Architects are often criticised for the ugliness of their designs. I’ll step around that one for now. But is there more architects could do to improve the way new homes are internally planned and constructed? It’s fairly obvious, I think, that a designer who depends for his or her wages on a developer client has limited clout. You can always ask, but very likely the answer will be a terse negative. No more than 60 m2 for a two bed unit, or it doesn’t add up. Ask again, you’re fired. The problem of cramped housing is first and foremost an economic problem, and solutions to economic problems are political solutions: a change in the rules. In London, coincidentally, a change in the rules has recently arrived (the rest of the UK is out of luck, for now): the new London Plan (2011) has minimum space standards. While it’s good that there are standards, the GLA standards are still low-ish standards: 61 m2 for a flat occupied by three people is small. In my view, three people probably won’t be comfortable unless they have the run of 80 m2 or more. And while the GLA says that 87 m2 should be enough for a three bed, two storey house, the RIBA’s own guidance recommends 98 m2, and shows why:
It comes down to small things: an extra cupboard in the kitchen so you can put your cooking pans away; a desk in the kid’s bedroom, for homework. But without the few square metres that make those things possible, those things are … unpossible. You won’t have them.
Is there more that architects in the UK could do to lobby for better space standards? To be fair, they are giving it a go. The RIBA is running a campaign – Without Space & Light – which is getting a mention in pieces like this recent article on house prices in The Telegraph. It’s worth supporting Without Space & Light. Once built, houses tend to stay built for a long time: they’re very expensive to replace. And it seems sort of stupid to end up stuck with a bunch of tiny houses.