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What might your house look like in the future?

June 30, 2016

Some thoughts on the RIBA exhibition about Designing the House of Tomorrow …….

In conjunction with the BBC, RIBA have created an exhibition on the House of Tomorrow, taking three archetypes – the cottage, the terrace and the apartment – as the basis of its analysis.   The BBC4 programmes, hosted by Dan Cruickshank, covered the history of these forms of housing and can be found on iPlayer here.

The Cottage

Originating in the need to provide accommodation for workers on grand estates, the cottage was basically a rural design. In the Domesday Book, most of the population were recorded as living in cottages – they were “cottars” (a new one on me).

By the early 20th century, cottage-living was becoming idealised. The exhibition shows the “Daily Mirror Cottage”, on the Sheerwater Estate, Byfleet from 1910.

Increasing urban encroachment and gentrification has meant that these areas are now very financially attractive. Resisting the call for wholesale demolition and fundamental rebuild, architects in Athis-Mons, near Orly, have been looking at “densification” (ugh!), while in West Barton, Yorkshire, “clustering” of gardens has been the approach.

In Port Sunlight, Lever Brothers, inspired by the Arts and Crafts Movement, looked to build a denser community with cottage-like style. This was a link to the next form of residence:

The Terrace

The terrace as a housing model has many forms, from Coronation Street to Royal Crescent in Bath. Common to both however, is the creation of communal space: from back alleys where children could play in safety to lovely Georgian Squares and the Belgravia private communal gardens. A sense of community is created and sustained by these physical forms.

“Custom build” terrace houses are now being explored. The concept goes back to the 1774 Building Act which defined 4 “rates” of terraced houses – different sizes and forms. Now you can select your house size and format online – just like specifying your new car’s features – and commission the developer to build it for you, within an overall design code.

One exploration in the exhibition is the “Party House”, the beginnings of an approach to communal living. If you are in “halls adjoining” semis, why not take down the wall and create a communal space? The “Granny flat” concept has been around a while – is this a wider approach to multi-generational, multi-family living?

Increasing home-working, where there is less need to commute or move to the city could also lead to more local community living, and need for local services.


The exhibition examines how communal living has evolved, from monasteries and colleges, taking as an example St John’s College, Cambridge moving from its 15th century origins to its 20th century Cripps Hall with roof terrace. Wolfson College Oxford was also highlighted for its communal staircase.

Art Deco apartments (à la Poirot), 1960’s tower blocks (with the Hinckley Point disaster noted) to Dolphin Square are among other examples explored. Communal living seems to be on the rise: from student halls, through young professionals flat/house sharing to sheltered housing for the elderly (and increasingly not quite so elderly – Pegasus Life do a range of housing for the over-60’s).

Dolphin Square is one of a number of examples in the exhibition where such communal spaces can incorporate shops, bars, and even swimming pools and squash courts.


Is the trend from the individual to communal really that strong? Is the nuclear family unit declining and changing back into a multi-generational or more flexible format? The challenges of affordability and ageing are clearly drivers, but privacy and the concept of personal space surely remain a force. For much of the late 20th century, suburbs were largely dormitories for the central city activity: you worked and socialised in the city centre with colleagues or friends from other suburbs. Was that a passing phase?

I thought one failing of the exhibition was the lack of detailed consideration of the implications of many people working from home. The idea that it would create more local communities was there, but the space implications weren’t addressed – maybe there could be a model which integrated the communal residence with small business centres?

Personally I’ve always thought that a good way to end my days would be as a Fellow at a Cambridge College (if only!). No building or garden maintenance responsibilities, domestic services on hand, communal dining (with an excellent cellar!) with like-minded, interesting people, surrounded by lively young students with stimulating ideas in art and science – plus good medical support!

Written by Huw Williams, SAMI Principal.

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily of SAMI Consulting.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Nick Jackson permalink
    July 1, 2016 10:34 am

    I think my future house might be in the middle of a field in France, if I can get citizenship through marriage. (That last bit’s already done..)

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