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Better homes mean happier people and more competitive cities
Damian Arnold

Minimum space standards are urgently needed to ensure that there is more humanity in the planning and design of the homes of the future. This will lead to happier people who are more productive and who will create more successful places that can afford to pay for better homes.

That was the message from an eminent group of architects, planners, urbanists, interior designers, sociologists and philosophers at a conference devoted to improving the home in the 21st Century in London today.

A national space standard of minimum building room sizes, similar to the Parker Morris Standards that existed between 1964 and 1980, would be a vital starting point in improving the quality of home building.

Piers Gough, Founding Partner of CZWG and one of Britain’s best known housing architects and masterplanners told the conference: “The home has got horribly, horribly smaller in the last 10 years because the planning system has eschewed minimum standards for homes. Developers have been allowed to make housing schemes as small as possible. Most houses are designed not by architects but in the drawing offices of the big housing developers,” added Gough who said that it was vital to present the case that minimum space standards need not mean lower land values. Such higher standards are economically viable, he claimed.

Gough joined a multi-disciplinary team of experts to talk about the concept of the home in the 21st Century at the Home Renaissance Foundation conference – From House to Home.

Day two of the conference on Friday was devoted to the theme of Humanity in City Planning.

Gough presented his own model for good homemaking in the form of his successfully delivered masterplan for a neighbourhood in the Gorbals, Glasgow. The area that was blighted by postwar tower blocks was transformed over a decade by the reintroduction tenement-style development with traditional street plans, enclosed communal gardens and bigger family-sized homes.

Such humane spaces in city centres are vital for their future competitiveness argued, Beatriz Plaza, Senior Lecturer in Applied and Regional Economics at the University of the Basque Country “There is a strong interaction between the city and the home,” she said. “People learn the softer skills that people need in the home. Good home making is vital to making cities competitive.”

Michael Herbert, professor of Town Planning at the University of Manchester said that the good news is that city centres in the UK are responding well to the drive to house people in them once again. The outward sprawl is being halted. The bad news is that the homes in city centres being delivered for them to live in are not good enough.

“Being at home is having your feet under the table but it is also the extent to which you spread out into your neighbourhood and the rest of the town or city which is your wider home.

“It is 10 years since the Government report on encouraging high density city centre living - Towards an Urban Renaissance - and it’s time to take stock. How well have we done in terms of making the city centre a good place for families to live in? In terms of better public space, reducing traffic speeds and improving public transport, many things are positive. But it is much less positive when we look at the home itself. Here it’s a case of shrinking gardens and reduced house sizes. We must look to our partners in Europe if we want improve standards of the home.”

Meanwhile, Director General of the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, Juan Ignacio Vidarte spoke about the experience of creating a cultural icon in a blighted city has transformed homemaking there.

“It is important for city planners to be bolder,” he said. “We were bold in Bilbao and it helped to recover the self esteem of the city and made it easier to develop other projects, including housing ones, for which previously there was not enough will politically as well as socially to move them forward.”

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