The RIBA, shameful shoebox homes, and archetypes

It appears the RIBA have done a good job this morning, shouting from the rooftops about tiny houses and how crap they are. BBC Radio 4 ran with it, even interviewing someone who owned a 3 year old house and struggles to fit more than a double bed in the  master bedroom. This is old news, but it needs to be said again and again. There is a solution to the “fitting a quart pot into a pint jug” problem – we, the builders, architects and homeowners need to let go of archetypes.

Something that was particularly pleasing was the use of the term builders as being culpable. One could even venture a joke about the builders being the “architects” of this problem – but please don’t.. Because to my knowledge, only approximately 15% of all construction involves an architect. The vast majority of design is done by cheap in-house staff, or possibly  surveyors, or technicians. None of whom appear to know or care about space standards.

This almost total absence of informed, qualified designers, plus I might add, some unscrupulous architects, has given us tens of thousands of inadequate houses, each equipped with all the accoutrements of “house”: a tiny garden, a porch, a chimney pot (usually plastic) – the toy town look we are all familiar with. Due to our tradition of home ownership, based on a Platonic ideal of home as a thatched cottage with a rose covered garden gate, we buy them. They look like bricks and mortar investment, but they are very poor for living. And they waste space.

I don’t do conspiracy theories, because they rely on many average people having manipulative faculties and people skills that Barak Obama can’t muster. But I wish one volume housebuilder would step back from flogging archetypes, and shoehorning miniature furniture into the showrooms (Yes! That happens!) to make these houses seem like homes. So far, this has not happened – they (we know the big companies I refer to) insist, time and again, on producing ridiculous “Brookside” developments, when really they should make a responsible decision to produce decent sized, well designed and considered homes for families. They can still get their x per acre density, just ditch all the crap – for example who needs a front garden if all hat happens is it fills with dog turds? Why not give some of that space to the public realm, including a well-designed  frontage zone that still preserves privacy, and devote the rest of the space to interior?

That’s just one of a thousand possibilities that gets ignored by the people who are building that nation’s homes, and it should stop. Now. In a time of economic turmoil, it is a great opportunity.

Let’s drop the traditional conservatism and be clever. That’s what design is supposed to do.