Homes for Today and Tomorrow: more on the Parker Morris standards

Posted on 18 December 2010 1 comment

“…changes in the way in which people want to live, the things which they own and use, and in their general level of prosperity, and perhaps the greater informality of home life, make it timely to re-examine the kinds of homes that we ought to be building, to ensure that they will be adequate to meet the newly emerging needs of the future, as well as basic human needs which always stay the same.”

The extract above is from a 1961 government report titled Homes for Today and Tomorrow and more commonly known as the Parker Morris standards. The report is considered something of a benchmark for housing space standards in Britain. I’ve written a little about the report in a previous post called Space standards for new homes.

The 1961 report recognised that rising prosperity and changing lifestyles meant homes needed more space and needed to be adaptable to changing circumstances. To meet this need it proposed a set of minimum space standards for all new homes. By the end of the 1960s, all new social housing had to meet these minimum space standards, but significantly the space standards were not made mandatory for the private sector. In 1980, the Conservative government scrapped the standard altogether.

There is much in the 1961 report that still rings true today.

“…a good house or flat can never be be made out of premises which are too small. As well as a place where the family can gather together, there must be room in every home for activities demanding privacy and quiet; there must be space to allow for better planned and better equipped kitchens with room in which to take at least some meals, and for more satisfactory circulation and storage.”
“Additional space is also an important long-term investment, for if a house or flat is large enough it can usually be brought up-to-date as it gets older; but if there is not enough space the improvements can be impossible, or at least unduly expensive. Homes are being built at the present time which not only are too small to provide adequately for family life but also are too small to hold the possessions in which so much of the new affluence is expressed…Such places cannot be expected to meet the needs of their occupiers today, still less hold their value in the long term.”

The Parker Morris report did not provide model floor plans or specify minimum room sizes, believing this would inhibit flexibility in the design of a dwelling. What it defined was minimum sizes for an entire dwelling without specifying how the interior of the dwelling should be partitioned. For example, the Parker Morris report specifies a one bedroom flat for two people to be at least 44.6 square metres in size, but no example layouts are provided.

However, in 1963, the Ministry of Housing and Local Government published some further guidance for homebuilders in Design Bulletin 6 – Space in the Home. This provided example room layouts for a typical terraced house showing how furniture and circulation space might determine the layout and size of the dwelling. There is an ongoing debate in the field of housing and architecture about flexible and adaptable buildings. But, as the Parker Morris report recognises, decent space standards are the first requirement for flexibility and changes in use.

The space standards set out in the Parker Morris report are listed in a 2006 report by consultancy firm HATC for the Greater London Authority called Housing Space Standards (1.9MB PDF). The table below shows some of the space recommendations from the Parker Morris report, but see page 23 of the HATC report for the complete list.

Dwelling typeNo. of personsMinimum size (sq metres)
Flat1 person29.7
Flat2 persons44.6
Flat3 persons56.7
Flat4 persons69.7
House, 2 storey, centre terrace4 persons74.3
House, 2 storey, centre terrace5 persons84.5
House, 3 storey5 persons93.8
House, 3 storey5 persons97.5

Here’s more from the Parker Morris report:

“We have…preferred to approach the question of standards by looking at the needs as a whole of the intended occupants of a dwelling, and then setting the minimum sizes of the whole dwelling which we believe these needs to imply.”
“As a result this report is not about rooms so much as the about the activities that people want to pursue in their homes – which taken as a whole can be catered for in a wide variety of ways…The approach is flexible…Arrangement and rooms are the results, and not the starting point.”
“Like an architect’s brief, housing standards…should be couched in terms which concentrate on the activities that the occupiers will want to pursue, and not on the numbers and sizes of the usual rooms and offices.”

I only partly agree with what the Parker Morris report says here. I think it’s perfectly fine to specify minimum room sizes and to provide model layouts. I understand the desire to avoid being too prescriptive, but has our idea of space changed a great deal since the Parker Morris report was published? The idea of kitchen/dining/living areas being in close proximity still holds strong (although the integration of these spaces is open to discussion). Bedrooms give each household member private space. The home office and the bedroom with en-suite bathroom are perhaps two recent additions in some house plans, but these new additions hardly require a radical rethink in housing layout (they just require more space).

I do think it’s possible to produce floor plans with ‘conventional’ rooms but still allow for future changes and modifications, although it is not always an easy design challenge. If rooms are of decent size, the names we assign to them (bedroom, study etc) becomes less important because the rooms are large enough to be used for different purposes.

What’s noticeable about many new-build homes of recent years is how similar their layouts are regardless of whether they have an architect’s name attached to them or not (for an example, see the post Space standards for new homes). Model layouts are a helpful starting point given the low standard of design from which most new-build homes originate.

Some twenty years prior to the Parker Morris report, another set of housing design guidelines were published in Britain: the 1949 Housing Manual. It included model layouts for a wide range of dwellings, including houses and flats. The 1949 Housing Manual is an important and far-sighted document; although some of its content is out-of-date, a great deal is still relevant to housing today. It is broader in scope than the Parker Morris report and includes much more detailed information on the design of homes. I feel it deserves equal attention or merit to that of the Parker Morris report, and is in fact superior in many ways; if only it was better remembered. I’ll write more about the 1949 housing manual in a separate post.

1 comment


24 March 2013 23:03 GMT

Peasants should live in ye olde hovels no? Thatcher said if you’re still taking a bus at 25 you’ve failed in life. Cardboard city is too good for the poor isn’t it? Rothermere avoids £600 million inheritance tax and Ashcroft, Philip Greene, Cameron and others follow suit one way or another… what is social housing again? Over crowding is lower heating bills and a greener carbon foot print, isn’t it?

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