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Katherine Shonfield

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The proportion of marriages ending in divorce is now two in five. Add to this the numbers of couples unblessed by church or state. Doesn't it then seem as if in buying family homes - an act hallowed by the full armoury of this country's most powerful institutions - we are indulging a level of wish-fulfilment that would shame the common- sense of a Cinderella?

Of course the major housebuilding firms recognise this. It is the established reason for the millions of homes that we are going to be 'demanding' from them in the next 20 years.

Instead of accepting this in gob-smacked horror, we need to ask why the housebuilders' own product embodies the most restrictive spatial opportunities for happy families since the open-plan cave.

Half the space of a developer house, the bedrooms and the bathroom, is used for less than a third of the week. The other half where, tellingly, we are supposed to do our 'living', compromises individuals into a false togetherness, to the point where there is no opportunity for self expression or privacy.

We don't have to live like that. In communist Poland, instead of a two bedroom flat, the middle classes got a three living room flat: a couple and child each with their own room, marked with their own individual personal possessions, and their own spatial demarcations. Togetherness in any of these rooms was dictated not by space but by voluntary inclination. The individuals could decide to come together or they could remain in their own space, without the accusation that they were removing themselves from 'living'.

In replicating the fantasy of absolute oneness in yet more 'homes', could it be that housebuilders are contributing not to the solution but to one of the causes of marital breakdown? And if that is so, isn't it odd how much they are ending up profiting from it?

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