project findings and small group discussions to reflect on these findings. These discussions generated interest in the complexities of our experience of social housing.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
Description Place and Belonging film 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The Place and Belonging Film disseminated the project's aim (and its outcomes by means of sharing the forthcoming research monograph) and the activities that took place at the End of Award Event.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
Description Project-dedicated website 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The 'Place and Belonging' project-dedicated website shares with the wider audience and general public the project's aims and objectives, its methods and it links to project's outcomes and publications.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017,2018