Thoughts on Housing Production

Written by Peter Barber in response to then Minister for Architecture, Building Design

Pullens Building

Pullens Building

The architects of large scale housing projects struggle to make meaningful connections with individual householders. This is due to systemic failure and not a lack of will amongst designers. It will take a revolution in the means of production to remedy the situation.

The systems and institutions which produce UK housing favour the corporate, generic and homogenised. This suppresses the magical and creative relationships between householders and designers, most likely to create beautiful, distinctive and idiosyncratic homes.

Reform could start with a breaking up of the vast institutions, bureaucracies, corporations and quangos which have us in a strangle hold. We need to modernise the system so that people can express themselves as individuals through the design of their own homes.

Property Ownership and Management
- give owner occupiers direct responsibility for the management of their own homes and end the anachronistic leasehold system. 
- devolve ‘ownership’ of social housing to small self managed owner occupier housing co-ops and away from vast absentee social housing providers.

Real Estate
- insider trading and corruption are a barrier to private individual self builders and agents should be effectively regulated. 
- government bodies should favour individuals, small developers and Co-ops who are often excluded in the sale of public land.

Housing Funding
- vast institutional investment is failing us. Mortgage lenders should make self build funding readily available. 
- Funders of public housing must encourage and favour small housing co-ops and individuals instead of large housing associations.

Housing Development
- in Uruguay 60% of social housing is built by groups of householders who run the design and construction process in a creative dialogue with their own directly employed consultants. No middle men, no generic housing standards - just the homes as people want them. 
- it should be easy to build your own home. Small scale infill projects tend to be quirky, varied and interesting. Mass house builders are too big to connect with individuals and are only able to generate product for an imagined Mr and Mrs Entirely Normal.

Finally, the feeling of alienation felt by people operating within a system dominated by mass production described by Karl Marx has resonance in this context: ‘we become a stranger to the things that we make’.