What is wrong with UK housing?
Four leading architects discuss what needs to change in the way we build homes in Britain in order to relieve the current crisis and provide functional, well-designed, affordable housing for the 21st century
Tony Fretton, principal, Tony Fretton Architects
‘The architectural community has always been central to the development of forms and ideas in housing. Post-war public housing depended on the work of CIAM and its local development by architects such as Neave Brown, Neylan &Ungless and others. When that program was negated, architects such as Levitt Bernstein, CGHP and others developed different approaches for housing associations.
At each change of government policy all expertise is thrown away
‘In recent times practices such as Maccreanor Lavington, Alison Brooks and Mae have provided the intelligence for developer housing. At each change of government policy all expertise is thrown away. The experience of my practice in Belgium and The Netherlands is that developers’ housing is promoted by public bodies and situated in coherent plans, while in the UK there is an unwarranted belief in the market. Political actors in London will disagree and point to the Olympics and its proposed legacy. But I am afraid this is a rhetoricised version of the same lack of intelligent planning.’
Peter Barber, owner, Peter Barber Architects
‘The housing crisis in the UK is systemic. It is a consequence of laissez-faire government and wishy-washy policy made by successive governments, of both political complexions, which have allowed our land economy to go haywire. Housing production has been ‘left to the market’. Design is driven by profit instead of ideology.
Homes are seen as a product, an asset, a commodity
‘Homes are seen as a product, an asset, a commodity. Government pussyfoots around trying to control things with ‘design standards’, which determine the layout and size of homes, but the issues are much more fundamental.
‘I would like to see the government intervene with legislation which would favour smaller, more creative developers, small local developers, housing associations, co-ops and individual owner-occupation over the vast absentee landlords, corporate investors, pension funds and housebuilders who currently call the shots.
‘I would also like to see the expansion of local government’s home building programme and in particular a massive investment in new council housing, funded by direct taxation. Housing produced in the public interest by democratically accountable organisations: what could be better?’
Michael Wilford, partner, Michael Wilford Architects
‘All parties involved, particularly the politicians who have the power and primary responsibility to address the housing crisis, regularly drone on like a jammed CD player with the same obvious message that the primary solution is to build more homes. But they are not able to articulate real vision, ideas and tangible proposals as to how this might be achieved – too much talk, not enough action!
Architects should, by taking a more pro-active role, rise to the opportunity
‘In this vacuum architects should, by taking a more pro-active role, rise to the opportunity and contribute their entrepreneurial skills to identify potential and realise development projects themselves to provide attractive, economical and environmentally responsible architectural solutions. Politicians, financiers, developers and contractors have had ample opportunity to meet the demand but have failed miserably to do so. The architectural profession should now put its head clearly above the parapet and demonstrate, by example, its practical and social skills in positive meaningful ways to provide attractive, functional and affordable housing.’
Roger Stephenson, managing partner, Stephenson:ISA Studio
‘Politicians use housing to suit their political needs and have a history of completely misunderstanding the process. The Pathfinder Initiative being a wonderful example.
‘Statements about needing to build 300,000 houses a year have been issued for as long as I can remember. If the process were understood and controlled, there would come a time when gentle, non-disruptive renewal would be a matter of course.
The best architects could do is to help politicians to understand housing
‘The best architects could do is to help politicians to understand housing. Ownership patterns and state-generated social engineering play a far greater role than design. There are successful tower blocks, slab blocks, cul-de-sacs. Classically, back-to-back bye-law terraced housing with not a patch of green in sight has been home to wonderfully integrated communities.’
The 10 biggest housing schemes approved this year
Graph showing which of the top 10 housing schemes in the UK (by unit numbers) that have received outline planning permission since January 2014 and have appointed architects.