Questions of Design: Why do new houses look the way they do?

Questions of Design: Why do new houses look the way they do?

Why do new houses being built look the way they do? Are they liked, or just accepted in a market that has no real choice? If they are liked what it is about them that we are attracted to? But if we don’t like them, what is influencing the design?

Questions of Design is research project to investigate visual attitudes to housing in England. The exercise of taste is one of the ways in which we define who we are and as such is an important dimension in our sense of satisfaction and well-being. But little is known about the actual parameters of consumers’ tastes in housing.  There is widespread criticism of the design quality of volume housebuilder developments. The shortage of housing supply, the primacy of location and the short-term interests of housebuilders to maximise profit tend to be cited for this, but rarely are the tastes and preferences of housebuyers considered.

Nearly half of all new homes in the UK are built by the top 10 volume house builders, noted in the Calcutt Review of Housebuilding Delivery as “not in business to serve the public interest, except incidentally. Their primary concern is to deliver profits for their investors, now and in the future.” An Office of Fair Trading study of the market also highlighted that with the importance of price and location dominating house purchasing choices, in a market where new supply outstrips new demand by a ratio of two to one, sales and increasing prices are not a necessary indication of buying choice.

Research has shown that after location, external appearance and in particular a period style, are cited as important priorities to the vast majority of homeowners, with more respondents rating the importance of these aspects of their homes than the size, décor and quality of the room.  Newly built homes in the UK are also the smallest in Europe.  Why do we value looking-at over being-in?

The research, led by Partner Gillian Horn, arises from Gillian’s interest in understanding why such consistently criticised, poor quality, neo-vernacular housing is being produced in the UK. Gillian is currently undertaking a funded research doctorate that investigates the formation and influence of taste on the behaviour of housebuilders and homebuyers and the extent that it limits the design quality of new housing. Her findings will feed back and be tested in practice.

Questions of Design

Papers & Talks

  • DR_SoM (Design Research, Series on Methods) conference in Antwerp in May 2015
  • Uni of Reading conference on Research on Practice in April 2016
  • Questions of Design: Why do new houses look the way they do? 1
  • Research Questions of Design Stripped alternative Penoyre and Prasad