Social housing provision is not merely a case of providing sufficient numbers of dwellings; it involves the understanding of the complex and symbolic interactions of tenants living in social housing throughout their life cycle. The design function has a vital role to play in creating affordances that allow the tenant an element of control and ability to construct their personal version of an environment that reflects their personality. Matching tenants’ needs to the structure is therefore particularly important and requires a multidisciplinary approach. The primary research question that evolves from this notion is: “Does current social housing design in Scotland meet the needs of tenants?”

Environmental Psychology is deeply entwined in trying to understand the mechanics of everyday life, from using the spaces we inhabit to interpreting the objects we observe, handle, sit upon and generally use (Brebner, 1982). Examining how tenants judge the built spaces they inhabit and whether their needs are being met can be based on a number of variables, such as: preferences of room size and shape, affordances that radiator, door and window position provide for personalising rooms, aesthetic judgments of design characteristics, colour and materials, emotional links, identity and place attachment and feelings of control (Vestbro, Hurol, & Wilkinson, 2005).

The Parker Morris Report (1961), ‘Homes for Today and Tomorrow’, suggests the way to design rooms within dwellings is dependent on the architect having some form of knowledge relating to patterns of room use, furniture and activity needs. Darke (1984 a, b, & c) however, found architects expressed difficulty in designing for people living in social housing and suggested the main reference point they had to inform their designs was from their own educational influences, and preferences as the primary guide. This tends to overlook the socioeconomic and cultural influences of tenants who generally have polarised life experiences and influences from professionals.

There has been little research exploring how Housing Associations (HA), as the main provider of social housing in Scotland, determine the design needs of end users. In the current economic climate HA’s increasingly collaborate in an attempt to reduce costs through design initiatives. There is however a danger that social housing becomes homogenised, providing smaller accommodation with little or no opportunity for tenant personalisation that engenders feelings of attachment.

This study uses a phenomenological approach to triangulate grounded data via focus groups and individual interviews to compare tenants, architects, and housing association professional’s perceptions on social housing designs. Preliminary results suggested that architects in general expressed a keenness to interact with tenants but did not show any clear practical application of it. In contrast tenants viewed any interaction they had with architects as superfluous as architects tended, in their view to “do what they wanted anyway”. Housing associations seemed not to engage tenants in design issues and had rigid views on how much design involvement architects should have. This paper discuss common areas and gaps that exist between each of these key stakeholders and the implications for social housing provision, design and use.