Time for revolution in our pre-historic approach to houses

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From: Arthur Quarmby, Underhill, Holme.

WHEN my parents married in 1932, they bought their new terrace house for £300. At the time my father was paid £3 a week, or £150 a year, so a two-year purchase.

Thirty-odd years later, my wife and I bought our first (a temporary) house for £400. Not much of a house but I was earning about £20 a week or £1,000 a year, so no difficulty there.

Ten years later, I was a designing and building small new detached single-storey houses for between £1,800 and £2,000 – we lived in one of them for 15 years.

House prices have since become quite ridiculous, and I do not understand how the discrepancy between wages and house prices has become so huge.

But if we built our cars as we build our houses (by carting raw materials into a field and starting to shape and assemble them), what sort of a car would be produced, and at what cost?

House building techniques are pre-historic. Five thousand years ago, houses were built by sticking blocks of burned clay together with slop – just as we do today. How many other artefacts are still made as they were 5,000 years ago? Yes, the land is different and it should be separated from the house and held on a long lease.

It is not just a matter of moving construction from site to factory; the whole concept of what a house could or should be is hugely overdue for reconsideration. The definition of its function would be a good place to start. What do you want a house to do for you, the owner and occupier? Should it feed, clothe, clean and protect you? Clean and renew itself? Expand or contract?

If we could carefully and imaginatively define function, we could then see how that target could best be achieved. But this is hugely difficult; think of someone from the days of horse-drawn vehicles trying to imagine what a car should be like!

I largely blame my own profession which has shamefully neglected its responsibility in this matter – and still does! Perhaps a well-funded competition for defining the function of a modern house might be a good start? And if that is a success then a follow-up competition to show how it could be economically produced.

This is a very real and important opportunity for someone (or some persons) with drive, resources and imagination to improve the lot of mankind – and make themselves and enormous amount of money in the process!