community design
As Ghent suffers a lack of affordable housing and rising housing prices, the Ghent Knapt Op project aims to renovate houses for vulnerable families and transform them into healthier, safer and more energy efficient homes. The project ensures that households with limited financial possibilities can live in a quality and decent house, confirming that the right to adequate housing conditions is a human right.

This article comes at a challenging time during a global pandemic, and Ghent has experienced two major lockdowns since March. Although working from home, social restrictions, and the closing of commerce and businesses have created a challenging framework for Ghent Knapt Op, it has managed to successfully deliver its first housing renovations. Even during this turbulent and difficult time, the project has signed up 90 participants and is currently renovating 25 homes.

'In Ghent, we pursue a social climate policy, in which we strive for structural solutions with a long-term impact. We want to make households more resilient against rising energy prices by supporting structural energy-saving measures. Through this project, we can prepare the homes of 100 vulnerable families for the future.'  - Tine Heyse, Deputy Mayor of the Environment, Climate, Housing and North-South

Ghent Knapt Op addresses the issue of poor-quality housing through an integrated innovative approach. Through its collaborative co-design process, it enables active citizenship, inclusion and longer-term sustainability. It also stimulates neighborhood cohesion and is a strong instrument in the fight against poverty. Ghent Knapt Op changes the lives of its participants by awarding 30,000 Euros per household for renovation costs. Unlike traditional grants, no pre-financing is expected from the resident, making it possible for families with limited financial resources to structurally improve their living situation. The homeowner receives a renovation grant and reimburse the City when they sell or they change residency.  A rolling fund of 3 million Euros is being created in Ghent to provide financial support to future households. 


Co-design and collaborate process is challenging by itself but invaluable. During the first renovations, keeping the balance between the owners and the renovation works that have to be carried out to make the house safer and more energy efficient, was challenging. Despite challenges in 2020, Ghent Knapt Op has continued to work with project participants and partners to improve houses in the city of Ghent.

This innovative project has not compromised on keeping the needs of the participants at the forefront through collaborative co-design, and the resulting home improvements have been well-received.

“A retired couple is very happy with their renovated home. In two months’ time, the house was transformed into a quasi-new home, completely in accordance with the guidelines of the Flemish Housing Code and energy efficient.” Umut Fisek, construction supervisor at Domus Mundi

Ghent Knapt Op will continue to work with participants to co-design housing renovations in 2021.


90 participants 

90 homes to be renovated

5 homes are ready


‘Co-design is a well-established approach to creative practice, particularly within the public sector. It has its roots in the participatory design techniques developed in Scandinavia in the 1970s. Co-design is often used as an umbrella term for participatory, co-creation and open design processes.’  - John Chisholm, Senior Research Associate, Design Management, Lancaster University

One of the most important parts in the Ghent Knapt Op process is the valuable effect on the participants through collaborative co-design. Direct involvement of participants in the design and decision-making process makes this project different from other public renovation schemes. The co-design approach enables a wide range of people to make a creative contribution in the solution of their own housing problem. This process is also different from normal architectural practices. Co-design reflects a fundamental change in the traditional designer-client relationship. This participatory design actively involves all stakeholders to help ensure that the result meets the  homeowner’s needs. This approach brings together in an equal collaboration citizens and City, and makes citizens into 'experts' in designing their own housing solutions. Benefits of co-design include:

  • Active citizenship
  • Increased sense of ownership and pride
  • Capacity building
  • Improved knowledge of needs
  • Validating and testing ideas quickly
  • Improved decision-making process
  • Higher degree of satisfaction and support


‘I met with Tom in the beginning of the year, on the 13th of January to be exact. Since Tom is easy-going and he knew exactly what was wrong with the house, it was quite easy to get an agreement on the renovation contract. Tom lives in the small house together with his two little daughters. Due to physical issues, Tom isn’t able to finish the house by himself, although that was the original plan. Therefore, he’s very grateful for the help he gets. He’s also the neighbour of another client of mine; they’re very kind to each other and swap tips or talk about the project from time to time.’ Ben Bleys, Architect, Domus Mundi

Ghent Knapt Op, with Dave and Domus Mundi, will renew the bathroom, upgrade the electricity system of the house, provide insulation to the facade and upgrade finishes on the flooring.


‘I met with Annika for setting out the Renovation Plan in October. I sat with her and explained the process and the importance of making the house safe. She needed a lot of 'renovation support' as having contractors around her house gives her a lot of stress. So, I planned to visit the house alongside contractors as much as possible. Until now, the contact with Annika is very warm. It is important to be very clear toward Annika about the impact of the works, but at the same time to support her through the whole process. Annika realises the uniqueness of her participation in this project. She has suffered a difficult time and is now herself doing volunteer work. The support she gets at this moment already means a lot to her. The result will be big for her life, let’s hope we can realize all planned works as much as possible.’ Tim Vanhooren, Architect, Domus Mundi

Ghent Knapt Op, with Annika and Domus Mundi, will renew the kitchen and the bathroom and upgrade the electricity system of the house. The boiler and heating system and the windows will be replaced as Annika has suffered from the cold in 2020.


Domus Mundi is a non profit organisation with socially committed engineers and architects. They give technical support to improve the living quality of vulnerable families. Domus Mundi focuses on supporting quality and sustainable living, housing and construction and renovation possibilities for vulnerable groups. For Ghent Knapt Op, Domus Mundi was in charge of talking to the participants, drafting a housing plan together and supporting the residents to renovate their house. Together with a team of social workers, Domus Mundi has created a supportive environment for the collaborative design process to take place.


Domus Mundi has more than 10 years of experience in providing construction advice and guidance to vulnerable groups, and now has 14 employees and 3 sister companies: one wants to increase affordable rental offerings (Het Pandschap), another focuses on group renovation (Renoseec) and the third is an affordable contractor who works with vulnerable groups (Rewind).

About this resource

Martha Giannakopoulou
Ghent, Belgium Small sized cities (50k > 250k)
About UIA
Urban Innovative Actions

The Urban Innovative Actions (UIA) is a European Union initiative that provided funding to urban areas across Europe to test new and unproven solutions to urban challenges. The initiative had a total ERDF budget of €372 million for 2014-2020.

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