I went to an event at Central St. Martin’sthis evening which was meant to be about beauty, but was actually about housing. First up was Sir Roger Scruton, the chairman of the government’s Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission. I am unusual in that I don’t think this Commission is a stupid idea (the government needs to encourage public housing and badly needs some level of public consensus as to how best to do this), nor that Scruton as a philosopher who has written about architecture is necessarily a bad person to chair it. But I wasn’t reassured by the fact that he said baldly that people hate living in Los Angeles when it has a population of 4 million who have chosen to live there and do so very happily. Next was Liza Fior of Muf. Her practice has done good work in Barking and elsewhere (as it happens, on the Mile End Road) which is sensibly informed by public consultation. Andrew Whittaker, the Planning Director of the Home Builders Federation, made clear that the big volume builders give the public as far as possible what the public wants, which is very conventional, traditional housing. Deborah Garvie, the Planning Director of Shelter argued, which is obvious, that for the homeless basic housing is far better than none. And Neil Pinder, a very impressive secondary school teacher, advocated much greater diversity in young architects.
Was there any consensus about what makes for good housing ? Almost none. What form should new housing take ? I suspect that Peter Barber’s 100 Mile City at the Design Museum provides a better answer.