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Faulty Product

Marston Court, Ealing photo Ealing Council

Marston Court, Ealing photo Ealing Council

We know the rules for building in urban and rural situations – respect for local context, form, massing, materials, architectural style etc. Design guidance and planning rules abound. So what is an architect to make of ‘container’ homes like these in Ealing (delivered courtesy of  ‘offsite manufacture’) which break them all?

In the sense that they are an emergency response to a desperate need for affordable housing they are to be welcomed but more than anything they are a symptom of a broken system that is unable to deliver a steady supply of  ‘proper’ homes that are integrated into their surroundings.

Delivered complete to site then ‘plugged in’ to the infrastructure they are like a nightmare version of Archigram’s visionary ‘plug in city’. Cramped, with no gardens or sense of place and with poor sound and thermal insulation etc. they are clearly a terrible place to live yet for some of the residents they represent an upgrade from bed and breakfast accommodation and councils are starting to build more of them to alleviate the housing crisis.

As there should be no need for homes like these they are a sad indictment of our priorities as a society in terms of how we allocate land and resources. There is a shortage of construction skills through a lack of training. Factory production will result in cheap, rapidly produced accommodation that is hard to adapt and unsustainable due to its short design life. Skilled site tradesmen will be replaced by factory workers carrying out repetitive tasks with all the issues about the social and human evils of factory work. They have no regard for the urban context in which they are located. If this is the future we will have to radically rethink what the built environment looks like, how we create it and how it functions.

This ‘fix’ is not inevitable, it is a political choice. The delivery mechanism is broken and is supplying faulty goods.

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Iain Miller