Academic journal article The Town Planning Review

Space in New Homes: Delivering Functionality and Liveability through Regulation or Design Innovation?

Academic journal article The Town Planning Review

Space in New Homes: Delivering Functionality and Liveability through Regulation or Design Innovation?

Article excerpt

Introduction

Space in new homes became a subject of considerable debate in England during the last decade. Available data on average floor spaces, although not routinely recorded and reported, suggested a sharp fall in the size of new houses being built from the 1970s onwards. Judged in terms of the number of rooms (i.e. bedrooms) available to occupants, new homes seemed to be getting larger. The size of these rooms, however, and the net floor spaces, were declining (RIBA, 2007; 2011). Builders appeared to be cramming more rooms into less space, and the overall English trend was towards small homes, with small rooms on a shrinking floor plate: 'rabbit hutches on postage stamps', as Alan Evans had put it a few years earlier (Evans, 1991). By the mid-2000s, English homes were amongst the smallest in Europe, and it did not escape the notice of analysts that England, along with neighbouring Wales, were the only parts of the European Union (EU) at the time to have no prescribed floor space minimum within generic building code. For that reason, a number of groups drew the conclusion that floor space minimums for new homes - stipulated in building regulations - would naturally remedy the situation and help reverse the trend towards small homes that, as the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (CABE, 2009) and then the Royal Institution of British Architects (RIBA, 2011) observed, lacked full functionality and undermined liveability. Small homes were difficult to live in. Occupants lacked adequate storage space; they found it difficult to prepare food; they struggled to eat as a family (having no space for dining tables or chairs); they made do with one bathroom when two were really needed; and their homes had ceased to be sociable places, where they could entertain friends. Few of the functional necessities outlined in the 1961 'Homes for Today and Tomorrow' report (HM Government, 1961), and which led to prescribed floor space minimums in public housing from 1967 until 1980, were being delivered in new private housing in England. Homes were simply too small, and regulation - assumed to be working so well elsewhere - was the presented answer. Given the problems of housing quality faced by a great many households, regulation could be viewed as a 'moral' imperative that offered a legal means of ensuring the 'good of the public' (Ben-Joseph, 2005, xiv).

It was in the context of this debate that research was undertaken by the current authors to examine the detailed effects of floor space regulation on new housing in Italy. That research was broadly concerned with the way regulation worked within Italy's wider system and culture of housing production: the effects of regulation relative to the effects of land-use planning; relative to the effects of buyer expectation; and relative to the effects of lending practices. Systemic traits create a particular context for the way in which housing is supplied and the way in which regulation is able to work (Hincks et ah, 2013). Due to these systemic traits, the housing policies of one country may not be 'mobile': they may not transfer easily to another context, even though observers from the potential recipient country may see a potential to reuse those policies.

However, even where policies are patently non-transferrable in their original form, there is often an assumption (based on high-level data) that these policies are having the desired effect within their country of origin. In Italy, floor spaces in new homes - across all types - are consistently larger than in England (Gallent et ah, 2010), and Italian regulation affects the balance of general living and sleeping spaces in the home (see below). The logic of comparing Italy with England was, therefore, that Italian regulation (written into a generic building code in 1975 and applied universally to all new housing) was responsible for maintaining relatively good space standards; the logical derivative being that the space attributes of Italian homes are better aligned with the needs of their occupants, delivering on the functional necessities that appear absent from some English homes. …

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