26 April 2013…..It is getting harder and harder to distinguish a hotel suite, a hotel room with bathroom, a weekend bolthole, etc. from properties being built, and called housing, which is expected to become somebody’s HOME. I don’t know the history of when the salami slicing away of component rooms began; but now that there are no more rooms to do away with and it is a case of reducing room sizes and making them only as big as absolutely necessary (i.e. to take a basic single bed and standing room beside it), housebuilding has become sadistic. Or at least cruel, and as inhumane as any battery cage for chickens to be crammed into. People are being given a place to sleep and little more. Who to blame?
The public thinks architects are to blame. The truth is that lack of regulation and minimum room/flat/house sizes is to blame. Developers are about maximising profit. They do what the law allows them to do. Only social housing (housing association or council housing) still forces minimum room sizes onto developers – that and the so-called Lifetime Homes Standard which requires turning space for wheelchairs. But the Lifetime Homes Standard has NO provision for windows and optimum/minimum daylight levels. I have complained of this, ad nauseum, behind Building Design articles online, and elsewhere, over some years now. RIBA have spoken out since at least 2007. Let’s take a look at the negative trajectory:
Today, a dining room is a sign of an expensive property belonging to someone with a high income who probably entertains quite formally. In older buildings where families have lived for a long time, they have oten, where possible, been converted to offices, dens, spare bedrooms. Family homes are not often built with them any more. Flats virtually never unless they are swish penthouse flats. These rooms were the first to be abolished and declared redundant.
Whose idea was it that artificial light was so much the equal of daylight that there was no need to put windows in every room? And when? Bathrooms without windows are termed ‘internal’ on planning applications which seems to legitimse them (wrongly). Kitchens without windows are legally put in place in conversions and as newbuild with nobody turning a hair. It is done to help put a flat together in the smallest space possible.
Commonly, like back-to-back slum terracing of old, flats are now constructed as single aspect flats. This is appalling for air circulation in a heatwave. But it allows developers t pack more into less space.
The central three of the 1960’s ten-storey blocks in Clarendon Road by Hove Station wedge single aspect flats into the mid-section facing east and again facing west. The corner flats are all dual aspect. Bathrooms are internal and windowless. Interestingly, the blocks at either end of Clarendon Road are of different construction and tend to offer more and better light (with windows ventilation) options but still just dual aspect.
Interestingly, at Gwydr Mansions in Holland Road, kitchens have been created between living rooms and bedrooms in some flats, but without windows. These buildings originally provided serviced flats nearly a century ago; and one either ate in the communal dining room downstairs or rang for refreshments to be brought up. Kind of half-way make-do perhaps as availability and cost of personal servants began to change how people lived. Slightly hotelish in a way. Fire and building regulations play their part in this too, dictating what must not be near what, etc.. Internal, windowless areas unnecessarily increase expensive electricity useage for light and ventilation.
When did it become normal to situate bathrooms ‘internally’, without windows? It has become the accepted and unquestioned norm for newbuild blocks of flats to assume this practice, which forces installation of extractor fans to deal with condensation and various stinks (!). Nobody considers that anyone might need daylight in the bathroom….for, say, shaving or putting on the slap either. Blocks of flats in Hove were erected near Hove Station with these (tiny) internal bathrooms with extractor fans in the mid-1960’s but when did this practice actually become acceptable. Who started it?
Kitchens in newbuild blocks of flats are now so small there is no space for a family table in them – that is, of course, if they are even designed into flats expected to become homes at all. Recent decades have seen the term ‘cook ‘n chat’ coined to big up acceptance of a wall in the living room being given over to the all-important business of storing, preparing and serving food on the room dividing thingy counter. No tables needed! And nowhere to put one anyway. And no windows anywhere to illuminate these token kitchen areas. No need, apparently, for daylight there when using sharp knives or squinting at small print on packages and the expensive extractor fan will deal with smells and smoke. No need, either, for fire-isolating walls & doors either….weirdly.
People in newbuild flats are forced/encouraged by their design and build to eat on trays or on laps or standing up with hand-held grazing food straight from the fridge. Or from a coffee table while watching TV. This merging of two rooms into one influences what will be bought and consumed. Imagine trying to do a 3 course cooked dinner this way….balancing a plateful of something from a cassserole, say….. Imagine trying to keep a storecupboard, a real selection of kitchen implements, crockery, glasses, etc. or cooking from scratch in these things! No wonder microwaves and ready meals so largely replace home cooking for so many.
If the sitting room is bijou too then there is no question of having the aunties, uncles, grandparents, parents and in-laws, etc. round for Christmas dinner at table …… is there. Not enough space to do family to that extent.
TV is crammed with cookery programmes and the focus on food is huge on magazine shelves. The fashion for home baking and cooking surely requires proper kitchens and more than just a fridge and microwave.
As for bedrooms…. A developer can get more for a 3 bed dwelling than a one bed. Therefore rooms big enough for a single bed, but without storage built in or floor space for standing storage, are routinely built and offered as bedrooms with completely straight faes. Maybe a newborn in a crib could use it?
Sold as family accommodation, these insults to family life are more commonly bought by single people who knock the rooms through if they can and use tiny rooms as computer stations for gaming and home working. Families lose out.
As for storage space…just not an issue for developers is it? Hence the need to use divan beds with storage drawers under them. But where to hang things? No wonder everyone is in jeans, T’s, trainers and jackets they can roll up into a drawer.
In my ideal planning world, built-in storage space/closets and windows, would be the absolutely bare minimum required in every room needing them, along with separate kitchens with doors that close! Possessions matter.
If our government wants older people to downsize from big houses to small flats, they’d better give some thought to kitchen provision, I’d say! The older generation learned how to cook at school and are used to eating properly, at tables, and with family coming to eat on occasions. Reduced physical capacity and living on a pension, in time, eventually, means a capacious store cupboard and a well-stocked freezer will be a lifesaver.
Eyesight declines with age and the sad fact is, you cannot replace daylight with artificial light all the time. It is a fact that many people automatically move to windows to read small print on packages in daylight. It is an outrage to make daylight in kitchen or cook ‘n chat walls expendable. A total outrage. Packaging…knives…glass, so many reason why daylit kitchens are vital.
THE PARKER MORRIS SPACE STANDARDS!
Abolished some years ago. London Mayor Boris Johnson once championed a return to them, then seemed to give up. A great cry went up about room sizes for the proposed redevelopment at Anston House recently, as has been the case for some years now for every major development. But unlike other countries Britain is martyred to the developer’s priority need to get rich. To get very, very rich and to provide as little as possible in return for a very, very large price tag.
Please: support the RIBA initiative now and take a look at this. And then click on the boxes here for lots of amazing information and consultation involvement.
Since writing this post, and ahead of a Govt debate, a Guardian article was provided to saveHOVE by a supporter concerning Eric Pickles further proposals for loosening planning law for social housing room sizes, as well as proposals to free extension-building from the planning process. Useful comparative info too on the RIBA Space and Light campaign. Please click to read it here.
The Argus now reports on this issue too. Please click to read it here