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Housing inches into the future

Britain's most technologically advanced house was unveiled last week - complete with patterned wallpaper, multi-coloured friezes and Artex ceilings. Rice Homes has opened the first networked showhouse with outlets in each room which can be used for telephone, television, video security, multi-room stereo or a networked computer system. These systems, expensive to retrofit but adding nothing to the initial cost, are by their nature discreet, so one should not expect to be overwhelmed by innovation. Still, it is depressing to be reminded just how mundane the average middle-range showhouse can be.

The house was opened by David Crewe, chief executive of 2000 Homes, which is dedicated to promoting innovation in housing. Evidently it is having to grasp at change in a piecemeal fashion - a new cabling system here, some grey-water recycling there, flexible living spaces on yet another development. This pragmatic approach of welcoming any innovation in houses that are fundamentally conservative may pay off, if only by making new houses seem more desirable than existing ones.

Social housing organisations are investigating pre-fabrication, Cole Thompson's 'intelligent green' demonstration house is under construction at bre, and even the Prince of Wales's Institute has changed its focus to concentrate on housing. The biggest exemplar will be the Millennium Village in Greenwich which, provided people want to live there, should have a greater long-term impact than its more flamboyant millennial neighbour.

Now English Partnerships is focusing more tightly on its next generation of millennium villages, with the intention of producing a blueprint for regeneration that could eventually feed into guidance and legislation. Will this negate the more modest efforts that precede it? Not at all. They are preparing the ground for the major shift in thinking that will be needed.

Bricks and mortar have dominated the last two millennia. Our homes may finally change as much as our lifestyles in the next millennium.

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