The issue of worker housing

Living spaces, near the place of work, are connected with the history of urban planning and the development and distribution of spaces. As these topics were already examined in the conferences in Terrassa and Parla, this Convention will prioritise the topic of worker villages, both recently formed and older, characterised by a single activity.


Chronology, diversity and the different types of worker villages

This chronology first began in the 18th century and lasted throughout the 19th century. At this point some ‘strange’ models came about with philanthropist sponsorship, which did not provide an overall solution for the problem of housing. The late 19th century saw the appearance of the first real estate banks, the concept and initial executions of garden-city, etc.

After the First World War the decision was taken to tackle the social problem of housing directly: expanding the cities and worker neighbourhoods in places affected by war, railway towns, garden cities. The role of the State – in democracies as well as Soviet Russia – and of major private companies was so important in industrialised countries that worker villages and factory cities continued to exist until much later in the 20th century. However, their existence is now questioned due to the fact that modern transport means that workers no longer need to live near the place of work.


Morphology and organisation of work

Studies on this topic show different models, constant factors and variants which require classification, and are essential when deciding on retrofits and restorations. It is also necessary to further examine the appearance and creation of different organisation models for space and accommodation in the 18th century, as well as the major export of European models to colonies or spaces under the influence of industrialised countries in the 19th and especially 20th century.


The organisation of everyday spaces as a reflection of work conditions

The timetables, routine, work pace, salaries, etc. mark and determine not only the spaces for worker accommodation but also the different spaces to be used for activities outside work hours. It is also necessary to study the work of girls and the role of boarding schools, built beside the factories and run by members of the clergy paid by the business owners.

After this Convention it will be possible to highlight the evolution of the forms of worker accommodation, their dissemination with colonial expansion and conquests worldwide throughout the 19th century, how they were diluted within the global housing fabric and the appearance in the 20th century of extreme and unique situations (oil rigs, worker villages for petrol and gas in Siberia, etc.), as well as the consolidation of a fully tertiary society which led to the realisation that worker housing had completely lost its distinctive appearance.


Heritage mediation and proposals

In addition to providing a new vision for historic problems, the study of industrial heritage must also lead to the valorisation of the object studied, establishing and analysing criteria for recording and protecting heritage, either as World Heritage within a country, or equally important, at local levels by making it available to the public with new uses and reuses and a diversified tourist offer, etc.

The heritage aspect of worker housing is relevant worldwide. These constructions are often monumental and at times pharaonic. We cannot forget the social importance of these apparently unexceptional constructions. Compared to the more widely studied cases in Europe there is still much to learn about the typology, inventorying specific aspects and points in common of other universal examples. Just like other manmade work which has already been assessed, worker villages and factory cities are notable examples of what humanity is able to produce.