Following a recent trip to Nurnberg I find myself reflecting on the quality (or lack of) of new housing in the UK compared to some of our European neighbours.
During my short stay in the city I was struck by two things – the clearly evident vernacular style, which has developed over hundreds of years in response to climate and available materials, and secondly the quality of construction of the vast majority of new homes.
There is nothing more pleasing than to travel down a suburban street and see a line of residential dwellings, some dating back hundreds of years, some clearly very new, all differing in materials and construction method, yet sharing the same underlying vernacular architecture. A clear, linear progression, evidence of a cultural continuity and appreciation for those things that remain constant.
From the steeply pitched roof lines, maximising occupation of the roof space, to what seemed to be an obligatory inclusion of a habitable basement level for every new home. What you end up with a house that takes up no more space than your average 2 bed terrace in the UK, yet has pretty much twice the number of habitable rooms. What also impressed is the level of specification – from internal doors having rubber gaskets to increase sound insulation to widepsread use of galvanised steel rainwater products.
The Germans seem to take pride in their construction. The house I stayed in had a photograph of the electrician who installed the system fixed to the fuse board, a face beaming with clear satisfaction at a job well done, his telephone number underneath should you ever have a problem (or maybe just fancy a chat?). Driving on the autobahn, even the major infrastructure roadworks have open days where the workmen proudly show the public around the site, show them drawings and presumably give out free sausages.
Whilst there are some rare exceptions, house building in the UK seems to be simply about numbers – hitting targets, maximising profits, meeting market demand. Any idea of the social and human importance of good quality housing seems to be lost on us. I for one would welcome a change in the way we regulate new home design and construction, but somehow feel that given the continuing economic difficulties I’ll not be holding my breath.