Mayor of London Boris Johnson announced this summer that as of 2011, all publicly-funded homes built in the British capital will be 10 percent larger than the Parker Morris standards originally laid out in 1961 and adopted in 1967. As post-war minimum sizes for apartments and new houses, they have been increasingly ignored by developers who now offer even smaller spaces than those of pre-war houses. We went from rabbit hutches to shoe boxes in three generations.
No longer. Boris is a hero for highlighting that space is essential to human dignity. Even though we are in a period of financial restraint, he has taken a stand for quality and basic standards, recognising that house walls last for not just a generation, but more like a century or even longer when constructed well.
These Parker Morris standards are not hugely generous, so how can we get the most out of them, now that our lifestyles are less formal and more amenable to open-plan spaces? As kitchens are no longer separate, back rooms but rather the hub of family life, we have been presented with a unique opportunity for spatial liberation.
The Unfitted Kitchen reduces the visual definition of the kitchen, as its esprit-de-cours is that of a living room. It uses free standing, non-generic, non-matching furniture and architectural fittings, in a relaxed, but ergonomic way and fits easily into many room types. This enables even small apartments to be opened up, dwellers to escape the oppressiveness of small rooms, bringing an air of civility to how one lives in them.
Dwellers can enjoy the sociability of family living through having at least one space that is big enough for multiple activities. The sense of ease associated with open plan layouts, mostly found in larger homes, could become available to all. How ironic that its takes a politician to do something that no architect or designer could have done that nonetheless is so integral to the quality of future, urban home design. Now it is up to us designers to ensure that the public get more dignified homes as and when they are built.