Architect Ben Derbyshire, president-elect of the Royal Institute of British Architects, explains why the future will be more beautiful...
Ben Derbyshire heads up HTA, a big architecture and design practice dedicated to housing and urban planning. Its team of 157 come up with new ideas to make our homes and lives better — from pick’n’mix custom-build schemes, which he is currently testing at Heartlands in Cornwall — to greening over suburban roads. So what has happened to architecture during Homes & Property’s 20 years?
“Our big failure is the missed opportunity to retro-fit existing housing stock,” says Derbyshire. “Every day I look at the brick building opposite, with boarded-up windows and think, what is going on here?
“We are absolutely failing to deal with Britain’s housing crisis. Until we consider existing housing stock as essential infrastructure that needs to be maintained, just like roads and railways, we’ll never achieve a sustainable, growing economy. So, that’s the failure in terms of existing housing, but we can fix it.
“For new homes, we need to simplify standards and rules. We’ve gone some way in the past 20 years but need to go much further. We need good, simple standards that builders can use and that home buyers — customers — understand. Unless the customer understands them, they don’t work.
“So the Design for Homes panel, the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment, and the Home Builders Federation have created a ‘Built for Life’ standard, a home performance label. At the moment it’s voluntary, and only a fifth of councils have adopted it, but the Government needs to drive it through. Currently, the national space standard is actually optional. That needs to change.
“Our label will tell you the cost per square metre, the running costs, the storage, the volume of the home and how much daylight you get.
“The Mayor has a great opportunity to get involved in future housing. I think he should run a housing expo across the city. It involves taking tiny sites and getting architects and designers to build new ideas on them. Let’s use local designers to custom-build, flatpack, co-build, and so on, on scraps of land leased to them by their local council. The planners need to make these experiments possible. It makes a city-wide laboratory of good ideas.
"Let’s use our talent to create brilliant new homes ideas for the future, to build over the next 20 years. Last year, my company won the Home of the Future competition run by Barratt. We found it’s all about good design. We built Hanham Hall [in Bristol, for Barratt], and buyers love a living room upstairs, with great light. They like no corridors, a lofty staircase, cathedral ceilings in the upper rooms and big views. They like to customise, and reverse things later on if they want.
“Good schemes, with lots of green space as part of the design, create more biodiversity. I refuse to accept that all this can’t be done. We can develop affordable, well-designed homes and create a better environment. That’s my aim for London, and Britain, over the next 20 years.”