Red Road flats, Glasgow, built 1969. © Richard Chivers / RIBA Library Photographs Collection Two diagrams comparing kitchen designs, 1944. ©RIBA Library Photographs Collection "Seco" prefabs, 1946. © John Maltby / RIBA Library Photographs Collection Park Hill Estate, Sheffield, 1961. © Architectural Press Archive / RIBA Library Photographs Collection Housing, Stevenage, 1950s. © Architectural Press Archive / RIBA Library Photographs Collection  

The years after the Second World War were unique in shaping how we lived. War had destroyed vast numbers of houses and many more were seriously deteriorating. These pressures led the post-war government not only to create the NHS, but also to make planning and building homes a policy priority. Housing people and reforming society became a key aim of the new Welfare State.


By the late 1950s, Britain was in the grip of a building frenzy. Entire new towns and communities were planned and built. Fed by new roads, places such as Stevenage, Cumbernauld and Runcorn took people out of large cities and provided them with spacious modern homes and a host of modern facilities. New developments allowed architects and planners to experiment with towers, streets in the sky and high-density living units. Physical change was matched by a boom in consumer spending. Appliances such as vacuum cleaners, toasters, hi-fi and televisions became commonplace. Homes became places where the future could be experienced on a daily basis.



             From this... 
The Promised Land
Still from Land of Promise. 

      ...came this, which... 
Keeling House
Keeling House, Bethnal Green, London.
               ...led to this 
Aylesbury Estate, Walworth, Southwark, London
Aylesbury Estate, Walworth, London.
© Tony Ray-Jones / RIBA


Inspired by the European Modernist movement and ideas from Scandinavia, post-war homes were characterised by large windows, balconies, light furnishings, fitted kitchens and bathrooms. Residential towers characterised the new Britain, housing tens of thousands in various combinations of flats and maisonettes set in parkland or in cleared areas of the city. An emphasis on speed of building and volume of housing units ushered in new methods of construction and prefabrication. However, this had mixed results and many later developments were of low quality.



Sarah Beeny: Ownership – to have and to hold

Sarah Beeny


"The UK is a country wedded to the idea of ownership. The old cliché of an Englishman’s home is all around us and land is carved into hundreds of thousands of plots with people expressing their own territory in innumerable different ways."

"Significant parts of historic cities are still owned by companies and families gifted them in previous centuries and are operated on a leasehold system – a temporary right to use, with land returning to the landlord after an agreed term. It was not until the 1930’s with a relaxation of lending by building societies that ownership became an option for more people, though still a limited number."

"For much of the 20th century, rented accommodation remained common, with the state steadily assuming control of all types of homes through councils and development corporations. A combination of negligent private landlords and invasive state regulation led many to see rent as undesirable. By the start of the last boom, ownership was THE national obsession, with renting viewed as a necessity against the long-term goal of a mortgage and a foot on the property ladder."