Building Futures, a joint initiative between CABE and the RIBA, has just produced Housing Futures 2024, a set of reports that speculate on developments in British housing to 2024.
Over the next four weeks, Building will print extracts from eight papers covering the economic, political and technological problems facing housebuilding – starting with an assessment of the growing housing crisis, the need for a complete policy rethink and a dystopian prediction of social decay.

paper #1 Housing vistas
Kathryn firth/roger zogolovitch

There is a growing sense of crisis relating to housing. This is most immediately expressed by the imbalance in supply and demand between the South-east and the north of England, which the government is trying to solve with its Sustainable Communities Plan. The plan is a useful context for the debate and clearly defines the issues but ultimately continues the planning-led idea of "predict and provide". It attempts to treat the problem by assessing housing statistics from previous eras, and treating the shortage of housing supply according to housing patterns from the past. This paper questions whether that is the correct approach and argues that it is necessary to look beyond the issue of supply and demand.

Housing is part of the consumer society. It is seen as an investment and home ownership is rising – by 1% in London and 3% across the country. However, owning a home is out of the reach of many people, and this is most true in the capital. Statistics that measure the affordability of housing show that the cost of private ownership keeps rising to higher and higher levels. These statistics point not only to a growing crisis, but to this paper's argument that housing is moving away from historical precedent. In short, we are on the road to a new housing landscape.

The major problems are that the type and location of housing that people want to live in, is not available, and that land supply is severely restricted. The latter does not only refer to the availability of land, but to its use. The planning system is too inflexible in allowing change of use. The result of these constraints on housing is spiralling prices.

housing vistas (extract)
what we want is not available

Ours is a consumer culture partly fuelled by a belief in home ownership. Therefore, it is when the supply side of the accommodation equation is plummeting that we get into trouble. Across the UK, the balance between households and dwellings has worsened slightly, especially in the 1990s and in London.

Forget taskforces chaired by noble architects Forget regeneration by deputy prime ministers Forget the Civic Trust’s “urban renaissance” Forget Piercy Conner microflats for very small nurses and manhattan loft apartments for today’s thrusting Yuppies Forg

Housing, in this country probably more than elsewhere in Europe, is seen as an investment asset. It therefore reflects cyclical influences on expectations and consumption patterns. These can be seen in the spiralling of house prices during the past five years in the context of a low interest environment and the transfer of chunks of personal savings from equity markets to real estate markets with the growth of the buy-to-let investment. All of these are symptoms of the failure of supply and drive us to imbalance and to crisis.

Despite the fact that a healthy private rental sector has been shown to correlate with healthy employment levels, home ownership keeps growing. It is up 1% in London and 3% across the UK.

Interestingly, the private rented sector appears lately to have started accommodating poorer households as access to social housing declines. This has occurred despite the fact that there are no tax incentives to encourage owner–occupiers to rent out their homes or some portion thereof.

… by 2024 certain sections of our inner cities have begun to look like kowloon

Owning a home is out of the reach of many people, and this is especially true in London. Statistics monitoring the cost of private ownership in affordability terms – the multiple of earning necessary to support the mortgage repayments and, thus, capital cost, keep rising to historically high and unsustainable levels.

We are on the path towards a new landscape for housing provision in the UK, expressed through desire and choice rather than the older municipal predict and provide. Demand in the South-east and surplus in the North-west and North-east reflect these consumer choices.

The problem is that the type and location of housing that people want to live in, is not available. The market must free up aspirations and housing choice. This change in the market towards consumerism will demand a much wider choice than our historical predecessors.

We are moving away from historical precedent. we are on the road to a new Housing landscape …

The ready availability of long term mortgage finance at historically low levels of interest has enabled ownership of multi-units of accommodation for occupation, enjoyment and investment.

Capital gains tax relief on gains from home ownership has contributed to the attractiveness of real estate investment for affluent sections of the community. Economists recognise that spending generated growth in the economy is assisted by house price escalation, which, in turn, has justified additional personal borrowing.

Kathryn Firth and Roger Zogolovitch are part of the LSE Cities Programme

paper #2 the New suburban ideal
sean griffiths

This imaginary newspaper article considers how, over the decades, the Ideal Home Exhibition has more accurately reflected the housing preferences of most people than the visions of architects and planners. In particular, the exhibition has anticipated the trend towards suburbanisation that has been a major shaper of the urban and rural landscapes throughout the 20th century. This trend is shown to have continued in the period up to 2024, despite the attempts of architects, planners and politicians to stimulate an urban renaissance. This assumption is made on the basis of processes that have actually unfolded over the past hundred years and which show no sign of abating in 2004. The assumption is also informed by the experience of similar societies, such as those the USA, where the process of suburbanisation, and a number of other associated social trends, is more advanced.

Prefabricated microflats, in particular, have proved to be lacking in adaptability for the new inhabitants of the inner city – the immigrant poor

Also, taking its cue from the urban experience of the USA, the article is a discussion of the effects of immigration on both inner city and suburban housing. By 2024, a process of middle-class flight from the inner cities will be well under way. It will be driven by factors such as increasing privatisation of public services and large increases in levels of immigration.

The inner cities will be home to a significant proportion of these new immigrants, who will appropriate the discarded urban fabric and adapt it to meet their needs.

The middle class will be joined in the expanding suburbs by established immigrant groups, which have by now risen to the ranks of the middle class. This process and a number of other social factors will effect a substantial change in both the physical fabric of the suburban landscape and social practices within it. However, these changes will manifest themselves subtly, particularly in respect of the appearance of housing, which will maintain its largely traditional aesthetic.
Sean Griffiths is a director of FAT Architects

the suburban ideal (extract)
inner cities abandoned to the poor

This year's Ideal Home exhibition shows us that despite the great social, environmental, and technological changes we have witnessed over the last 20 years, little has changed in the aspirations and values of Middle England. Despite the pressures of environmental ideology and the exorbitant cost of land and housing, Middle England continues to yearn for the house surrounded by a bit of garden in a landscape, which, in the mind's eye at least, is still a rural ideal. This has meant that the trend towards urban sprawl and the suburban ideal, that many predicted, again perhaps through a little too much wishful thinking, would disappear, is still going strong. And the so-called urban renaissance, which many architects and urbanists hoped for 20 years ago, has with the exception of London and a few trendy spots in the northern cities, largely failed to materialise.

It was ironic given the image of footloose and fancy-free bachelor life with which loft apartments were once associated that they have proved ideal homes for immigrant communities and their large extended families

Environmental and social factors, together with technological change, have undoubtedly contributed to this failure, but could it also be a result of the continuing rejection of architects' values by those who inhabit mass housing?

The social failure of many new types of houses dreamt up by architects in the 1990s and 2000s certainly raises this question. And it does seem as though the much heralded reinvigoration of modernist housing that was inspired by the Dutch high-density housing boom of the 1990s has resulted in architects and planners repeating some of the mistakes of the 1960s. Prefabricated microflats, in particular, have proved to be lacking in adaptability for the new inhabitants of the inner city – the immigrant poor. Originally built for inner-city key workers, there are today very few key workers left to fill them. Those who work in the now largely privatised health, police and fire services have tended to follow their paymasters to the suburbs.

In contrast, types of inner-city housing that developed more organically, such as loft apartments have proven more adaptable to social change. Like the fine inner-city Georgian and Victorian houses of the 18th and 19th centuries, these former homes of the wealthy have been abandoned to poorer immigrant groups, as the wealthy flee the increasing social polarisation, crime and exorbitant congestion charges of the inner city. Such properties, somewhat ironically given the image of footloose and fancy-free bachelor life with which they were once associated, have proven to be ideal places for immigrant communities and their large extended families to inhabit. However, the "open-plan" lifestyle celebrated by the previous occupiers, has been replaced by a more flexible maze of rooms, creating warren-like environments that accommodate the demands of living, sleeping, eating, reproducing and – importantly – working.

The inhabitants of these spaces, offered no support by the social security system, seek to eke out a living amongst themselves, causing the buildings to spawn innumerable cottage industries including manufacturing, schooling and farming. As a result, certain sections of our inner cities have begun to look more like the old walled city of Kowloon in Hong Kong, than a traditional British city, while others are deserts of desolation, either in the form of uninhabited wastelands, or in the equally lifeless gated communities that protect the few remaining wealthy urbanites from those who free them of drudgery.

Housing Futures 2024

Housing Futures 2024 is part of the Building Futures programme, a joint CABE/RIBA initiative. It’s aim is to inspire, stimulate and facilitate discussion on the future of housing. The project incorporates a provocative series of papers written by academics, built environment professionals and construction industry representatives.

Join the debate What do you think are the key issues affecting housing in this country? Do you agree with our authors? Log on to to give your view and to read the full-length versions of each paper.

Building Futures was established in April 2002 to create space for discussion about what our society needs from its built environment, and consequently the built environment professions, from 2024 and beyond

Next week the series will consider the future in economic and delivery terms.