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07/05/2020

The homebuilding revolution must start with the young

Young people on construction site

We need to take a fresh look at how we build houses, argues Mark Southgate. And whatever we do, we must ensure we bring a new generation of housing professionals into the discussion

Our homes are the most important piece of architecture in our lives. They craft the way  we live and how we grow as families and communities. A well-designed home promotes well-being; a poorly designed one the opposite. As we emerge from enforced time spent in our homes, our attitude to place, space and value may be different, more demanding and less tolerant of poor quality.

Great placemaking, high standards of home design and high quality housebuilding should be the norm. This includes zero, or even net, carbon to combat climate change and address fuel poverty; secure homes and neighbourhoods that promote mental and physical health; and adaptable homes that facilitate healthy ageing.

"It’s incredible that for one of our most expensive purchases, or monthly outgoings, time has largely stood still"

The UK is a long way from delivering these aspirations right now. The way we build houses has hardly changed in 100 years. Other manufacturing sectors have undergone revolutions, but Victorians would recognise much of today’s housing ‘technology’. It’s incredible that for one of our most expensive purchases, or monthly outgoings, time has largely stood still. Other sectors focus on continuously improving to meet customers’ changing needs. Where is it in housebuilding?

It can be found if you look hard enough, but much of what we build is uninspiring, poorly designed and sometimes shockingly poor in build quality. The government is committed to delivering 300,000 new homes, but we must radically improve how we build. That means building homes that are efficient, effective and adaptable to our changing needs. It means bringing in new approaches.

Modern methods of construction are part of the new approach, but so is a stronger customer focus, and changing practice through continuous improvement. We should demand houses that are cheaper to run, better to live in, adaptable, last for longer and reduce our environmental footprint.

At MOBIE we want to positively disrupt the sector by attracting and nurturing a new generation of designers, makers, developers, and architects, planners and surveyors. That’s why we’ve created an educational pathway for young people, from engagement with schools, through to BTECs and PhDs in advanced home design.

There are incredible opportunities for young people to create a built environment that is green, affordable, promotes health and well-being and builds homes that are amazing spaces to live in.

Mark Southgate MRTPI is chief executive of MOBIE, the Ministry of Building Innovation

Photo | iStock

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