Dwelling as product: Perspectives on housing, users and the expansion of design

Research output: ThesisDoctoral ThesisMonograph


The dissertation investigates dwelling as a product from the perspectives of industrial production, users and design. It addresses the implications of social and technological change and concurrent expansion of design activity to housing. The central proposition is that dwelling despite its singularity and locatedness increasingly resembles other industrial products. This suggests a need for the reconceptualisation of it as an object of design. The study commits to a definition of design as value search and catalyst of social transformations. The study develops a systems approach to dwelling, building understanding of dwelling as a composite adaptive product embedded in the material environment that mediates the intentions of producers, designers, users and other actors within the housing system. Its theoretical framework is based on the examination of dwelling as a hierarchically layered physical artefact, as an intentionally differentiable product in the market, and as an evolutionary realm. The study applies methods of user-centred design research to the field of housing. It is a qualitative case study grounded on empirical data where the focus is on urban housing in Finland. The study comprises two empirical cases that are analysed through the same theoretical framework. The first case explores the commodification of dwelling as evidenced by five housing concepts realised in Finland and the interviews of residential developers. The second case looks at the everyday user experience of dwelling in light of a user study with 44 residents. The first case shows that housing concepts in the market are constructed as bundles of attributes aiming to provide a benefit to the user. The concepts operate within the hierarchy of built form by singling out and proposing to consumers elements anticipated to be valuable to them. There is variation in their material “depth”, their extent of user engagement, and the degree to which they determine the design of a singular housing project. The concepts mediate the requirements of production and users by simultaneously serving standardisation/replication and differentiation/personalization of housing solutions. Commercial concepts typically rely on technological innovation such as mass customisation whereas user-initiated concepts primarily aim at solving social needs. The commodification of housing and introduction of duplicable housing concepts have led to the emergence of concept design as a practice in the housing industry. The design of dwelling thereby has expanded beyond traditional building design. However, the study identifies several bottlenecks in the residential development process that hinder diffusion of new concepts and diversification of the offering. The second case attests that users as well describe their dwelling as a bundle of valuable attributes. Individual persons depending on their preferences, needs and life situation value the attributes of dwelling differently. Users also employ creative strategies of their own for adapting the dwelling product to their valuable ends. Dwellings delivered by the production system in this way continue to change. The study highlights the reciprocal relationship between users and dwellings and the importance of the inclusion of the specific dwelling artefacts to research on residents’ needs. The existing offering of housing and features of their past and present dwellings impact people’s experience of dwelling. Everyday life brings contingency into the relationship which erodes the possibility of complete user-specificity in dwelling. The results indicate that dwelling as a product and object of design extends beyond housing architecture, constituting a heterogeneous composite of designable elements with varying degree of materiality distributed across the levels of built form, including aspects related to technology, services, the community and ownership. The elements serve the strategies of producers and users with individual variation in their meaning and value. Design here can target a specific element or integrate valuable elements across the system. The study contributes to the practical problem area of user-centred diversification of urban housing production by opening up the potential of conceptual and strategic design in housing.
Translated title of the contributionAsunto tuotteena : näkökulmia asuntorakentamiseen, käyttäjiin ja muotoilun laajenemiseen
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor's degree
Awarding Institution
  • Aalto University
  • Koskinen, Ilpo, Supervising Professor
  • Lehtovuori, Panu, Thesis Advisor
Print ISBNs978-952-60-5544-2
Electronic ISBNs978-952-60-5545-9
Publication statusPublished - 2014
MoE publication typeG4 Doctoral dissertation (monograph)


  • dwellings
  • housing
  • conceptual design
  • user-centred design
  • urban housing production


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