At Home in Britain: Designing the house of tomorrow -new RIBA exhibition explores the future of housing

The terrace house, the cottage and the flat have been reimagined by top architects. The results are on display at a new RIBA exhibtion. 

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Architects’ visions for homes of the future have often been outlandish — from pods, glass domes and things on stalks, to towns built in the sky or at the bottom of the sea.

Some of the more fantastical ideas have not been entirely serious but have been intended to fire the imagination.

Now the Royal Institute of British Architects has invited six practices in London and Europe to come up with fresh but also serious ideas, for an exhibition, about three much-loved housing types — the terrace house, the cottage and the flat.

In each case they have reworked these homes so they are better suited to lifestyles of today, including for people working from home.

The terrace house
Mae Architects and vPPR looked at the terrace. Alex Ely of Mae explains that many of today’s desirable terrace homes were built in the 18th century on parcels of land sold to small speculative builders who built what they liked — though they often shared design ideas.

Ely says we should do something similar today, making use of the 2011 Localism Act under which councils can identify sites suitable for “custom-built” homes. “We need developers who’ll buy a site, put in infrastructure, and then sell plots to self-build or custom-build on, within design parameters.”

In Mae’s system you put together a sort of identikit home, selecting size, configuration, cladding, room height and so on, then order it online. A prefabricated house arrives within weeks, ready to go up. Ely suggests ideal sites are on the London fringe, and areas of the green belt that aren’t actually green.

Tatiana von Preussen of vPPR says 14 per cent of people work from home but the terrace house, with its dividing party walls, can feel lonely. So vPPR’s idea is to build terraces with one room connecting on each side of a party wall, making a single big room for each pair of houses that could be shared for work or play. Sharing space is not new in London, stresses Von Preussen, pointing to the appeal of garden squares . 

Through the ages: the cottage remains the most romantic housing type

The cottage
Award-winning Jamie Fobert Architects looked at the cottage, perhaps the most romantic housing model of all. Fobert reimagined cottages with striking amounts of glass for light and views, designed affordably on various patterns and ordered from a catalogue. 

The exhibition also has good material from the RIBA archives, including photographs of back-to-back 20th-century slum terraces with communal loos at the end of a stinking yard.

The flat
Studio Weave found that ads emphasising luxury lifestyles can make flats seem unattainable to those struggling to get on the ladder. Weave imagined user-friendly ads for flats that buyers could help to design themselves, featuring “real” communities rather than glamorous types.

The practice’s Niamh Lincoln says: “Advertising could play a much more positive role in the supply of realistic homes for ordinary people.” 

At Home in Britain: Designing the house of tomorrow opens today until August 29 at the Architecture Gallery, RIBA, 66 Portland Place, W1For details, visit The exhibition partners BBC4 series At Home with the British, presented by Dan Cruickshank.

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