Good design begins at home

Terence Conran says we deserve better than boxy new houses with fake 'traditional' trimmings

Share
Related Topics
An Englishman's home is, supposedly, his castle. These days an Englishman's home - if it's newly built - is a stronghold against nothing more than the fear and suspicion of change.

For the most part, house builders remain adamant that the identical estates that they build from Bodmin to Billericay to Bradford simply reflect the demands of the public. Yet the boom in "loft living" - adapting old industrial buildings for residential use - that has swept London and other big cities suggests that our living patterns are changing, that there is a real demand for domestic environments that are more imaginative and more flexible than the traditional two-up, two-down.

As we approach the end of the century, isn't it about time we had the confidence to develop a style of domestic architecture of its time, rather than one that is kitsched out with the inappropriate accoutrements of past times - fake Georgian porticoes and coachlamps, ersatz Tudor beams and the like? Rather than row upon row of identikit houses, couldn't we look at introducing some variety in the sizes of plot, the use of materials, the means of demarcating boundaries? New estates built by local people using, where possible, local materials would address the communities they are meant to serve. Consultation and representation can result in houses where people take a pride in their broader environment, fostering a sense of community.

The house builders may tell you that they are simply building what the public wants. But if the public is given no other choice, the public has to accept what is on offer. If you do not offer alternatives, how do you know if what you are offering is what people truly want?

The layouts of most homes today still conform to an antiquated mode of living. As pressure is put on both the amount of time available to spend with our family and friends and the amount of space available for our homes, open-plan living spaces - where the cooking, entertaining, eating and relaxing all take place - make practical and financial sense. They also provide an opportunity for far greater ingenuity and individuality than three separate rooms.

When I was a judge for the City of Architecture and Design award, one of the things that particularly impressed the whole panel was the approach to housing in Glasgow's winning bid. The council and the housing associations actually consulted their tenants about the plans to replace some of the meanest high-rise blocks that the Sixties produced - and the answer, despite the errors of the high-rise, was good modern housing. These people weren't afraid of the benefits of technology; they didn't want to hide kitchen appliances behind panels adorned with wheatsheaf motifs, didn't shy away from using contemporary materials such as concrete or fibreglass. They weren't afraid of modern design; and they relished the opportunity that the consultation process gave them for stamping a little of their own personalities on the look and layout of their homes.

While private developments give little cause for optimism, there are encouraging signs that new public buildings are back on the agenda, and that the criteria by which they are judged take quality and design into consideration.

The government-funded organisation English Partnerships is responsible for bringing together private, public and voluntary groups to plan and build new developments. The launch last month of its guide Time For Design, suggests that it cares about our built heritage. Its criteria for partners seeking financial support show a holistic approach to buildings and their environments. All buildings affect people, whether they live in them, work in them orpass them in the street.

New projects should be sympathetic to existing buildings and the general landscape. They should acknowledge that both new projects and regeneration projects are not just about the exterior of the building: they are about the interiors, too, the fixtures and fittings - specifications should penetrate to the detail of design.

Good design improves the quality of life. Far too often, it seems, design is viewed as expensive, superficial styling. It is not - design is fundamental to success or failure, whether of a new product or a new building.

The writer is a designer, retailer and restaurateur.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Java Developer - 1 year contract

£350 - £400 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Cent...

Junior Analyst - Graduate - 6 Month fixed term contract

£17000 - £20000 Per Annum Bonus, Life Insurance + Other Benefits: Clearwater P...

SAS Business Analyst - Credit Risk - Retail Banking

£450 - £500 per day: Orgtel: SAS Business Analyst, London, Banking, Credit Ris...

Project Manager - Pensions

£32000 - £38000 Per Annum Bonus, Life Insurance + Other Benefits: Clearwater P...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors and Omissions: In thrall to a word that we don’t quite comprehend

Guy Keleny
 

The No campaign has a classic advertising problem: they need to turn a negative into a positive

John Hegarty
Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone