The Key Ideas

#83 Build high-performance public houses that are designed for life and designed to last

The housing that is built must be designed for life and designed to last. It is proposed that German-style 'house factories' should be built and that the new generation of houses should be manufactured there. Modern technology means that extremely high performance houses can be built for very modest costs. In fact, passive houses (houses which are so efficient they either don't need to be heated at all or actually generate more energy than they use) can now be produced inexpensively. The regulations for all housing in Scotland should be tightenedour housing is simply unacceptably far behind the standard of performance of modern European housing.

And it's too small. Just as important as the quality of the design and build of the house is the quality of the overall development. The commercial housing sector is designed to maximise profit, and since 'detached villas' are most marketable, the maximum number of houses that meet this description are crammed into the smallest possible area. This is one of the reasons that Britain has one of Europe's smallest average house sizes. In fact, people are every bit as happy living in well-designed higher density housing some of Scotland's more desirable housing is in large tenements or in spacious terraces. And some of the world's most desirable housing is in tower blocks. People are social and the idea that in all circumstances we want to live in boxes separated from each other is incorrect. Well-designed terraced, tenement, and high-rise developments (as well as some other forms of high-density housing) mean that the living space in houses can be much bigger. People have always liked living in these ways and better communities are formed from well-designed housing.


Properly designed developments also mean there is room for life: parks, open spaces, shops, and cafes. Most modern developments lack all of these things; they have pavements but nowhere to go on them. This means that social interaction is discouraged (shopping, getting to work, going to schoolall these things are done in cars). The irony is that all of these 'detached villas' leave you with less space but more isolation. Planning and design should be driven not by how much profit can be made but by the quality of life that can be lived in a house, the strength of community that can be achieved in a development, the beauty of what is built and the positive impact it will have on society and the environment. The 'market' will not do this on its own since positive social impact, strong community, and beauty don't generate profit. There must be much more substantial regulation and intervention in how housing is designed and developed.


But this should certainly not mean tick-box planning. The great cities in the world and the really attractive places to live were the result of design. In both architecture and planning there is excellent knowledge about how design makes developments both beautiful and practical. Our skylines, our communities, our high streets, our city centresthese places are not 'free markets' but part of the commons. We should exert much more collective and mutual influence over how these developments take place so they don't become sprawl or chaotic or repetitive or unbalancedor plain ugly. And the proper infrastructure of community lifehalls, parks, cafes, shops, schools, nurseries, places to workwould become a central feature of developments.