By the 1970s post-war approaches and state ownership of housing was being questioned. Industrial disputes exposed the weakness of the economy and it became clear that the national project of replanning our towns and cities was costing a fortune and leading to unintended consequences. City populations were shrinking on the back of systematic clearance, while standardisation in building had created often inhuman and alienating environments.
From the early 1980s onwards there was a rolling back of state control and provision. Plans and standards were torn up and people and their individual choices became central to an age of freedom. Government encouraged those who rented to take up their 'right' to ownership. Meanwhile, those with money rediscovered the charms of historic housing. A fresh wave of easily available credit led to an explosion in new suburban development, with developers providing yet another vision of 'home'. Estates of cul-de-sacs with nostalgic names and traditional skylines peppered 1980s Britain, accompanied by out-of-town retail and business parks built for the car.
Ronan Point, London, after building collapse.
...came this, which...
Byker Wall, Newcastle-upon-Tyne. © Architectural Press Archive / RIBA
...led to this
© Christopher Hope-Fitch / RIBA
Working with tenants and local authorities, many architects sought to bring back variety in materials and design that could again express individualism and home rather than machine. So-called community architecture rejected the coldness of mass production and engaged people, asking them what they wanted and introduced elements of choice in design. Traditional-looking homes came to dominate what remained of state provision. Local authorities gradually shed their architects departments and built cheaper versions of what the market provided. Elsewhere, private development took the yearning for tradition to new scales.
Sarah Beeny: Architects – provocateurs and reformers
"The role of architects in designing everyday homes has shifted over the centuries, with them cast as hero or villain at different periods. In the 19th century, houses were provided by builders working to basic and long established designs. Architect-designed houses were largely for rich clients and later for reformers seeking model housing for working people."
"From the 1850s, however, social and health concerns stimulated architects to become increasingly active in developing housing ideas and working with – and later within – public authorities. In the 20th century their role was crucial in framing a modern view of the world. Quick to realise the potential of new materials and technologies, they provided new and idealistic plans for housing and blueprints for living."
"For some, however, such visions were unsettling. Architect-designed estates and high-rise blocks became the backdrop for increasing social fragmentation that, captured by the mass media, became emblematic for those seeking a return to traditional designs. Some schemes have been very successful in encouraging a sense of community. But the role of the architect in housing and their interaction with developers is still hotly debated today, with issues of sustainability, housing density and interior space dominating discussion. Unlike other countries in Europe, much new housing in Britain remains very traditional in look and form."