Instituto Balear de la Vivienda

Re-making Systems of Housing Production
A multi-disciplinary social housing office within the local government that has redesigned systems of production and procurement to develop high-quality buildings using local materials


High-energy-intensive construction methods not only harm the planet through, amongst other things, excessive carbon emissions, but forces people to live with toxic materials both at the consumption end, and through the exploitative labour practices employed to produce them. These are the interlinked harms—environmental and social—which the Instituto Balear de la Vivienda (IBAVI) operates against. Working across the Balearic Islands with the aim of combining social and environmental sustainability, IBAVI strives for self-sufficiency as a planetary and social necessity. 


IBAVI’s projects begin with the technique of resource mapping, which “allows us to discover all available local resources, whether tangible or not: Prevailing winds in summer for cooling, direction of the sun for heating, rainfall, geotechnics, materials and waste, etc.”1Instituto Balear de la Vivienda (IBAVI), Life Reusing Posidonia, 2nd edn (Palma: IBAVI, 2018) <> [accessed 8 November 2022], p. 41. It sounds like a simple idea, but through rigorous research, and sustained usage, resource mapping demands a significant detachment from established construction practices. It takes a holistic view of materials right down to the practices of individual suppliers: how much energy do they use? What are their labour conditions? 

In the project “Life Reusing Posodonia” on Formentera, resource mapping led to the use of Posidonia oceanica—an abundant local seagrass—as thermal insulation for fourteen new social housing units. Equally, it pointed to laminated timber beams from northern Europe as the most efficient and ecological structural material. The extensive research behind each element of the project dramatically reduced embodied carbon, occupational energy use, and the amount of water used in construction.2European Commission, ‘14 sustainable dwellings using local resources as Posidonia plants, at the Social Housing Development in Formentera’, LIFE Public Database <> [accessed 14 December 2023]. Another project for five apartments in Palma further utilises Mars—a type of sandstone native to the Balearic Islands—as load-bearing material in a traditional townhouse typology. A precise process incorporating waste management, monitoring, and evaluation means the projects have been extensively documented and disseminated: all information is made accessible for others to use. Evaluations also propose new and amended policies and regulations to promote responsible material and energy use, as well as training programmes, public companies, and further research. 

Much like The Preston Model, IBAVI sees the power of institutional spending as an opportunity to re-orient investment towards the local, “instead of investing in a chemical plant located 1,500 km away”.3IBAVI, Life Reusing Posidonia, p. 46. By reviving traditions of self-sufficiency they are also removing some of the reliance of the islands on imported materials—instead turning back to their own ecosystem. Combining traditional craft and contemporary technology, local materials are seen as a short-cut to removing the profit motive, and cutting out globalised industries. An important side effect is the removal of toxic materials like polyurethane, improving quality of life even at the most affordable end of housing, where residents are the most vulnerable. The basic idea behind this is that “buildings pollute”,4IBAVI, Life Reusing Posidonia, p. 146. both in their construction and their use, and the central act of design should be to reduce this harm. 

But IBAVI sees the material innovation as only one part of re-making wider systems of production of housing. One reason IBAVI is so significant is the strategic nature of the institute, and the collaboration between architects, economists, local government, and construction firms.5Economist Cristina Ballester was appointed director of the institute in 2019 after having been Director of Finance and Budget of the Island Council of Mallorca. See ‘El Govern nombrará este lunes a Cristina Ballester nueva directora general de Vivienda y Arquitectura’, Govern Illes Balears, 6 May 2022 <> [accessed 8 November 2022]. It is notable to see building projects being granted funding under climate change adaptation programmes, otherwise largely targeted at nature conservation and infrastructure projects. IBAVI’s process demonstrates how buildings can be a site for re-thinking and re-making systems of production, for the benefit of both people and the planet. 

“We don’t inhabit a house, but an ecosystem.”6Elise Limon, ‘Instituto Balear de la Vivienda’, The Architectural Review, 1496, November 2022, pp. 80-84.


External links

arquitectivesan architecture studio in Palma whose work is based entirely around engaging young people in architecture and urban culture