Architectural Thoughts On: Affordable Homes

Architecture isn’t just about bricks and mortar, but also the coordination of all the parts. From the micro to the macro, its considerations and final decisions will impact all in its ‘place’. Co-founders Dave B and Adam M started their architectural design practice ARCHIPHONIC, based in Liverpool, staying true to this manifesto and seeking to create spaces where memories are made. They join us to share some thoughts and views on topical and contemporary issues.



The year is 2020. We’re two years off another general election. Mortgage rates have risen by 3%. House prices have risen by almost £50,000. Cuts are made throughout the country and around 150,000 jobs have been lost in public administration, defence and social security. Over a million households living in privately rented accommodation are at risk of becoming homeless. People are asking, “why are homes STILL not affordable!” It’s for this reason that the question is being asked now by organisations like Shelter. It’s what might be labelled, a ‘hot topic’.

What is an affordable home? The connotation is low-level type housing which are in run down areas and attract social disorder and crime to areas which have an otherwise community spirit. It’s unfortunate that this idea has evolved this way as it’s certainly not the case. The average salary in the UK is around £27,000, while the lower end of the scale can be as low as £8,000 a year. Average graduate positions are around £20,000. With banks looking to lend on approximately four times annual salary and asking for upwards of 5% deposits it is becoming increasingly difficult for the under 30s to get on the ladder. Therein lies the problem: not enough homes at an affordable price for the demand, not enough money available to afford one, not enough jobs to get one. This is the real explanation behind ‘affordable homes’.



Yes, there are government schemes to look at how to help put cash into the pockets of the first time buyer. Yes, there are incentives for buying new and protecting land for future development. The thing is that none of these are going to solve the problem. One solution is to increase the number of homes being built, which is being carried out and we have certainly seen more developments springing up. Simple supply versus demand.

However, these are being confounded by the increased value of land, the increased cost of construction, and the increased profit requirements. The new homes have tags surpassing the affordability of the common household and subsequently they do not help the problem. As well, new homes are being sold with ground rent conditions which increase should the leasehold be sold to another developer. It’s a messy situation.

Is there a solution? Possibly. Generation Rent have alluded to introducing rent controls, saying, “across Europe, private rent controls are the norm”. Lichfield Consultancy have a controversial standpoint on Green Belt saying that, “whilst Green Belt is not the only factor underlying the housing crisis, its combined effects are serious.” The Chartered Institute of Housing consider it another way, by stating we need to, “take a step back and make sure that welfare policies are not obstructing housing policies designed to make sure people can access a decent home at a price they can afford.”

It might simply be that we need to build smarter. Perhaps the idea of the conventional home needs to be evolved in order to consider how to create community and advance the theme of neighbourhood. Looking to the Garden City movement and the areas they have created, it’s a real shame that these haven’t been looked to. The principle was considered by Sir Ebenezer Howard in 1898 and involved creating self-contained communities surrounded by Green Belt, incorporating homes, industry and agriculture. Considered in some ways to be self-sufficient, the principles of the Garden City have been used in Port Sunlight (Wirral), Letchworth and Welwyn to name a few. These communities have a much different ‘feel’ to other areas of a similar age and thrive on the spirit of togetherness created through similar mindsets.



Perhaps the idea of ‘home’ should be evolved too. There have been many investigations into micro homes. Recently in America, Escape One XL, designed and created by Escape Homes measures under 400 square feet but has large windows over two levels connected by a staircase. It has a 3.4 metre ceiling in the central kitchen and two sleeping lofts at either end and the space as a whole is light. More importantly, because the property does not require foundations and is classified as a recreational vehicle, it does not incur property tax.

In Barcelona, Barbara Appolloni Architect created the ‘Lego Apartment’. It is a 258 square feet room with cabinet doors across the left side and ends with a step up to a balcony. Hidden behind the cabinet doors is a fully fitted kitchen with double-burner, dishwasher, sink, microwave, fridge and freezer. Another cabinet folds down to create a four piece dining table. The seats are disguised as the stairs leading to the terrace looking over Barcelona, under which is a pull out double bed. There’s even a shower and sink with a private toilet.

Hong Kong architect Gary Chong has his impressive 344 square feet apartment, his family home until he bought it for $45,000. His transformation of the property is unique in that its mirrored ceiling creates the illusion of space while the sliding partitions create 21 rooms including a kitchen, guest bedroom, library, dining room, laundry-room and a spa with an extra-large all singing all dancing bathtub.

Obviously, this way of living is very select and by no means are we suggesting the answer is isolation. However, its design ingenuity, making spaces work harder than normal and making them multi-purpose that is important and make Chong’s space such a fascinating one. Of course, it’s not a new idea. Le Corbusier considered this integral to his designs for Cité Frugès and Unité d’habitation whereby the principle of creating spaces that would be used for living: regardless of income, regardless of background. These were affordable housing, thought about in a way that disregards the connotations.

New York is a great example of a city being hit by its own housing crisis to the point where it holds a competition called My Micro NY. In 2014, Carmel Place won and at 302 square feet, without the requirement of altering the way we live is important. The ceilings are tall at 2.7 metres, the same height as a typical new build house floor to floor. The windows are almost floor-to-ceiling and they all have Juliet balconies which look over the city. 17 come with specially constructed furniture, 15 come unfurnished and eight units were set aside for homeless veterans. Perhaps these idealisms are not so removed from reality.

So, perhaps the housing crisis isn’t so much of an issue? Perhaps we don’t need to look for a solution to a problem? Perhaps, if we changed our thought process and stop looking for someone to blame, we would see it as an opportunity instead. Perhaps if we spent just a little bit more time designing and stopped building in panic we would produce a better result for all. EJ