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Housing from heaven – one year later

(Johnny ran a housing conference in July 2007 at RIBA)

Modern British housing hardly checks it customers into heavenly paradise. Genuine creativity in design of homes is limited, but there is a huge skill base in Britain’s design and house building community and with plenty of appetite for change that could meet some of our appetite for a home of our dreams. I ran a conference on this title last June.

The car purchaser buys into a sophisticated pre-researched product but the house buyer buys into high priced land, a thin veneer of design. The result is an experience short on well-being and the idea of home that people hold in the hearts. Most would agree that Britain’s house building industry needs re-inventing. Other countries such as Sweden, Denmark and Holland have exciting, well designed and reasonably priced modern housing. Why can’t we do it here?

What will we leave behind for our children? We could choose to live in sustainable, stylish, humane environments that are affordable, not built next to motorways. We have to work at it though creativity, research and better integration between the different constituencies of the housing industry.

I asked leading experts from the house building fraternity to talk to the conference about their vision and frustrations as well as their solutions – and to debate some of the major issues we face so that we can relearn the art of creating homes. Check out the websites of Ben Derbyshire at HTA architects, Wayne Hemingway at Hemingwaydesign for his project in Staiths near Newcastle and at Dartford. Bob Tomlinson at Living His company have been awarded the National Housebuilders Award for the best new home design. Also look at Urban Splash for their inventive and eye catching projects in Manchester.

For a thoughtful analysis of the housing industry look at the work of Yolande Barnes at Savill’s; for a humane analysis of what it is like growing up on a housing estate get a copy of Lynsey Hanley’s book Estates.

One year later we have a collapse in the financing for private house buying. What seems to me id s that those companies who build desirable environments will win out on the few sales opportunities as buyers get more power. But whether the big housebuilders – who spend an average of £150 on design per dwelling take any notice is another matter. The new sustainability focus might mean that they provide a few more trees and better bicycle paths but they still need to address the wider issues of poor internal design, lack of community focus, poor placing of housing either near noisy main roads or in hard to reach locations without public transport access and design style that has all the appeal of Harry Potters Dearsley’s ersatz tudor fusion estate.


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