The Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment is to launch an initiative with the House Builders Federation and the Civic Trust in an attempt to create a 'culture shift' in the way homes are designed.
Last week, CABE chief executive Jon Rouse told a meeting of federation representatives that volume housing was typically of 'low quality and poorly designed', and he urged them to follow the example of the Peabody Trust in drawing up designs for contemporary homes. He is particularly worried that guidance encouraging developers to build higher-density housing will simply give housebuilders an excuse to put up large clusters of cramped dwellings. PPG3 guidance requires developers to put 30 homes on one hectare of land; the UK average is just under 20.
'The great danger is that they'll just build more boxes closer together.What we're saying is that they have to be a lot cleverer than that, 'Rouse told the AJ.
CABE wants developers to pay more attention to the social aspects of new housing: if alleyways are necessary they ought to be wider, better lit and overlooked by windows, for example, he said. And front gardens should not be built so small that they turn into rubbish dumps.
Rouse hopes the initiative, to be launched at the end of this month, will also help architects design contemporary homes free of the pastiche which characterizes much modern building.
'The exterior of a house should give you some clues about the interior workings, ' he said. 'The problem with a lot of modern housing is that builders are obsessed with add-ons: you get the added portico, the carriage lamp or a chimney on a house where there isn't even a functioning fireplace. This has absolutely nothing to do with the workings of a modern house.'
Rouse added that planning committees needed to take a more enlightened view of contemporary housing. Often, he said, architects complicate their designs simply to get it past the planners.
'The problem is that planning committees don't recognise good design when they see it.'
Rouse is worried that many planning officers judge the merits of a housing scheme simply on the number of bedrooms proposed; he suggests, however, that houses ought to be built with more flexibility in mind, allowing occupants to decide where internal partitions should fall.
'CABE will be learning from the House Builders' Federation about the economic reality of the process, while the HBF needs to take on board the importance of and value of design principles.'