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The University of Southampton
Winchester School of Art

Zero Flat: social design for chronically homeless people

Zero Flat is a new type of accommodation for the chronically homeless, developed by Dr Daniel Cid Moragas in collaboration with the homelessness organisation the Arrels Foundation in Barcelona. It has made a significant impact on the lives of people suffering chronic homelessness at its installation in Barcelona, and has emphasised the issue of homelessness in wider professional discussions in architecture, charities, and local government.

Research challenges

Zero flat

A significant number of long-term homeless people living on the streets are resistant to night shelters or other conventional housing resources and so are more likely to sleep rough and less likely to access homelessness support and services. This is because shelters stipulate sobriety, and often lack basic facilities for pets. Night shelters are often regarded as over-regulated, restrictive institutions that lack intimacy and the social dimensions of the street.

Dr Cid worked with the Arrels Foundation, a non-profit homelessness organisation in Barcelona, to apply his social design practice to a rethinking of the material and social space of accommodation for the homeless. Zero Flat is designed to look, feel and operate differently to conventional accommodation for the homeless.

A welcoming space

Zero flat bedroom

Zero Flat mixes key aspects of street living with the emotional and cultural aspects of a home, and smoking, drinking and pets are allowed. Its welcoming entrance space is equipped with bench-like furniture and a washbasin that resembles a fountain. There are also benches in the bedroom and on the terrace. Tenants are given a foldable mattress as they arrive; once unfolded, it becomes a personal and intimate space. The flat’s interior is equipped with a powerful smell-absorbing system that is also a lamp radiating warm light. As Maria, a volunteer put it, ‘the beds themselves reveal that it is continuous with the street […] in a cosy but different space’. Supported by local building companies and artisans, the flat is constructed from resistant materials but retains the warmth of handcrafted finishes. In the daytime it doubles as an educational space for Arrels.

What was the impact?

Zero Flat Welcoming space

Zero Flat has made a significant impact on the lives of people suffering chronic homelessness in Barcelona, with three-quarters of its long-term homeless residents subsequently leaving the streets. Many tenants considered it a transitional place that helped them to reconsider their personal circumstances. Davide, now living in an apartment, said that ‘Zero Flat is the first step to get you off the street; it’s like a passageway […] You get used to it, and it’s like adapting to a new life

Zero Flat Welcoming Space

The project has emphasised the issue of homelessness in wider professional discussions in architecture, charities, and local government. In 2018 the project was awarded the Gold Culture International Prize from the Spanish Industrial Design Association. Arrels have integrated Cid’s social design methods into other new facilities and services, their advocacy strategy with government and the public, and a new Zero Flat on the City of Barcelona’s agenda.

List of all staff members in
Staff MemberPrimary Position
Daniel CidAssociate Professor
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