In recent years, there has been growing interest in the impact buildings have on the health and well-being of the people who use them.
Looking at how the space in which people spend the vast majority of their daily lives impacts their mental, physical and emotional health, is becoming a key consideration in the construction sector.
This is particularly topical not only in light of the housing crisis, but also the current pandemic.
With a growing housing shortage and pressing need for swift and practical solutions, planners, policymakers and designers are keen to tie in the provision of high quality, value for money homes with comfortable, healthy and happy living spaces.
You might think that this is simply common sense, but …..
An estimated 8.4 million people in England live in an unaffordable, insecure or unsuitable home, according to the National Housing Federation.
The latest analysis suggests the housing crisis is affecting all ages across every part of the country. Overcrowding, poor quality housing stock, unaffordable rent or mortgages are all factors.
The government has said housing is “a priority” and it is true that they have delivered 430,000 affordable homes since 2010. However, pressure is mounting on ministers to ramp up building programmes.
Work started on just 39,510 new homes between July and September last year, down 11% on the previous year, according to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government.
And over the 12 months to the end of September, work began on 157,550 new homes, down 7% on the previous year.
The fact is the government set a target of one million homes in five years, but their own figures show that the industry is way off that goal.
Build it beautiful
Simply building houses for people to live in isn’t enough. We don’t want to solve one problem and create another.
The legacy of previous attempts to solve housing crises – tower blocks – with their well-documented problems, serve as a very visible reminder of what can go wrong.
The emphasis should be on building communities with consideration for the long-term sustainability of the development and the health and quality of life of the residents.
An answer to the problem?
A shining example of what can be achieved is the winner of the 2019 RIBA Stirling Prize: Goldsmith Street, in Norwich, designed by Mikhail Riches with Cathy Hawley for Norwich City Council.
Echoing the popular terraced housing developments of the Victorian era, this high-density development of around 100 affordable houses and flats has not only achieved exacting Passivhaus standards (with anticipated annual fuel bills of just £150), but also created an attractive, sustainable, human-scaled setting with appealing communal green spaces. As RIBA put it ‘desirable, spacious, low energy’: In other words, a happy, healthy place to live.
Goldsmith Street is an affordable housing development but could just as well have been a private one – high quality, value for money, comfortable and sustainable –surely an inspiration and possible blueprint to help address the housing crisis across the country.
Image of Goldsmith Street: Tim Crocker/RIBA/PA