Creating a shelter is so intrinsic to our very nature, yet new housing schemes across the country are more often than not ill-suited to our everyday needs. Housing developers often reuse decades-old house plans, which in turn were based on Victorian living standards; tiny kitchens, separate dining rooms, tight staircases and corridors. Individual houses and flats in cookie-cutter estates cannot by their very design take into account how sunlight falls into each home, or views out.
Although I totally understand that housebuilders have to make a profit; it seems that a lot of developers are only truly interested in the bottom line and architectural input and progressive home design are the first things to fall by the wayside. The creative vision and the desire of architects to design successful homes is often considered in direct contradiction to the developer maximising their profit.
I think it is utterly reprehensible that the majority of housing developments are valued purely in monetary terms and not based on the quality of the homeowner or renter’s life within. The fundamental human need for shelter is reduced to a few lines on a spreadsheet, the most important of which being the bottom one. There have been some positive steps over the last 100 years, such as the garden city plan developed at the turn of the 20th century, but there have also been many mistakes.
The vertical city was an idea by the Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier, where he combined homes into a tower as well as a fully functioning town with shops, salons, nurseries, play spaces and even a fantastic swimming pool on the roof for the local population. Yet when this model was adopted to create high-density housing in our cities in the 1960s and ’70s, in order to cut costs the communal elements were removed, including the shopping and the hairdressers, the entertainment and, of course, the rooftop swimming pool. Instead of an urban utopia, we all know the reality of cheaply built residential tower blocks where lowering costs is the driving factor.
Things have been changing, we are learning from our mistakes. Successful housing schemes designed from the occupants’ point of view are growing
Even with the best planning intentions, new town failures were not only due to economic reasons. Cumbernauld in Scotland was designed as a pedestrian paradise, removing the danger of road traffic accidents by physically separating the cars from the residents. In theory, a great idea, but in practice the poorly lit walkways and pedestrian tunnels became pretty inhospitable in themselves, with pedestrians preferring to take their chances on the pavement-free roads.
But things have been changing, we are learning from our mistakes. Successful housing schemes designed from the occupants’ point of view have been growing in this country. Intelligently designed housing with both the individual and community at their heart are now regularly winning RIBA awards, and the incredible Norwich Council estate Goldsmith Street scooped the Stirling Prize in 2019.