Homes need neighbourhoods

I received a message on LinkedIn from an architect asking all its contacts to vote for its design in The Sunday Times British Homes Awards 2012. While we can all be cynical about awards, this request shows how important publicity is to architects,particularly in these difficult times.

The category highlighted (there are six finalists) is the smart home of the future. There are many common features. Not surprisingly they are all highly insulated and use next to no energy. Several are modular, and most look for a flexibility in the design which allows walls to open up, and voids to be filled in. Parking the car under the house is a common theme, At first sight this seems sensible, as ground-floor space is among the least popular – nobody for instance wants to sleep at that level. But I do worry that this is a move to progressively cut people off from the street, and so from their community. In contrast, several designs have roof gardens at first floor level, and these could surely cause problems with overlooking, particularly if the houses are adjacent to existing properties.

Several of the designers have shown their houses existing either as one-offs or within terraces or arrays of semis. In most cases, they show dully repeating streets, like an echo of the most uninspired suburb. Of course this is not the major concern of this competition, but it does point up the fact that the biggest problem with housing design is often not the house itself but designing the street and the neighbourhood – ‘a place to live’ that extends well beyond the four walls, however carefully considered.







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