Are Barratt Homes Almost Alright?
By Elly Ward
Unlike many of the other neighbourhoods established in Milton Keynes, Monkston was not conceived as part of the original masterplan and was not designed by an architect. Developed in 2007, it is a perfect example of modern volume housebuilding – a tightly packed maze of mildly aspirational, predominantly detached, Barratt style ‘executive’ homes. Typically, this style of housebuilding is not considered ‘architecture’ and is generally either disparaged or ignored by those who practice it.
Why is architecture not involved in this huge segment of the built environment? And does it deserve to be so much maligned? The people who buy and live in these homes do not seem to be too unhappy. One opinion is that the greater public are not informed enough to know whether their homes are good or bad and need an architect to tell them (discuss!), but perhaps it is because they simply do not have a choice, or, could it be that Barratt Homes Are (actually) Almost Alright?
Supply chains and aesthetics aside, I carried out some comparative analysis on a series of homes ranging from two to five bedrooms – some Barratt Homes, and some 1930s architect-designed homes (those seemingly most favoured by homebuyers today given the choice). Oh, and a original Levittown ‘Ranch House’ too for good measure.
Two Bedroom Houses
Three Bedroom Houses
Four Bedroom Houses
I also looked to some of the modern masters for inspiration.
Apart from the obviously bespoke nature of the commissioning clients brief, one major difference between mass built development housing and architect-designed homes – whether they be 1930’s semi’s or ‘key buildings of the 20th Century’- seems to be linked to orientation.
A one-off home or small cluster of homes can be designed totally for their context, fitted with neighbouring buildings and full advantage taken of the availability of light and views.
Off-the-shelf housing can never respond to the demands of an individual site (let alone eventual occupier) and any decisions about orientation are a case of fitting the required number of homes in a certain area and trying to avoid too much overlooking.
But are we really so defeatist to think that mass produced housing can never satisfy anything more than a basic shelter function, to simply squeeze in as many as possible and then add a few details, trimmings and mod cons here and there to help disguise this fact and persuade homebuyers they are getting something better?
Alvar Aalto once proposed the cherry blossom as a model for mass housing: “all the flowers are essentially the same but no two are exactly alike due to their individual history and position in relation to adjacent flowers, the sun, the wind and so on”.
There must be a way to provide generosity of space, generosity of light, views and moments of delight along with choice, identity and the opportunity for adaption to create individual homes that people truly desire too. We just have to care more and design better.