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Design Matters: RIBA report challenges perceptions of new homes

Andrew Forth, Head of Policy and Public Affairs, explains why a new RIBA report makes the case for good design in new housing.

29 November 2018

When a Conservative Secretary of State, who has spent his career calling for less regulation, is attacking developers for delivering “rows of pokey, identikit boxes that plague too many developments”, you know that house-building has an image problem. Indeed, all too often, politicians find themselves being forced to oppose new developments to protect their seats.

New homes will always generate strong debate, but the best developers recognise that good architects and good design can smooth the process of obtaining support for a new development. This is critical to help tackle the housing crisis and stop the damaging race to the bottom on quality.

In research carried out for the RIBA earlier this year, only 1 in 4 people said that they would choose to live in a new build – and in some parts of the country that fell to as low as 1 in 5. This hostility towards new homes from their potential occupiers is vastly different to the views of residents in other countries and completely at odds with our attitudes towards other big-ticket purchases like cars or technology.

We know that for many people, the design of new housing can determine their attitude towards a development. Unfortunately, the most positive thing that can be said about the design of quite a lot of new homes is that it is unremarkable. In many places it seems that the design phase of a project amounts to little more than the selection of a template and the identification of the most lucrative arrangement of new homes. Combined with horror stories about problems with the build quality, it is unsurprising that most people say that they would not choose to live in a newly built home.

The 22 projects highlighted in RIBA’s report Design Matters have all won RIBA awards in recognition of their outstanding design. Covering every part of the market and all over England they demonstrate what is possible. These projects represent only a small slice of the total market, but, we believe that we can change the minds of the politicians and decision makers and push for better design standards. In the coming months, we will be publishing a follow-up document that sets out how local communities and their representatives can push the planning system to demand good design. I’d encourage members of the profession to go and speak to your local councillors, lobby them to demand more from the people who want to build new homes in your area.

The RIBA will be continuing to take the quality message to politicians and civil servants, including facilitating visits to the projects featured in this report to learn from the architects, planners and residents about what makes these developments great places to live. I hope that RIBA members will find this document a useful tool and that it will help you to make the case for good design. The message we get from the MPs we meet is that they want help to make the case for new homes. This report is part of our response to that plea.

Andrew Forth, Head of Policy and Public Affairs

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