Why should housebuilders give two hoots about 2024?
Our serialisation of Housing Futures, a CABE/RIBA initiative, presents a dystopian vision of urban life in 20 years' time (pages 24-29). But surely a dire forecast can't cloud today's sunny outlook? Persimmon, for example, has reported a 35% rise in profit, and predicts strong growth this year (page 20). Its challenges are of the 2004 variety: oscillating house prices, the City's bull-headed refusal to re-rate the sector and the planning crisis – the subject of an impassioned letter from minister Keith Hill (page 34). What chief executive has time to worry about the cares of their successors in 2024? Well, to answer a question with a question, what chief executive wouldn't like to be remembered as the brilliant strategic thinker who laid the foundations for the company's long-term prosperity?

What's compelling about Housing Futures is that its starting point is not Orwellian fantasy but the Sustainable Communities Plan and the South-east's present population drift. John Prescott may deliver an urban renaissance from Blackburn to Barking – although the signs are not encouraging (pages 44-46). But what if it falls apart? What if the middle classes refuse to buy high-density homes on the Essex floodplain? Can billions of pounds of taxpayers' cash and dirigiste planning really persuade us that we don't want a detached house, a two-litre car and a secluded garden?

As Sean Griffiths argues, there's little to suggest that a century of suburbanisation is about to end. And as the middle classes decamp, their loft apartments will be colonised by immigrants. And those cute microflats for low-paid nurses and teachers; well, that was before the privatisation of health and education in the 2010s. When key workers' pay doubled, they scarpered to the suburbs, too.

If it does all go wrong, the consequences for architects' reputations are obvious. And housebuilders have much to ponder. Change may be political as well as social. What if a future regime treats homes like cars, and makes manufacturers responsible for their product after the sale? The future of housing matters now. Enjoy our series over the next four weeks, and please join the debate.

From McAlpine to Munich

How quaint that the court battle over the McAlpine family name should hinge on a secret deal in the 1930s (see news). But then that decade was a golden age of landmark agreements designed to stand the test of time. Such as the QSs’ decision to form their own society and never surrender their independent voice. Or the move to draft a perfect standard contract that, according to The Builder of the time, would lead us to industrial utopia (it was called “the JCT”). Then there was the Architects’ Registration Act, designed to ensure that, as The Builder put it, “the word ‘architect’ would carry with it an assurance of technical competence”. Then there was the question of an airport for London, which the crack architects of the day all agreed should be built at … King’s Cross. As a great prime minister of the 1930s, Neville Chamberlain, said after yet another such agreement: “I have, in my hand, a piece of paper …”