A Place to Call Home: Where we live and why

Posted on 19 February 2012 1 comment

This is a short review of a small, free exhibition about housing called A Place to Call Home which is now on at the RIBA headquarters in London and runs until 28 April 2012. The exhibition ties in with the RIBA’s Homewise campaign for better homes which was launched in September 2011.

The introduction to the exhibition states:

“Home is an essential part of us all. Our houses, flats, streets, and estates are extensions of ourselves; they give us ways to express who we are and how we live, and they frame our memories.

Of course they are also practical places, where we eat, sleep, or store stuff. Yet home is probably the most expensive thing we ever buy – or rent – offering a lifetime of investment, pre-occupation and obsession.”

“This exhibition tells the story of everyday homes in Britain. It charts why they look the way they do, who they were built for and how they were sold to us.”

The exhibition is filled with many excellent photos of housing in Britain through the ages. You gain a good sense of the variety of different housing types and styles. But as one of the exhibition panels reminds us:

“…unlike other countries in Europe, much new housing in Britain remains very traditional in look and form.”

The small gallery space means that the exhibition doesn’t really have enough room to examine different housing issues in much detail or depth. For example, there’s little about the layout of dwellings – how space is arranged in our homes. I suppose that is a subject all by itself.

The role of the architect in housing has sometimes (often?) been contentious. The influence of architects on mass housing in Britain was at it’s greatest in the post-war period (through to the end of the 1960s). After the Second World War, there was an urgent need to build new homes and it gave many architects the opportunity to try new forms and ideas in housing.

Something the exhibition never really explores is the distance that often exists between the way architects view a housing development and the way the public perceive it. (For an example of this, see the separate post on Robin Hood Gardens which has recently been in the news.)

An exhibition panel titled Architects: Provocateurs and Reformers states:

“The role of architects in designing everyday homes has shifted over the centuries, with them cast as hero or villain at different periods.”
“…the role of the architect in housing and their interaction with developers is still hotly debated today, with issues of sustainability, housing density and interior space dominating discussion.”

Finally, there are some interesting and surprising facts in the exhibition (and some depressing ones!) I’ve listed some of these below.

Types of houses in England

In 2011 there were an estimated 22.8 million homes in England. What types of home do we live in?

Detached 22%
Semi-detached 32%
Terraced 28%
Flats 17%

Source: Tables on dwelling stock - Department for Communities and Local Government | Table 117: Dwelling stock: type of accommodation, by region (Excel spreadsheet)

When were homes in England built?

Before 1851 4%
1851-1918 15%
1919-1944 19%
1945-1964 22%
1965-1984 24%
1985-later 16%

Source: Tables on dwelling stock - Department for Communities and Local Government | Table 110: Dwelling stock, England: year built, by region (Excel spreadsheet)


Here's what the exhibition has to say on the subject of space:

“The average floor space of a new home in the UK is just 818 square feet. Denmark is Europe’s highest with 1475 square feet.

A typical new home in Britain in 2009 was 55% smaller than one built 80 years ago.

The average size of a UK home is 87 square metres. In the Netherlands, a country with a population density 58% greater than the UK’s, the average is 98 square metres.”

Update: The exhibition page on the RIBA website has been removed, but you can view the original exhibition page on the Internet Archive Wayback Machine.

1 comment

N Hare

1 May 2012 13:57 GMT

The ONE item that stood out for me (at the RIBA Exhibition “A Place to Call Home”) was the population:

1800- UK population circa 9,000,000
1900- UK population circa 29,000,000
2011- UK population circa 61,000,000

I am not normally political but if this country needs to control its destiny then there is no other option but to vote UKIP.

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