Mayor Boris Johnson's promise to build up to 55,000 new affordable homes by 2015 could give London's smaller architectural practices the chance to take a fresh look at the way we live.
The layout of the standard terrace home was established by the Victorians and, while these homes remain popular, the needs of modern family living create new priorities, such as sustainability, greater storage and larger living spaces.
Architect Roger Zogolovitch is the founder of RIBA award-winning developer Solidspace, a specialist in bite-size housing schemes carved from neglected city sites.
Working with MW Architects, he is selling three carefully designed houses, priced from £589,950, in Essex Mews, Crystal Palace.
Banishing the dark
The idea with Essex Mews was to offer an alternative to the typical 19th-century London terrace. Solidspace's director, Roger's son, Guus, says: "Buyers may say they like those terrace properties, but as soon as they get inside they start removing the walls. At Essex Mews, they have a house that feels wider and lighter than a Victorian home without all the side-returns, dark corridors, unused space and wiring in the wrong place."
In the new houses, there are no corridors or landings, with open space more accurately reflecting the way people live now. There is no dedicated living room but there is a home office area to meet a very contemporary demand.
With Essex Mews, Roger says he is targeting two markets — families migrating from Victoriana and downsizers. He says it's a model for a new kind of housing.
"This isn't a one-off. It's a personalised architectural approach to development that is energy-efficient, guaranteed and branded," he says. And so convinced is he that the internal design works, prospective buyers are encouraged to "try before they buy" — they can stay over in one of the houses for a night to see if it suits the way they live.
'No' to uniformity
Many house hunters may admire modern design, but opt to play it safe when it comes to buying. Bill Bradley, of Ecoism architects, which has developed houses in London including two in Landells Road, SE22 for £1.075 million, reckons it's akin to "everyone buying a silver-coloured car. People want uniformity and fear change. These houses are an untold story and people feel they haven't passed the test of time."
There is also the fear of standing out, although Bradley believes modern houses "stand up well on a Victorian terrace street". Moreover, they can bring both economic and environmental advantages, including "low energy consumption and the potential for internet-based controlled environments, where you can turn your house on from your iPhone". Retro-fitting older homes in this way is far more expensive.
Steve Chance, of architects Chance Da Silva, which is selling the final apartment of its development Casadanza, Sinclair Place, SE4 for £320,000, says that another great benefit of architect-led developments is ingenuity. "We find the sites that the big developers wouldn't touch."
Chance acquired Casadanza's Brockley site at auction and created four homes from it. "At first we put it on with a local agent, Rocodells, because we wanted to see if a more orthodox market would be interested," he says. It was, and with three sold, Chance says he has broken even.
"It's not an easy way to make money," he adds. "It has taken four years from planning, approval, construction to managing sales, even though we've saved on costs."