I managed to catch the At Home in Britain exhibition at RIBA last week, just before it closed. It was a small but carefully curated collaboration with a few architecture practices, to re-examine existing housing types in a future-facing context.
Alongside stimulus from the RIBA archive, the practices had proposed new takes on old typologies, everything from the block of flats to the suburban cottage.
Taking a look at some of RIBAs archive material was fascinating in itself, partly to get a sense of how communication design was an intrinsic part conveying these holistic new ways of living that were being proposed by architects at the time.
Trying to place myself as a potential house buyer in the 30s, for example, I almost understood the radical architectural principles more viscerally by engaging with the promotional material.
But these days I feel like every new building project I walk past just promotes ‘luxury living’ without really trying to set out anything new or transformative. Did we stop dreaming of better homes, new ways of living, and how we could actually use our housing to solve some of the looming problems of tomorrow?
A few pieces really reminded me of the thought process I went through when I took part in Russell Davies’s Lyddle End 2050 project back in 2008. One practice, Edouard François, proposed that the humble cottage, typically a single-storey suburban dwelling, should rise up, evolve, and literally grow into hybrid skyscrapers and urban gardens, whilst continuing to occupy the same plot.
Having recently submitted a lengthy and slightly ranty response to my local council’s proposal to give some green belt land over to housing, I wonder if we need to start adopting the hybrid approach more proactively, and actually start considering this. If we want to hold on to random, outdated policies like the green belt, we need to find a way to live more closely, within the spaces we already have. It was great to see RIBA opening up this debate, and I hope it managed to reach the people it needs to.