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The AJ is taking a long, hard look at the state of British house-building

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There is little discussion of the role architects can play in solving the UK’s housing crisis, says Rory Olcayto

There’s a story being told, day in, day out. It goes like this:

Property developers have degraded our towns and cities with their buy-to-let, aluminium-clad housing towers or, worse, with their glass-and-steel luxury towers aimed at foreign investors looking for a safe investment (you know – the ones that aren’t even let to tenants, and lie empty all year round).

Property developers, to put it simply, have skewed the housing market in favour of the rich.

What about the public sector? (‘What public sector?’ I hear you laugh). Forget it. Every city council wants to ‘do a Southwark’ and flog off uncared-for council stock to foreign developers (Southwark’s Heygate deal with Lend Lease has become something of a case study).

Housebuilders are no better. A recent promotional film by Redrow for a housing project in London featuring a young City worker was slammed by critics for its supposed resemblance to American Psycho, a film about a Wall Street banker who murders women for fun. One critic said the Redrow film was ‘indifferent to deprivation’.

Nobody wants to speak favourably about this trend anymore. Not even Peter Rees, recently honoured with a CBE for overseeing the erection of commercial towers in the City of London: ‘The new breed of housing towers,’ he says, ‘are fuelled by an almost limitless wave of international capital … [and are] just containers for the same capital that you would otherwise put in a bank vault.’

That’s the story. But does it paint the full picture?  

We don’t think it does. For a start, there’s little discussion of the role architects play. So the AJ’s commitment this year is to look closely at the house-building industry, provide balanced and fair comment, highlight the good as well as the bad, and refrain from laying blame at any particular doorstep. Reality doesn’t work like that.

And, come to think of it, why should a Redrow promo for a high-end housing development be concerned about deprivation?

We start this week, with a look at developer Pocket’s micro-housing. Many architects, including housing expert Ben Derbyshire, argued strongly in favour of the Mayor’s Housing Design Guide making an exception for this product, which it did – in the end.

As Derbyshire says, it has resulted in ‘the rather paradoxical outcome that, having set great store in outlawing “hobbit homes”, the mayor then went and invested in a Pocket-led JV to develop loads of flats smaller than the minimum standard!’ Complicated, isn’t it?

rory.olcayto@emap.com Twitter: @roryolcayto

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  • Neil Perry

    This is going to be a very interesting read throughout 2015! The state of housing in London, especially east along the Thames from Wapping, angers me.

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