Peter Barber lecture notes

DOnnybrook housing by Peter Barber Architects

Great lecture / presentation by Peter Barber at uni today about his housing projects in various urban sites around the UK. For this years project I’m focussing more on suburban conditions, but it was interesting to hear his view of what housing needs and what’s wrong with so much of the building industry in Britain these days. I’m probably missing some of the nuances of his presentation, but it’s probably fair to say that these were his main beefs:

01 – There needs to be more ownership. People take better care of their houses when they belong to them, rather than renting or leasing. It’s also easier to design effectively for end users rather than businessmen.

2 – A need for smaller housing associations. They’re getting bigger and bigger, and as housing developments get bigger, design care and individuality is reduced. It would be particularly good to see housing co-ops made up of end users, rather than single organistions who become increasingly goliath-proportioned. Something like 60% of housing in Paraguay (Or was it Uraguay?) is funded in this way – why not here?

3 – A major change in mortgage practices. It’s easy to buy a shite house in a boring suburb from a faceless sbuilding society. It’s very hard to get a mortgage for building your own house, but considering the care and love that self-builders bring to their neighbourhoods, surely this situation is ludicrous?

4 – A shake up of the real estate sytem in the UK. There’s a lot of corruption, and not much possibility for people to do their own thing. Why? No reason, it’s just turned out that way. A similar shake-up is required in the world of post-construction management, particularly again where housing associations are concerened – too often landscaping is not allowed to be maintained by tennants, meaning that little of quality is produced and little civic pride amongst residents is resulting.

Peter has a lovely collection of designs for clear, simple modernist architecture, but the interests and dreams which feed his designs are particularly interesting to me. He preaches the values of bottom-up heirarchies in neighbourhoods, personal ownership and expression, a ‘loose-handed’ approach to architectural and social structuring, enabling a more collective and collaborative society to show through its architectural boundaries. He believes that people are inherently likely to take part in such schemes, if only given the chance.

Well I’d agree, and I’d wish to point out further that the effectiveness and enthusiasm with which people get ahold of such methods of expression and organisation are already well established in the world of online societies and cultures. The whole web2.0 phenomenon is entirely focussed on user-generated content and swarms of people who organise themselves. As this kind of practice becomes second nature to us in our online lives, similar freedoms will surely be demanded from our physical lives – perhaps Pete’s hopes are closer to a near-future reality than he thought.

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