A Home to DIY for; London Property Prices Are Soaring -- So the Solution to Affordable Housing Could Be to Build It Yourself, Says Kieran Long

Article excerpt

Byline: says Kieran Long

THE average house price in London today is just north of [pounds sterling]450,000, and the consequences of that are problematic for the metropolis. We seem to have missed an opportunity for a movement that I believe could have been really important for British cities: people building their own houses. Land is so expensive in central London that if you can afford to buy a site, you can probably afford to build a fairly grand house on it.

Most of the people I know who have developed an interesting one-off house are architects themselves, willing to convert and live in unconventional existing spaces -- such as Jonathan Tuckey's Collage House in Kilburn, which was originally a steel fabrication workshop and now has a back extension made of plywood and glass panels.

Persevering for the right land pays off. Graham Bizley of architects Prewett Bizley found a plot on which others struggled to get planning permission and built himself a three-storey house in Newington Green.

Bizley lived in the building while it was still a building site, working on it himself and creating a beautiful and compact live/work house.

Another option is to extend an inauspicious building, such as Lynch Architects' bright and airy Hoxton Street studios, which added an elegant, glazed upper storey to a small brick building that had once been the post office on a Seventies council estate in Hoxton. However, innovative housing solutions should not be restricted to architects' properties. The creativity of home-owners should have a bigger role to play in the future of our cities than it does today.

Self-build may have a homespun, DIY image, but think it through. All the medieval towns and villages in the UK are effectively assemblages of individually designed and built houses, jammed together in a dense street plan. There's not much high architecture there: these places derive their charm from the intimacy of their urbanism.

Why can't we liberate people to not just be given a say in the future of their homes, but to be given the chance to build one themselves? We tend to put lots of barriers in the way of self-builders -- from planning to construction materials, the industry is geared towards the professional and does not encourage the individual to have a go.

In the past, architects have experimented with self-build as a solution to a larger-scale housing problem. In the Seventies, architect and self-build innovator Walter Segal developed a system that was intended to enable ordinary people to build welldesigned houses. A few examples remain, like his timber-framed buildings in Honor Oak Park.

I have been writing about architecture for 15 years but I can count on my fingers the number of times someone on an average salary, with a regular job, who simply wants a well-designed roof over their head, has been the client for a building I have written about. But over the past 18 months I have been working with six self-builders who have spent between [pounds sterling]15,000 and [pounds sterling]100,000 on their homes, helping them to improve their modest designs.

They have changed my view on what architecture is for and how it might be a positive influence on the world. …