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Wednesday23 August 2017

Red tape strangles creativity in house design

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The construction industry is burdened with an array of regulation and red tape.

Many rules are pointless, expensive and detrimental to the production of good architecture. The Lifetime Homes Design Criteria — mandatory for publicly funded projects and increasingly a prerequisite for planning approval for any housing project — is one of the worst offenders.

Among its requirements is that all multi-level housing be able to accommodate a lift, have an accessible toilet at the ground-floor level (with provision for a future shower), and have ground-floor bed and living space.

This is on the basis that at some future point an occupier may need (through infirmity) to install a lift and live permanently on the ground floor.

The code was launched in an effort to provide greater flexibility for housing, but we believe it is counterproductive. The code requirements have specific design repercussions in a market that already severely restricts the amount of space available in new housing — as highlighted last week by the RIBA “Homewise” campaign (“RIBA campaigns over shameful shoeboxes” News September 16).

The consequences for housing design is a mismatch between the amount of accommodation required at ground-floor level compared with the space required on the upper floors, the provision of facilities for which there is rarely any need, and additional costs for which there is no obvious benefit.

No one would deny the need to make provision for those who are disabled, old or infirm but there has to be a better way of accommodating these people, who often have very specific requirements (which are often not reflected in the Lifetimes Homes Code) than to constrain the design of all housing with a range of unnecessary demands.

Regulations should be subject to rigorous scrutiny to demonstrate clear and measurable benefits, and designers and their clients should have greater freedom in deciding what makes sense and what doesn’t.

We would also argue that the plethora of codes and regulations should be simplified and better coordinated into a single coherent building code for each building type: the Scottish Building Standards provide an excellent model.

Charles Thomson, London EC2
Peter Barber, London WC1
Walter Menteth, London SE17
Elspeth Clements, London EC2
Annalie Riches and David Mikhail, London EC1

If you would like to add your support to this letter, add your full name and location in the comments below.

Read Amanda Baillieu’s comment on red tape and housing here.

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Readers' comments (11)

  • Sorry I dont think life time homes standards are that onerous. Perhaps when and where it is applied is. I would like to know if any of these architects has had much dealing with families with members with cerebral palsy or who through accident are immobile. They should not be restricted to buying houses in certain areas or having to apply to the council to get access to wheelchair accessible housing.

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  • Mike Duriez

    I agree with Anon. These requirements of the Lifetime Homes Code seem on the sensible side of regulations. Difficulty with stairs and difficulty becoming familiar with a new home are common problems associated with aging.

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  • i am all for providing provisions for everyone. However, what happened to providing homes for individuals? is this the problem we face today? regulations in place to minimise individuality. Dont we all have limited choice when we are looking for a home suited to our individual selves?

    unfortunatly i have to adapt to deal with my own problems and find selling my house with wild colors i paint the walls to aid my visual difficulties puts me at a disadvantage.... and when buying a house i get so confused and can't find the right one....

    it just seems crazy that i should consider a house i buy for myself that i hope to live in for the rest of my life to be enforced to be designed for someone else!

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  • John I'm afraid I am with the first two comments.

    Lifetimes homes is not difficult to accommodate, and in many way keeps a check on the spatial crush that happens in high density housing.

    Unless your individual brief leads towards very narrow corridors, tiny wcs and bathrooms etc I wouldn't worry too much. I'm sure it won't affect your aspirations.

    I have worked on plenty of private housing schemes in my time and I have never found a client asking me to make things more cramped...

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  • Hugo Hardy
    Berkhamsted, HP4

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  • Most architectural courses include exercises in minimising the space given to kitchens, bathrooms and circulation spaces in order to maximise living space, and for good reason. Many people live a substantial part of their lives in cramped accomodation (a current RIBA campaign) while they work their way up the property ladder and the space allocated for potential conversion at some future date is needed for living right now.

    Of course houses should be built to cater for the needs of people with restricted mobility, old or young, but there should also be houses built which maximise the net living space for young families on tight budgets. There is no universal solution.

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  • zecks_marquise

    While i agree that there are some oddies to Lifetime homes (and its scottish conterpart), removal of standards would only result in worse architecture. The great Tanner Oc once said "if you cater for the most needy, you cater for everyone"

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  • Why would you need a lift AND to be able to live permenantly on the ground floor? surely its one or the other?!

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  • Im sorry guys its the old story lack of talent and will power on both sides of the fence, so mindless bureaucrats think they must legislate what is required. The failure is not architecture or the lack of it, it's 'us', ever wondered why? my suggested text book which should be a compulsive read for all asspiring Architects is the Xenophobes guide to the English

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  • I agree that Lifetime Homes guidelines are there to help 'futureproof' houses for infirm or disabled persons and should not be ignored, however I also think that there should be renewed legislation stating that a certain percentage of all new build housing meets the LTH criteria; agreed that not everyone needs a lift, ground floor bedroom and accessible toilet in their home, but similarly there should be a certain number provided in all schemes for those that do.
    In public buildings for example, we only need provide 1 accessible toilet in a unisex facility, or 1 per male and female bathroom. Surely this common sense thinking could be applied in domestic situations and allow more freedom in house design?

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