In 2019 we had the methodological approach and organisation of our inventory of newly built railway housing in Spain during the second half of the 20th century (Cuéllar and Martínez-Corral, 2021). The results of that proposal have been totally satisfactory and have been the methodological framework on which several publications and participations in congresses have been made (Cuéllar and Martínez-Corral, 2018a; 2018b; 2019a; 2019b; 2020; Martínez-Corral and Cuéllar, 2020; 2021), and the edition of this academic blog to contribute to debate and disseminate all the information we are handling.
From the outset, we have conceived this inventory more as a methodological project than as a simple ordered list of data, although this is also very important. In other words, we have been interested in establishing a methodological support that gives greater rigour to data collection, as well as the use of as much data as possible in order to obtain a wide range of information on what has been studied. The statistical vocation and the dissemination of the data are the other characteristics that we have tried to imprint on the inventory from the outset. It is a “microbigdata” of social railway housing.
However, the evolution of the structure of the database and the development of the research has shown us some new questions and issues that have led us to propose a second part of this inventory, in which, with the same methodological rigour, we want to address the collection of qualitative data and transfer them as far as possible to a new table. The quantitative vocation of the data collected in phase 1, although qualitative data were not entirely absent, left us with the dissatisfaction of not being able to study these dwellings beyond the simple object or container and to investigate their phenomenology: what are they? , what do they represent?, what do they transmit?
In this way, we believe that, in the study of housing, the first and essential object of architecture, it is essential to transcend the study of the isolated and quantifiable physical object to the study of its essential role, that of being frameworks for human experience. In this sense, perhaps the most demanding and responsible task that an architect can be entrusted with, for example, is the construction of social housing, given that he or she must be able to create a dignified space to live in for the majority of citizens, from the most humble group to an intermediate rank. Or so it has been, at least, until very recent times, when social housing constituted the bulk of the real estate offer in this country (Capel, 1990; Tafunell, 2005). It is a question of being able to create an envelope that, although economically and constructively simple and in often dreary surroundings, provides shelter (Bachelard 2000). This requires assessing the place, the surroundings, the scale, the proportions, the size and layout of the windows, the existence or not of private open spaces, the materials, etc. In this sense, we must remember that the interpretation of the city has been done on a larger scale, with the aim of proposing different theories of its contemporary development (García-Vázquez, 2016) in which housing is not always explicitly present, so we lack visions that bring its focus closer to the dwellings, which are what make up neighbourhoods and cities, although they don’t usually represent them in the imaginary that we have of cities. And yet, our identities are constructed around them (Sennett, 2019).
From this point of view, we understood that our analysis of housing for railway workers also required this approach, given that, ultimately, dealing with heritage must also include life experience. The identity of the group, the volume of construction, the long construction cycle and the geographic breadth we believe reinforce the choice of this sector to tackle our work, supported by our knowledge of the railway sector and the location of relevant sources. In this we follow the useful advice of (Cardoso and Pérez Brignoli, 1977), who advocated that social science research should meet the requirements of availability, originality, relevance and interest (DORI), and that there should be methodological soundness and a good treatment of the data (see especially pp. 398-400, and the sequel to (Cardoso, 1981).
From the initial data table, which we have called “phase 1”, which constitutes the quantitative inventory presented as the initial inventory, we have generated a new table, called “phase 2”, which, having the identifier of each of the developments as a common field, develops those questions of a qualitative and evaluative nature that provide measurable results to the abstraction previously proposed in the summary. Thus, just as in the case of the fields of the first phase we established groupings based on identifying, architectural, urban or economic parameters, we now work with parameters grouped into “places of habitation”, which encompass data on three levels (dwelling, building and surroundings), and “places of relationship”, which in turn work on three other levels (railway, neighbourhood and city), and “places of interpretation”, where we establish different levels of conservation and valuation, which will help us to parameterise the data of the housing developments studied, as a way of helping to propose a heritage valuation of these buildings.
Figure 1. Grouping of parameters for data recording in COVIFER Phases 1 and 2
Note: the number in brackets indicates the number of parameters used in each type. For more details on phase 1, see (Cuellar and Martinez-Corral, 2021).
The integrity and objectivity of the data is more complex in this second phase, given the presence of qualitative valuations, which are difficult to measure, so also, as we did in the first phase, we establish validation lists for each field (an essential element of our methodological structure) that help to apply less biased data. Another part of the data obtained is calculated through operations on the previously collected data, such as, for example, calculating the percentage of the area for residential use built on the SCT (total built area) or the occupied area on the original plot. Other data are obtained from indirect information, such as the case of the average neighbourhood income of the surrounding area, obtained from recent INE publications, which helps to interpret the economic range where the dwellings are currently located and its relationship, for example, with the initial costs or material execution budgets (PEM), which gives us a particular type of socio-economic traceability of these dwellings.
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