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Abstract

Concern for space in new homes in England grew during the mid-2000s, largely as a result of unfavourable floor space comparisons with housing being built elsewhere in Europe. English homes were getting smaller, but space standards in other countries appeared to be preventing the cramming of too many rooms onto shrinking floor plates. Therefore, government in England faced calls to prescribe national space standards as a way of guaranteeing a basic level of domestic functionality and liveability. Strict standards elsewhere were assumed to result in better housing products, albeit in the context of different planning and finance regimes. This paper uses interviews with regulators, architects and house-builders in Turin, Italy, to challenge this assumption and to argue that an appropriate, context-sensitive, balance between flexible regulation and innovations in design (frequently activated by site or space constraints) is often the more effective route to achieving greater functionality and liveability in new housing.
TPR, 86 (1) 2015 doi:10.3828/tpr.2015.5
Manuela Madeddu is Senior Lecturer at Department of Urban, Environment and Leisure Studies, London South
Bank University, 103 Borough Road, London SE1 0AA; Nick Gallent is Professor at the UCL Bartlett School of
Planning, 22 Gordon Street, London WC1H 0QB; Alan Mace is Lecturer at the Department of Geography and
Environment, London School of Economics, Houghton Street, London WC2A 2AE; emails: madeddum@lsbu.ac.uk;
n.gallent@ucl.ac.uk; a.mace@lse.ac.uk
Paper submitted October 2013; revised paper accepted April 2014.
Concern for space in new homes in England grew during the mid-2000s, largely as a result of unfavour-
able floor space comparisons with housing being built elsewhere in Europe. English homes were getting
smaller, but space standards in other countries appeared to be preventing the cramming of too many
rooms onto shrinking floor plates. Therefore, government in England faced calls to prescribe national
space standards as a way of guaranteeing a basic level of domestic functionality and liveability. Strict
standards elsewhere were assumed to result in better housing products, albeit in the context of different
planning and finance regimes. This paper uses interviews with regulators, architects and house-builders
in Turin, Italy, to challenge this assumption and to argue that an appropriate, context-sensitive, balance
between flexible regulation and innovations in design (frequently activated by site or space constraints) is
often the more effective route to achieving greater functionality and liveability in new housing.
Keywords: floor space, regulation, design innovation, Italy, Turin
Introduction
Space in new homes became a subject of considerable debate in England during the
last decade. Available data on average floor spaces, although not routinely recorded
and reported, suggested a sharp fall in the size of new houses being built from the
1970s onwards. Judged in terms of the number of rooms (i.e. bedrooms) available to
occupants, new homes seemed to be getting larger. The size of these rooms, however,
and the net floor spaces, were declining (RIBA, 2007; 2011). Builders appeared to be
cramming more rooms into less space, and the overall English trend was towards
small homes, with small rooms on a shrinking floor plate: ‘rabbit hutches on postage
stamps’, as Alan Evans had put it a few years earlier (Evans, 1991). By the mid-2000s,
English homes were amongst the smallest in Europe, and it did not escape the notice
of analysts that England, along with neighbouring Wales, were the only parts of the
European Union (EU) at the time to have no prescribed floor space minimum within
generic building code. For that reason, a number of groups drew the conclusion that
floor space minimums for new homes – stipulated in building regulations – would
Space in new homes: delivering functionality
and liveability through regulation or
design innovation?
Manuela Madeddu, Nick Gallent and Alan Mace
Manuela Madeddu, Nick Gallent and Alan Mace
74
naturally remedy the situation and help reverse the trend towards small homes that, as
the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (CABE, 2009) and then
the Royal Institution of British Architects (RIBA, 2011) observed, lacked full function-
ality and undermined liveability. Small homes were dicult to live in. Occupants
lacked adequate storage space; they found it dicult to prepare food; they struggled
to eat as a family (having no space for dining tables or chairs); they made do with one
bathroom when two were really needed; and their homes had ceased to be sociable
places, where they could entertain friends. Few of the functional necessities outlined
in the 1961 ‘Homes for Today and Tomorrow’ report (HM Government, 1961), and
which led to prescribed floor space minimums in public housing from 1967 until 1980,
were being delivered in new private housing in England. Homes were simply too
small, and regulation – assumed to be working so well elsewhere – was the presented
answer. Given the problems of housing quality faced by a great many households,
regulation could be viewed as a ‘moral’ imperative that oered a legal means of
ensuring the ‘good of the public’ (Ben-Joseph, 2005, xiv).
It was in the context of this debate that research was undertaken by the current
authors to examine the detailed eects of floor space regulation on new housing in
Italy. That research was broadly concerned with the way regulation worked within
Italy’s wider system and culture of housing production: the eects of regulation
relative to the eects of land-use planning; relative to the eects of buyer expecta-
tion; and relative to the eects of lending practices. Systemic traits create a particular
context for the way in which housing is supplied and the way in which regulation is
able to work (Hincks et al., 2013). Due to these systemic traits, the housing policies
of one country may not be ‘mobile’: they may not transfer easily to another context,
even though observers from the potential recipient country may see a potential to
reuse those policies.
However, even where policies are patently non-transferrable in their original form,
there is often an assumption (based on high-level data) that these policies are having
the desired eect within their country of origin. In Italy, floor spaces in new homes
– across all types – are consistently larger than in England (Gallent et al., 2010), and
Italian regulation aects the balance of general living and sleeping spaces in the home
(see below). The logic of comparing Italy with England was, therefore, that Italian
regulation (written into a generic building code in 1975 and applied universally to all
new housing) was responsible for maintaining relatively good space standards; the
logical derivative being that the space attributes of Italian homes are better aligned
with the needs of their occupants, delivering on the functional necessities that appear
absent from some English homes.
The subtext is that housing quality is enhanced through regulation and that this
has been the experience in Italy. However, where regulation eliminates constraint –
by precluding residential use for smaller ‘substandard’ spaces – there may be a risk
Space in new homes: delivering functionality and liveability through regulation or design innovation? 75
that some of the innovations in design that come from working with smaller spaces
(Urbanik, 2012), and which contribute to the quality, are not activated. Regulations to
ensure safety during the build process and in the home, to ensure proper ventilation,
guarantee structural integrity, deliver appropriate insulation and so on are categori-
cally dierent from those that attempt to create a minimum uniformity across the
home by specifying the space dimensions of living rooms and bedrooms.
Reflecting on this research three years after its completion, a key argument
examined in this paper – and which came to the fore during in-depth interviews with
a range of housing professionals in Italy – is whether housing quality is, in fact, under-
mined by a ‘design laziness’, which stems from the removal of constraints, preventing
architects in particular from delivering innovative residential solutions on limited floor
plates. Moreover, does regulation guarantee enhanced functionality and liveability
and does good design lack a role in extracting liveability from smaller spaces?
This paper draws on research in the city of Turin to contrast the perceived benefits
of universal space standards (in a country where they have been in place for more
than forty years) with the potential drawbacks, including a negative impact on housing
design quality through the stiing of design innovation. The paper has two parts.
In the first part, we provide brief narratives of the space debate in England and
the experience of regulation in Italy. We then set out the case for regulation (the
supposed benefits) in England. In the second part, we draw on in-depth interviews
with architects, builders, estate agents and regulators in Turin in order to critically
review the case for regulation in England. In essence, is the ‘grass really greener’ in
those countries with adopted space standards and do those standards deliver better,
more functional and more liveable homes? Details of the research are provided at the
beginning of the second section.
The ‘space’ debate and regulation
Debates over the importance of prescribed internal space were given greater sophis-
tication in England by the landmark report of the Parker Morris Committee (HM
Government, 1961). During the forty years prior to its publication, the standards
applied to public housing linked floor space to expected occupancy levels in a formu-
laic way, the objective being to ensure the delivery of a standard housing product with
a fixed input of government funding (Gallent et al., 2010). However, through detailed
‘anthropometric’ study, Parker Morris linked space to the utility of homes. Over time,
it came to be accepted that homes provide more than shelter. They are a focus for
people’s lives: where they socialise, eat, seek privacy and come together as families.
The qualitative aspects of the home can be linked to oor space and to the dimen-
sions of rooms (RIBA, 2011). Sucient space (delivered through regulation, which can
be prescribed, rather than through innovation, which cannot) became a dimension
Manuela Madeddu, Nick Gallent and Alan Mace
76
of quality. But this focus on quality was pushed on to the back burner in the 1990s
and 2000s, when the debate in England switched to a more sterile discourse around
housing numbers. The success of public policy, and of governments, in relation to
housing was boiled down to how many units could be built in as short a period of
time as possible and on the smallest possible land take, preferably on brownfield sites
(Gallent and Tewdwr-Jones, 2007).
Concern over the utility of homes did not disappear (Milner and Madigan, 2004),
but rather became the junior partner to overall housing delivery. Government policy
on planning for housing in the 2000s made few references to space within homes,
though it expressed the hope that other priorities (including building at higher densi-
ties and land recycling) would not impinge unduly on housing quality, arguing that
good design has a critical role to play in ensuring that quality. For that reason, in
1999 the government set up the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environ-
ment (CABE), with a watching brief over design quality. Seven years later, a series
of housing audits by the Commission (e.g. CABE, 2007) concluded that the design
of 80 per cent of new private homes in England, judged against its Building for Life
criteria (including quality attributes of internal space), was substandard and, in the
view of the Commission, one in five should not have been given planning permission.
CABE then led calls for local authorities to ensure minimum space standards in all new
homes (CABE, 2009) through the exercise of planning powers, before RIBA pressed
for a national minimum standard (RIBA, 2009). The more recent Housing Standards
Review in England (DCLG, 2013) seemed to agree with CABE; that if standards were
to be introduced, they should operate locally and their impacts on viability should be
tested within Local Plans.
The impact of regulation on the economics of development looms large in any
discussion of housing space standards, though it was not a primary concern of the
research reported in this paper. Rather, it was accepted from the outset that regula-
tion of this kind is calibrated against issues of housing finance and lender behav-
iour, as well as constraint or relative permissiveness in a particular planning system.
These three drivers of housing outcomes – regulation, finance and planning – need
to work in harmony. If there is an insistence on regulated outcomes, irrespective of
how finance and planning are driving outcomes, then there is likely to be a negative
impact on development viability. This is likely to be the case where planning is
constraining land supply, but regulation is trying to force lower densities or larger
homes. Similarly, if finance is available (through mortgage lending) on very small
homes that appear to have limited market appeal, then the finance driver for higher
standards will be weak. In many other parts of Europe, planning constraint is less
pronounced and lending behaviour more conservative. It is in those contexts where
tighter space regulation seems to be ‘calibrated’ against these additional drivers of
housing outcomes and where such standards appear to have been largely uncontested
Space in new homes: delivering functionality and liveability through regulation or design innovation? 77
by private house-builders. But concerns over viability – and particularly how regula-
tion will work with planning constraint – has been an important feature of the space
standards debate in England.
During the 2000s, house-builders across the United Kingdom countered calls for
greater regulation of internal housing space standards (by CABE, RIBA and others)
with four central arguments, aligning these with the government’s stated emphasis
on overall housing supply (especially in southern England). These four arguments
were as follows: small homes are more aordable; small homes can be delivered at
greater density; the building of small homes means greater eciency in the use of
land; and higher quality homes, meeting the needs of customers, can be delivered in
small spaces without floor space prescription (see Booth, 2009, reporting on the Home
Builders Federation’s response to the CABE (2009) study). The first three of these
arguments seems fairly easy to counter.
In the case of aordability, small homes may cost as much, if not more, than
larger homes when measured in terms of square metre cost, though small homes
will obviously cost less per unit than bigger homes in the same or equivalent market
areas. But aordability has a particular meaning: in its 2006 companion guide to
planning policy on housing, the UK Government drew a clear distinction between
housing that costs less per unit (but not per square metre) by virtue of being small (e.g.
‘starter homes’; see Karn, 1995, 114; Satsangi et al., 2010, 184–85) and housing that is
more aordable per square metre, either because of the injection of public funding
or because land costs are reduced through some form of planning gain arrangement
(DCLG, 2006). Small homes (that lack any compensatory design innovation) may cost
less, but reduced costs may mean compromises against functionality and liveability
(compromises that are not needed where aordability is delivered through grant or
land subsidy, without reducing useable floor space or plot size). However, raising the
issue of aordability drags the debate back towards questions of viability. The essen-
tial point being made by the Home Builders Federation (HBF) was that larger homes
cost more to build (e.g. material costs will be greater even if a change in typology
means that the same number of larger units can be built on an equivalent plot), and
those costs will be passed on to homebuyers. Avoidance of this loss of aordability
would depend on regulation’s recalibration with planning and finance, as noted above:
more land for development (at lower cost) and a shift in lender behaviour, leading to
changes in buyer preferences (perhaps as lenders became more cautious about lending
on smaller homes, and oered more favourable interest rates on the purchase of
larger properties). The majority of EU Member States have prescribed floor space
standards, but none are reporting levels of unaordability on a par with those seen
in England. There are many factors behind development viability and housing costs/
aordability, but the interplay between lending practices, buyer preferences and land
markets is critical, as is the role of planning in directing and restricting development.
Manuela Madeddu, Nick Gallent and Alan Mace
78
The validity of the density argument depends not on the size of homes, but on their
typological arrangement (Urban Task Force, 1999, 62). Very small single family units
on suburban plots may continue to be built at very low densities, because of the way
in which homes need to be accessed (via a dendritic pattern of cul-de-sacs) and the
expectation that such a typology will include private gardens. Housing (comprising
units with bigger floor plates) can be built at a much higher density within an urban
typology comprising flats with a single communal entrance, no private gardens and
multiple floors. Similarly, larger terraced homes can be provided without front gardens
and smaller backyards. The same typological argument also defeats the notion of
building smaller homes in order to preserve land.
But the fourth argument seems to have greater traction. This argument is not that
small homes should be built, but rather that where small is the only option (because
of high demand in areas where building plots are in short supply or perhaps where
building tall(er) is not an option), size should not be seen as intrinsically problematic.
Small spaces can be made to work and will oer opportunities for small households
to access lower-cost homes in central urban areas. Through design innovation, an
opportunity exists to deliver enhanced functionality and liveability (Urbanik, 2012).
This last argument, that context is the critical factor in any space debate, is an impor-
tant one. Where there is ample land for development and bespoke designs (for dealing
with space constraints) are not required, it may be the case that minimum space
prescriptions have a role to play in ensuring that too many rooms are not crammed
into new homes. The problem of room cramming was picked up by the Parker Morris
Committee, who were asked to ‘consider the problem of the very small private enter-
prise house’ (HM Government, 1961, 14). The Committee pointed to evidence that
‘inadequate oor areas’ and ‘room sizes […] well below the present local authority
standards’ led to overcrowding (HM Government, 1961, 14). This overcrowding arises
because although homes are built with a small overall floor area, they will neverthe-
less have three bedrooms and ‘hence could sleep a family of five’. The essence of the
housing problem that stems from room cramming, is that although homes provide
a space for sleeping, they do not provide an adequate space for the broader act of
living. However, the Committee conceded that this often happened because the ‘extra
rooms are preferred to fewer larger rooms as giving a more flexible arrangement’
(HM Government, 1961, 15). But more recent evidence suggests that this type of
room cramming (with dubious claims of enhanced flexibility) is not a straightforward
preference, but a consequence of buyers in the UK being conditioned to judge the
overall size of homes in terms of the number of bedrooms, rather than overall dimen-
sions. This is partly because of the limited use of floor space data in the UK (RIBA,
2011) and resistance to its wider availability (Karn and Sheridan, 1994).
House-builders have responded by reducing space in living rooms, kitchens, corri-
dors and bathrooms in order to squeeze more bedrooms into smaller spaces. It is
Space in new homes: delivering functionality and liveability through regulation or design innovation? 79
not uncommon to find dwellings of less than 85m² with three bedrooms and a single
bathroom (RIBA, 2011, 22), though this is not a recent phenomenon. Such configu-
rations present a clear risk of over-occupancy, in the sense that six people may find
it possible to sleep in these homes, but almost impossible to live in them. However,
regulation aimed at balancing net floor space with the number of bedrooms (and
hence the level of occupancy) will, again, need to be sensitive to situations in which
bespoke designs are attempting to extract maximum functionality from a neces-
sarily small space.
On the face of it, floor space standards in Italy – introduced via a generic building
code in 1975 – make little allowance for context. Like the Parker Morris Committee’s
‘recommended minimum standards’ applied to public housing between 1967 and 1980,
they prescribe the amount of net floor space that new homes must have. They also
prescribe floor-to-ceiling heights, but vary these depending on environmental condi-
tions – for example, lowering heights for homes built at altitude in the country’s more
mountainous regions. But broadly speaking, the standards are universal and prescrip-
tive. Italy’s 1975 Building Code emerged after a decade of debate and unrest centring
on the state of the country’s public housing stock and the quality of private provision,
especially in the northern industrial cities. A set of ‘ministerial instructions’ had been
issued at the end of the nineteenth century, which stipulated floor-to-ceiling heights,
window dimensions and minimum room volumes (for air circulation) (Ministro della
Sanità, 1896) in new residential buildings. These were a response to the cramped and
often unregulated and illegal housing that had accompanied industrialisation. The 1975
‘modifications’ to these instructions provide today’s builders with a set of prescriptions
(outlined and translated in Gallent et al., 2010, 10) intended to guarantee that new homes
in Italy do not have their functionality compromised through a lack of ‘useable floor
space’. Unlike their nineteenth century equivalent, the modied code was accompanied
by regulatory enforcement. The implication of the code is that:
A dwelling for two persons must have 38m² of total dwelling space (superficie dell’alloggio)
including toilets: 28m² of this space must comprise living area (superficie abitabile). Dwell-
ings must have a living room of 14m² and a bedroom for two persons must be at
least 14m². So within this minimum standard home, 10m² is left over for a bathroom
and kitchen. But if the home were for three persons, it would need at least another
14m² bringing the total superficie dell’alloggio to 52m². Another person would add another
14m², so totalling 66m² (it would not be possible to simply add another large bedroom
for these two extra people, as the law stipulates that each additional person should
have 14m² of living space: this need not mean two more large bedrooms, but could
mean one large bedroom and 14m² added to the living room). If applied to a flat,
this standard for a 4-person dwelling (66m²) is lower than England’s Parker Morris
Standard (66.9m²) but, critically, applies to all development – public, co-operative or
private. (Gallent et al., 2010, 9)
Manuela Madeddu, Nick Gallent and Alan Mace
80
These regulations emerged as a response to a burgeoning polemic (between 1967 and
1975) against bad housing. There had been some anticipation of a similar outcome
in England in the first decade of the 2000s, though the coincidence of bad housing
with declining supply meant that the political focus (see earlier discussion) remained
firmly fixed on the second priority, and the government resisted all calls to increase
the ‘regulatory burden’ on private enterprise. The case for ensuring the right space
in new homes was set out in research for CABE in 2010 (Carmona et al., 2010). This
drew attention to:
• the general health and well-being benets that accrue from living in a well-
designed home, with adequate space viewed as part of good design;
• the contribution that adequate space makes to family life and the opportunity it
aords children to engage in uninterrupted private study and therefore achieve
their potential;
• the forward link from educational attainment to productivity, and also the oppor-
tunity that space provides to work from home or to address the life-work balance;
• the exibility of homes that have adequate space, meaning that they are easier
to adapt to changing needs and lifestyles, including life-cycle changes and future
living styles and habits; and
• creating a potentially more stable housing market, driven by a more complete
understanding of long-term need and utility, rather than by short-term
investment decisions.
But whilst there was criticism of the role that private enterprise (and its lack of commit-
ment to design innovation), land-use planning (in rationing land supply) and regula-
tory reluctance (in failing to act) have played in delivering a substandard housing
product in England, it was not entirely clear from the CABE research that stronger
or additional regulation would function as intended or deliver the desired outcomes.
The impacts of regulation – on both the functionality of ‘standardised products’ and
on the capacity of design (to do more than regulation) to enhance housing quality
– requires closer examination. In the next part of this paper, we introduce research
undertaken in the city of Turin, which focused on two key concerns: the role and
benefits of regulation; and the place of design innovation in enhancing the function-
ality and liveability of residential spaces. In dealing with the first of these issues,
we also consider the limits and dangers of regulation irrespective of the potential
impacts that such regulation may have on the viability of development, determined
by the planning and lending context. And in dealing with the second, we use research
findings to reflect on the balance that might need to be achieved, between a regula-
tory approach and freedom to innovate, in order to deliver functional and liveable
housing. The ultimate focus of this paper is on the limits of regulation to achieve
greater functionality and liveability within the home; it is not primarily concerned
with the operability of regulatory floor space standards relative to dierent levels of
Space in new homes: delivering functionality and liveability through regulation or design innovation? 81
planning constraint or in the context of dierent patterns of lending on residential
property, however important these may be – and are acknowledged to be, as above –
for framing the wider debate.
Regulation and design innovation
As part of a larger project attempting to learn from the Italian experience of floor
space regulation, a series of detailed interviews were carried out in the city of Turin
in April 2009. Of the fourteen interviews conducted, half were with architects and
housing developers and half were with regulators, planning and architectural experts
and others involved in the study, development and marketing of new homes in the
city. The schedule of interviews is set out in Table 1. The interviews were undertaken
over a two-week period. The intention from the outset was to draw subjects from all
aspects of the production of housing in Turin: from those involved in the design and
regulatory processes, to those involved in private house-building and to those involved
in the marketing and sale of new homes. The aim was to understand the rationali-
ties and discourses underpinning outcomes and lending support to particular regula-
tory practices. As ‘outside’ insiders – one of the authors once studied and undertook
research in the Faculty of Architecture in the Politecnico di Torino, before moving
into architectural practice in the city – the team used key entry points in the Politec-
nico and in private architectural practice from which to ‘snowball’ into a wider group
of subjects. The initial academic contacts led to interviews with political contacts in
the comune and higher-level researchers and observers of housing outcomes in the city.
Through the architectural contacts, it was possible to secure interviews with regula-
tors in the comune and with private and cooperative builders, all of whom were known
professionally to the architects. The estate agent, acting for a number of new schemes
in the city, was contacted separately.
Turin – located in the north-west of Italy in the region of Piedmont – currently
has a population of around 1 million residents, sitting within a province of roughly
2.2 million people. The city was the seat of power for the Savoy kings from the
sixteenth century and, for a short period between 1861 and 1864, the capital of a
unied Italy. The Savoy oversaw the development of a baroque city on a Roman grid
plan. During the twentieth century, the city came to be dominated by Fabbrica Italiana
Automobili Torino (FIAT) and experienced rapid growth, albeit as a ‘one company town
(Giaccaria, 1999), especially from the 1950s onwards. FIAT’s own expansion during
this period fuelled migration to the city from the south of Italy. However, the oil crisis
of the 1970s and the restructuring of global manufacturing activity that started at
the same time saw a change in direction of FIAT’s and Turin’s fortunes. The city lost
nearly 20 per cent of its population between 1975 and 1999. At its peak in the 1960s,
FIAT employed – directly or indirectly as subcontractors – around 250,000 workers
Manuela Madeddu, Nick Gallent and Alan Mace
82
in Turin. By 1996, this figure had fallen below 50,000 (Rosso, 2004). The city’s subse-
quent reinvention was seeded in a new strategic plan (adopted in 2000) that sought
to promote Turin as a tourist destination, largely by drawing attention to its Savoy
history and its food culture. The successful attempt to bring the Winter Olympics
to the city in 2006 gave the tourism focus a huge boost. Associated improvements
to Turin’s public realm (especially its historic squares) triggered a partial popula-
tion revival and this was amplified in the later 2000s by major regeneration projects
around the city’s principal transport interchanges. A claimed beautification of the
city (Vanolo, 2008, 380), combined with a focus on promoting Turin as a place for
the young and improving transport links to Milan, as well as a continued emphasis on
culture-led regeneration, has resulted in a huge programme of new housing develop-
ment, especially close to the centre. It is in this context of development transformation
that the research was conducted in 2009.
Table 1 Schedule of interviews
Respondent code Profession/Organisation Date of interview
AC1 Academic (Architect) 16 April 2009
AC2 Academic (Planning) 15 April 2009
AR1 Architect 17 April 2009
AR2 Architect 21 April 2009
ASL(2) ASL (Public Health Regulation) 10 April 2009
PBR Comune (Private Building Regulation) 09 April 2009
COB Cooperative Builder 15 April 2009
DOI Director, Osservatorio Immobiliare 16 April 2009
EA1 Estate Agent 17 April 2009
HB1 Private House-Builder 09 April 2009
HB2 Private House-Builder 20 April 2009
HB3 Private House-Builder 20 April 2009
PO(2) Politician 16 April 2009
IACP President, IACP 09 April 2009
Source: Authors
Notes: (n) indicates number of interviewees, if greater than one.
The fourteen interviews, with the subjects listed above, focused on the development
wave being experienced in the city, and the design, quality and regulation of new
housing. Interviews were initially structured around questions of social mix in the
central area (given the type of new housing being built in Turin) and the role of regula-
tions in delivering housing useable by families with children. Questions concerning
space standards were linked to the operation of the housing market (taking a cue from
the Parker Morris Committee and its view that ‘neighbourhood balance’ might be
disrupted through putting ‘too many [small houses] in any one place’ (HM Govern-
Space in new homes: delivering functionality and liveability through regulation or design innovation? 83
ment, 1961, 15)). But more broadly, the interviews focused on the role that the market
(and design responses to that market) plays in determining space standards versus the
role of regulation. A fresh analysis of the twenty hours of recorded interview material
gathered between 9 and 21 April 2009 (transcribed in full and then partially translated
into English) allows us to focus here on the two key concerns emphasised at the end of
the last section: the role and benefits of regulation; and the place of design innovation
in enhancing the functionality and liveability of residential spaces. The first of these
concerns was a main line of questioning in the Turin interviews – dissected in the last
three of the four sections that follow – but the second emerged as a major area of
discussion with many of the subjects when the focus in the interview switched to the
limits and drawbacks of the space standards that had been in place in Italy since 1975.
The role and benefits of regulation
In the realm of urban planning, standards are extensively used to determine the
minimal requirements in which the physical environment must be built and must
perform. But they are also seen as the legal and moral instruments by which profes-
sionals can guarantee the good of the public. (Ben-Joseph, 2005, xiv)
For direct observers of the regulatory and design practices aecting new housing in
Italy during recent decades, the ‘[…] relationship between quality and [regulatory]
standards’ (DOI) appeared to be an obvious one, with the latter setting a ‘[quality]
limit below which it is not possible to go’ (PO). Standards were thought to enhance the
living environment, ‘[…] with ceiling heights that allow for the change of air’ (HB1),
whilst delivering some of the broader ‘quality of life’ benets listed by Carmona et al
(2010). In particular, minimum dimensions for bedrooms (and for living rooms, linked
to projected levels of occupancy) were considered an eective means of ensuring a
level of privacy conducive to ‘family life’ (ASL2): a view accepted and agreed upon by
the house-builders (HB3). However, it was also agreed that the operation of regulation
– and what it is able to achieve – must be understood in the context of the housing
market and lending practices. What that market demands, and what is likely to sell, is
a powerful shaper of how actors in the building industry think (see Carmona, 2001).
The market determines the norm (Lang, 2005) and is constructed from the inter-
play between consumers and producers, with the former expressing a demand that is
shaped by the limited oer of the latter.
But contrary to the experience in England, the shaping of that oer in Turin
appeared to be influenced by a conviction, shared by house-builders (see below), that
‘[…] it is a good thing to have minimum dimensions for a house, to fix by legislation
the fact that basic activities (such as cooking and eating) occur […] and improve life
quality’ (AR1). Consequently, and in relation to the demands expressed by consumers,
Manuela Madeddu, Nick Gallent and Alan Mace
84
the estate agent (EA1) rejected a suggestion in interview that buyers might be attracted
to homes with smaller bedrooms, lower floor-to-ceiling heights or reduced space in the
living room. Expectation had been shaped and reinforced by regulatory instruments –
including land-use planning and building control – that had become aligned to market
expectation. This appeared to be the experience of the house-builders, who saw close
(and convenient) correlation between the cultural, economic and legal determinants
of internal space. One builder, commenting on life before the 1975 Building Code,
noted a tendency after 1975 to reduce living room space in new homes in response
to the 14m² rule (HB1; though another builder later suggested that larger private
homes in the 1960s were the result of higher disposable incomes, and reductions today
relate to falling incomes and declining wealth in Italy (HB2)). Similarly, floor-to-ceiling
heights dropped from an average of 3.0m before 1975 to 2.7m (DOI). But the change
had been slight and what was being built before that date was broadly similar to what
was built afterwards. In terms of floor-to-ceiling heights, living spaces and bedrooms,
regulation tended to confirm average practice. It had not been the role, therefore, of
the 1975 Code to lift flagging standards, but simply to prevent the occasional drop
below reasonable expectation.
The interviewed house-builders (all representing local companies, operating in
Turin and its province) felt that their products were well-above the minimum standards
required by law, but that a legal minimum – guaranteeing a basic level of ‘decency’
in new homes – was needed to prevent less scrupulous developers from providing
substandard housing (HB1). But for observers of this situation, such an eventuality
was unlikely, given the clear expectations of the market (or of consumers relative
to the established oer of producers) and given the basic functionality that the 1975
Code delivers and which all housing needs (AC1). That said, regulation protects the
vulnerable: society needs to be shielded from market pressures that might push down
standards and leave people in poor quality housing. It provides a safety net. Echoing
Ben-Joseph’s (2005) ‘moral’ imperative for regulation, the politician interviewed for
this study pointed to the ‘explosive situations’ (i.e. civil unrest) that can be associated
with abandoning the urban poor to suer from bad housing, and the broader need
to avoid ‘[…] negative social consequences, which will be at the expense of the entire
society’ (PO). These consequences might arise from ‘building ghettos’ and allowing
tensions to rise (COB). This was the experience in Italy in the late 1960s and directly
resulted in the 1975 Code. But interestingly, despite the suggested alignment between
market demand and legal requirement, it was argued by the public health regulator
(ASL2) that the balance of housing types in an area should not be determined solely
by the market. Despite a useful coincidence of market and legal drivers, private enter-
prise cannot be left to ‘care for social issues’, and in a rising market (in particular) a
lack of regulatory control may leave households vulnerable to the ‘violence’ of poor
quality housing, delivered for prot rather than people (HB2). There is a social obliga-
Space in new homes: delivering functionality and liveability through regulation or design innovation? 85
tion on the state to pursue, and even guarantee (a word that was repeated regularly),
the public good (ASL2):
[Regulatory] standards make a dierence for the poorest in society. If they are lowered,
the discrepancy between rich and poor would increase and we would go back to the
beginning of the twentieth century. If we have minimum standards, rich people can
still decide to live in a bigger homes, but the poorest people are safeguarded. (ASL2)
The sense of duty (or moral obligation) to protect the ‘common people’ (ASL2) came
out very strongly from the public health regulator, with direct health issues (linked to
air circulation and light) relegated behind a broader goal of combating the eects of
poverty through enhanced universal housing quality. The same duty was observed in
the ratcheting up of building regulations in the UK in the 2000s (Fischer and Guy,
2009). Despite the apparent market alignment noted by the builders, the regulator
(ASL2) was bullish about the primacy of its social goal. Similarly, the private building
regulator (PBR) simply asserted that ‘standards are essential. If you have a standard,
the market adjusts to it. If you don’t, there is a tendency to build smaller and smaller’.
Whilst this view of industry behaviour seemed to be at odds with past experience, some
builders conceded that in today’s market (and because of a growing appetite to specu-
late on rising land values), the removal of regulation might result in a dip in floor space
standards (HB2). The private building regulator was more forthright on this point:
Builders always try to rip the municipality o. If we didn’t have regulations there
would be a big problem. With standards, at least we have a weapon! If builders don’t
have clear norms, they do what they want: and there is the risk of ending up with
overcrowded buildings. (PBR)
The same regulator went on to argue that builders will build anything that they think
they can sell, and in a strong market, buyer expectations may fall and the quality of
the overall housing stock (which will be around for several generations) will deterio-
rate. For this reason, the public sector has to ensure that homes are built to ‘be lived
in’, rather than merely ‘built to sell’ (PBR) at those times when demand outstrips
supply. The same point was made by one of the interviewed architects: ‘regulations
have to manage the relationship between demand and oer, to avoid the monopoly
of builders’ (AR1). The architects tended to contrast Italy’s regulatory norms with
building characteristics elsewhere. People surely ‘live better with 2.70m [floor-to-
ceiling heights] than with 2.20m’, which makes for ‘suocating’ living conditions.
Indeed ‘[…] history has demonstrated that having some limits to what you can build is
fundamental for housing quality and quality of life, and it can also be a stimulus for
good architecture’ (AR2). Yet, the idea that Turin’s architects recognised the intrinsic
value of standards, and worked with them to deliver better housing, was rejected by an
unexpected alliance of regulators and builders. The rst questioned the capabilities
Manuela Madeddu, Nick Gallent and Alan Mace
86
of new architects in Turin (particularly to adhere to legal requirements: PBR), and
the second suggested that many are ‘preoccupied with satisfying their own egos, in
designing houses that are dierent, odder than the others’ (HB2). In later discussions,
the architects backtracked on their initial assessment of the architectural value of
regulation, suggesting instead that it stifled innovation, and resulted in ugly buildings,
to the detriment of occupants. But for the non-architects, it seemed that designers are
first and foremost concerned with their own reputations and producing designs that
grace coee tables, rather than designs that are actually functional.
The idea of a moral imperative (to deliver a public good that the market cannot
guarantee) stood out from the interviews as a key driver of regulation. Whilst Italy’s
space standards are rooted in public health laws (from 1896), the idea that homes
should deliver quality of life, and that this quality cannot be solely determined by
the market, has now become the main rationale behind enforcing current legisla-
tion. However, the fact that the market (and house-building practice) adjusted with
minimum fuss to the post-1975 rules made their introduction extremely easy. The
standards prescribed an arrangement of space that linked bedrooms (and expected
occupancy) to the quantity of living space. And in making this link, they showed that
some builders had provided living spaces in excess of need before 1975 and paved
the way for more ecient arrangements that avoided ‘wasting space’ (HB3). The
solid belief that regulation is a guarantor of the public good, combined with good
market alignment, appears to have produced a workable and acceptable regulatory
framework for Italy.
The limits of regulation
However, the limits of regulation become clear if a wider view of housing quality is
taken or if the moral imperative means that bureaucrats lose sight of the particular
impacts of regulatory prescription in dierent contexts (Ben-Joseph, 2005). Context,
as we noted earlier, is critically important in relation to space standards. The 1975
Code makes allowances for homes built at altitude, but it will not bend for constrained
sites, where it may render residential development impossible.
In relation to quality (linked explicitly in interviews to the quality of life experi-
enced by occupants), the Code needs to be considered alongside other typological
and planning factors that make homes liveable. Whether planning and design
promotes social mixing will determine whether young or elderly residents live close
to people whom they might wish to invite into their (more spacious) homes (DOI/
AC2). Similarly, the surrounding environment will contribute as much to quality of
life as space standards. Children may need privacy and a place to study in the home
(Carmona et al, 2010), but they will also want access to external space (AR2) and
to live in areas where there are a mix of uses. In some neighbourhoods, Turin is
Space in new homes: delivering functionality and liveability through regulation or design innovation? 87
‘becoming a city of residence only’ (AR1) and this aects both the young and the
old within its communities. As part of the broader urban transformation of the city,
there has been concentrated development at a number of key transport nodes. The
clustering of retail functions at these nodes was said to have adversely impacted on
small businesses (shops and cafes) that had previously been dotted along residential
streets. And despite the various regulatory standards in the central area, which limit
building heights to five storeys, at the more peripheral regeneration sites (especially
at Porta Susa to the west of the historic centre) tall residential buildings, with tiny
private balconies, intersected by large noisy roads make for a less ‘liveable’ urban
environment. Housing quality has to be addressed at several scales: there needs to
be a concern with urban form and mix (AR1) and with typology, as well as with
the configuration of internal space. In relation to form and mix, the architects and
academic commentators compared the transformation of Turin unfavourably with
schemes they were familiar with in England, noting in particular that the English
propensity towards single-family homes with private gardens (viewed positively, and
described as an emergent Italian aspiration) could be compensated for in Italy, if the
residents of ats had access to quality green space. But because green space is seldom
a feature of new development in Turin, development tends to be less ‘human’, poten-
tially diminishing sociability.
Turning to the issue of context, many development opportunities in the centre of
Turin are found in constrained spaces: older buildings are either converted to residen-
tial use or there is a subdivision of existing residential units. Application of the 1975
Code (which, as noted above, sees living spaces increase as the number of bedrooms
rises) can prove dicult, especially if existing windows are not of the correct relative
dimension to proposed floor spaces (though exceptions are made for some historical
conversions: IACP). And like many cities in Italy, the municipality has its own building
regulations that go beyond the national code. One important regulation in Turin is the
need to provide ‘antibagni’ (spaces between bathrooms and other rooms), even in cases
where bathrooms are en suite. This means that space often needs to be subtracted
from living rooms, but because households rarely want these spaces, builders will erect
plasterboards and cheap secondary doors (HB1) a short distance back from the main
bathroom door so that these can be quickly and easily demolished (HB1/AR1). If
available spaces to build new homes were larger, then the antibagni might survive; but
in central Turin, with its dense urban form, households are trying to maximise their
useable space. And in the context of such constraint, antipathy towards ‘pointless
bureaucracy’ (AC1) is amplified. Elsewhere in the city and in Italy, the overall eect of
space standards is to bring average dwelling sizes to a minimum, which is the general
eect of minimum requirements (see Carmona, 2009). It means that whilst ‘our
parents lived in 140-150m², we now live in 90m²’ (AR1) and whilst two bedroom/two
bathroom flats once had a useable floor space of 120m², this has now dropped to only
Manuela Madeddu, Nick Gallent and Alan Mace
88
90m² (AC1). But in central areas, the eect is more inhibitive, reducing the feasibility
of residential conversion or reuse, rather than merely adjusting average floor spaces.
In such situations, regulations may become a threat to development per se or new
homes may be restricted to having just one bedroom, whereas less rigid standards –
coupled with greater design innovation – may have resulted in more two bedroom
homes being provided, opening up the central area to a greater mix of household
types. In these same situations, the rigidity of regulation may promote overcrowding,
as professional couples, sometimes with young families, attempt to squeeze into tiny
central spaces (ASL2: though the wealthiest buyers will overcome this problem by
knocking pairs of flats together, albeit at huge expense, AR1), which, because of
room dimension rules, cannot be configured to maximise their functionality. Builders
often declare that they are targeting new homes, or conversions, to single people (and
provide just one bedroom of 10 or 11m²) when in fact all parties concerned – including
the architects and regulators – are well aware of the types of households likely to
occupy these dwellings (PBR). Small homes in Turin’s historic centre have a very
dierent market function from small homes in the periphery or in the regeneration
sites. In the centre they are aspirational and will attract wealthier buyers, and their
size is frequently determined by site constraint. But elsewhere, the tendency towards
building smaller homes reflects important changes in the housing market and in the
availability of loan credit (EA). Italy now has a greater proportion of young first-time
buyers than in the past. Households form earlier and people aspire to buy. This has
resulted in a responsive shift in the pattern of house-building, with private enter-
prise now seeking more permissions for minimum dimension single-bedroom homes
(DOI), which become entry points for the housing market. This tendency towards
providing ‘starter homes’ resembles the pattern of provision in the UK (Satsangi et
al., 2010, 84), whereas traditional entry-point housing in Italy comprised larger units,
only available to households later in life or for those fortunate enough to enjoy the
financial support of family.
In this dual context, there is a risk that regulation reinforces residential monotony in
peripheral locations, whilst undermining the ecient use of space at the urban centre
(stifling innovation because of its insistence on ‘standard spaces’ (AR1)). For architects,
regulation may be viewed as a ‘mould’ that produces banality (AR1), with new homes
delivered by builders who struggle to dierentiate between the ‘beautiful and the ugly’:
If we look at new buildings, the majority of them are uglier than old ones. The [basic]
urban form is always the same. In Italy, historic centres would be impossible to realize
nowadays given the raft of urban regulations, but everybody still thinks that historic
centres have the most beautiful urban form possible. (AR1)
This polemic against regulatory inflexibility or ‘tyranny’ (Carmona, 2009, 2644) is
regularly repeated, with Van Doren (2005) arguing that regulations often present a
Space in new homes: delivering functionality and liveability through regulation or design innovation? 89
threat to change and innovation. Carmona (2009) notes that designers, in particular,
view any form of regulation as a threat to their freedom of expression. In the UK,
heightened political interest in good design – leading to a glut of regulatory tests – is
thought to have reduced opportunities to deliver ‘creative and profitable solutions’
(Carmona, 2009, 2649), and many architects voluntarily confirm their hostility towards
many forms of control (Street, 2007, 11). In Italy, regulation has become associated
with limited product choice (AR2), standard typologies (PRB) and industrial produc-
tion (PO). In Turin, the results are most apparent in the system-built developments
in the regeneration areas, where there is now a ‘uniformity in space standards’ (HB1),
which is perhaps less important for occupants than the apparent lack of internal
variation and choice. The required space ratios between bedrooms and living rooms,
combined with market pressures to build more starter homes (and greater competition
for these homes), means that space arrangements have coalesced around a single type,
with corridors removed, entrances opening directly onto living spaces, and bedrooms
and bathrooms (with temporary antibagni) all connected directly to the living area
(AR1). If greater variation were permitted in room size, space would be available
for dividing corridors and greater privacy in new homes might be possible. These
problems in the periphery prompted the following observation:
There is a sort of ‘backwardness’ in the building of smaller homes. They should be
more functional and more experimental. They could be a useful test-ground for experi-
menting with new technologies and [the apparent need for smaller homes] could give
a positive impulse to design innovation. (DOI)
Regulation and design innovation
Architectural antipathy towards the burden of regulation (Hunt and Raman, 2000)
is common the world over, becoming more acute and more vocal as governments
attempt to over-engineer the built environment through a proliferation of new rules
and standards (Imrie and Street, 2009a). The prevailing view amongst those inter-
viewed in Turin was that beauty, not control, improves quality of life and reduces
social tension (AR1) and, within homes, ‘the quality of living space is ultimately
dependent on the quality of the architectural project’ (AC1). However, there are two
ways in which the ‘architectural project’ delivers this quality. On the one hand, there
is the ‘big architecture’ for which minimum standards are irrelevant, as it will naturally
‘go beyond this aspect’ (AR1). But this big architecture, presented in the architectural
press, is set apart from the ‘mass of housing’ that needs to be delivered on a daily
basis (AR2). Next to the expensive and truly groundbreaking projects, there are also
the innovations that allow challenging conversions, with unusual configurations, to
proceed, but only in instances where regulation is flexible.
Manuela Madeddu, Nick Gallent and Alan Mace
90
But in Italy, this flexibility is rarely available, unless special concessions apply. These
can be granted for certain types of building; the Turin architects were permitted
to drop floor-to-ceiling heights in bathrooms to 2.4m (this concession normally only
applies to corridors, annexes and storerooms) in order to conceal systems, but only
in instances where the lowering of the ceiling had been compensated for by a larger
window (AR1). Generally, ‘regulation in Italy is rigid and does not allow architects
to be flexible in their projects’ (AR2). This is a source of frustration for designers,
who incline towards freedom of expression (Carmona, 2009) and readily bemoan the
paradoxes of the law: ‘We need more flexibility because in Italy we are over-burdened
with regulations! And the regulations are so rigid that, paradoxically, you can find
inaccuracies everywhere. They are so rigid that nothing complies with them!’ (AR1).
But it is also a real bureaucratic pressure, which can undermine the quality of living
spaces. Criticism does not always focus on the overall ‘useable floor space’ thresholds,
but on the detail of room sizes, as this longer passage illustrates:
It should be enough to have a minimum house size, but with flexibility in room sizes. You
can have smaller rooms within an architectonic project: I could have a 6m² bedroom,
where I only put the bed, and I decide not to put any other furniture, and maybe a
big window in front of it. This is dierent from having a 6m² bedroom with a small
window and where I also need to put a wardrobe. It’s dierent if I have a 30m² house:
clearly furniture need a physical space and then obviously I will need a 9m² bedroom
minimum […] housing should have a minimum quality guaranteed, but this should not
mean exasperating regulations for individual rooms. It would be better to simply have
minimum house / flat dimensions, or to allow only a certain number of people to live
in a certain dimension. This would be enough, without setting too many limitations,
but ensuring liveable places for people. (AR1 [emphasis added])
As observed earlier – in the case of new homes with their corridors stripped out to make
way for compliant room spaces – regulations designed to enhance privacy may have
the opposite eect. Regulation was thought to substitute for any attempt to understand
how space is actually used. Japan was held up as an example of a country where greater
liveability is achieved within smaller spaces (AR1), often in instances where homes are
adapted to suit the occupants’ changing needs. The need to adapt to dierent household
types, or needs that change through the life cycle, was a particular priority of the cooper-
ative builder. With a degree of forethought, it is possible to ‘[…] adapt a 46m² flat to the
dierent needs of a couple with no children or with a child, by transforming the kitchen
into a bedroom for the child and having ready the facilities (pipes) to build a kitchenette’
(COB). Yet the rigidity created by minimum room sizes can make such transformations
extremely dicult: joining apartments together, and subdivision, does happen (ASL2),
but the regularity of legal (as opposed to clandestine) alterations is restricted by laws that
preclude shaving small amounts of space from living and bedrooms.
Space in new homes: delivering functionality and liveability through regulation or design innovation? 91
Context and appropriate balance
The point made by the architects in this study is not that regulation serves no purpose,
but rather that very detailed prescription is a barrier to adaptation and an unwar-
ranted substitute for understanding space needs. Moreover, it will sometimes result
in inecient space use in constrained sites, and prevent the enhanced functionality
and liveability that might otherwise have been achieved through design innovation.
Regulation has an important role in the design process, for better or worse, and shapes
the production of space:
While conceptions of design may preclude explicit incorporation of regulations and
building standards, such standards do influence, in variable ways, aesthetic and design
outcomes. Regulations ought to be conceived of as much more than technical instru-
ments or part of a non-creative process somehow removed from architects’ practices
(or the practices of architecture). Rather, they are a constitutive element in the (re)
production of urban space. (Imrie and Street, 2009b, 2509)
In Turin, it seemed that the architects enjoyed and endured in equal measure a schizo-
phrenic relationship with space standards. On the one hand, these standards were
viewed as a technical instrument that usefully shaped their own thinking about what
was possible in architectural projects, ultimately ‘improving life quality’ (AR1). But on
the other hand, and for particular projects, they became an unwelcome ‘constitutive
element’ in the design process, limiting the potential of some sites. Context is critically
important: what was useful on peripheral sites (‘useful’, but reinforcing ‘banality’ to
the architectural eye) became oppressive and deeply problematic for projects in the
central area. In that context, they transformed into a ‘professional tyranny’, impacting
‘negatively on the design quality of development proposals’ (Carmona, 2009, 2644).
All building projects, irrespective of location, are subject to creative, market and
regulatory forces (Carmona, 2009, 2644), which need to achieve the right balance.
In Turin, regulation was frequently viewed as a counterbalance to the ‘violence’
of bad housing delivered – in particular, in a rising market and in the context of
heightened demand (see Rowley, 1998). But similarly, design innovation was seen as
the more appropriate counterbalance to a market-led drive to squeeze small homes
into constrained central sites. A dierent balance between design and regulation was
needed in dierent contexts if ‘sub-standard development solutions’ (Carmona, 2009,
2647) were to be avoided – specifically, regulation needed to make space for innova-
tion, allowing good design to enhance functionality and liveability in instances where
standard rooms and floor-to-ceiling heights would simply not work.
It is possible to dierentiate between a broad regulatory blueprint, comprising
useful principles, and a level of prescription that has a deactivating eect on the
creative design process. It is also possible to see critical dierences in the necessary role
of regulation between dierent places and contrasting market and physical contexts.
Manuela Madeddu, Nick Gallent and Alan Mace
92
Although the Italian housing market is shaped by many dierent expectations – which
have crystallised over time into cultural norms – as in any market, buyers are prepared
to compromise for location and for access to the many other place attributes that
contribute to a broader notion of housing and place quality. Those interviewed for
this study were keen to contrast Italian norms with their perception of life in England:
[The] dimension of houses relate also to life style. In Italy we still cook a lot at home.
In England, there is a lot of pre-cooked food. Time [in England] is more compressed
and activities that take time are reduced to the minimum; and this perhaps implies a
reduction in the space needed [for these activities]. (AR1)
And more broadly: ‘Culture connects to the way of living and this is important. In Italy
we are “home loving”’ (EA). These perceptions link to people’s thinking regarding the
housing market. The estate agent was quick to dismiss the willingness to compro-
mise against expected norms. And one house-builder observed that ‘monolocali don’t
sell well as nobody wants them anymore’ (HB3). But these prevailing views of the
market, and stereotypes of Italian cultural norms, appear increasingly inaccurate.
Reduced access to loan credit is leading more Italian households to purchase smaller
homes (ASL2) and often to over-occupy them. The patterns of occupancy observed
in the ‘aspirational’ areas in the centre of Turin are spreading to more peripheral
neighbourhoods. These trends in the market may point to a need for more flexible
regulation, which preserves a limit against net reduction in living space, whilst permit-
ting innovative configurations of space within smaller homes and therefore dierent
occupancy levels.
Conclusions
A formulaic approach to ensuring, through regulation, liveable space in new homes
is not without its drawbacks. In recent English debates, there have been constant
references to the experiences of other, usually European, countries that have chosen
to fix floor space minimums within building codes and regulations. The benefits that
space minimums bring are then presented in the form of comparative data showing
average floor space over time. Within the data, newer housing in England appears to
fare particularly badly.
However, these simplifications of dierent national situations mask a great deal
of local variation and say nothing about the context – both economic and cultural
– in which housing is being delivered. Likewise, they are silent on the actual impacts
that regulatory practice has on the functionality and liveability of domestic spaces.
In England, the report of the Parker Morris Committee (HM Government, 1961) is
best remembered for its ‘recommended’ minimum floor sizes, largely because regular
and recent references have been made to the square metres (or feet) of useable space
Space in new homes: delivering functionality and liveability through regulation or design innovation? 93
that homes should have relative to occupancy. Yet the committee responsible for the
report was primarily attempting to fill a gap in the post-war understanding of how
homes were being used. The intention was that regulation would be an outcome of
that understanding, rather than a substitute for it. In the case study presented in this
paper, it is clear that simple prescriptions cannot guarantee every desired functional
outcome. The experience in Turin is that a well-designed home with adequate space
can be delivered through a dierent balance of regulation and innovation in dierent
contexts, and to achieve that balance, regulation needs to bend to circumstance.
Similarly, although adequate space will contribute to family life (and to the privacy
that family life sometimes requires), misapplied regulation can, in fact, hinder quality
of life by delivering pattern-book housing with critical design shortcomings. And
in terms of adaptation to changing needs, the wrong regulatory formula can make
it very dicult to accommodate ‘life-cycle changes and [potentially] future living
styles and habits’.
In Italy, alignment of the ‘moral imperative’ to regulate with local custom and
(general) market preference has delivered a broadly acceptable means of achieving
minimum floor space. But this acceptability is challenged when people wish to make
their own compromises between location and space, and seek innovative ways of
overcoming the limits presented by a particular site. In these situations, where the moral
imperative clashes with individual choice, the case for highly prescriptive regulation that
goes beyond issues of public health seems to lose traction. A great many residents of a
great many cities across the world are looking to innovative design to deliver housing
solutions that aord the opportunity to live in highly central locations and enjoy the
particular benefits that these locations oer. Here, the moral imperative – along with its
regulatory tools – must be flexible, bending under the weight of personal choice.
Acknowledgements
The research on which this paper draws was supported by the Royal Institution of
Chartered Surveyors (RICS) Education Trust (now the RICS Research Trust).
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... In response, the Town and Country Planning Association has launched a campaign calling Although, as we document later in the paper, concerns with space standards have a long history in England, the planning system has not until recently been the mechanism by which the government has sought to control it. Indeed, until recently, England was unusual in the European context for not having prescribed minimum floorspace requirements for new dwellings (Madeddu et al, 2015). Following increasing controversy surrounding this issue, and campaigns from a number of organisations , the government introduced national minimum space standards in 2015 (DCLG, 2015b). ...
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... There has been an antipathy to space standards from most housebuilders (Drury, 2008), some of whom have argued that larger dwellings are more costly, thus affecting house prices and affordability . Many architects have been hostile to perceived regulatory burdens, arguing flexibility can allow more design innovation which may then contribute to housing quality (Madeddu et al, 2015). ...
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The regulation of housing quality has a long history in England. As the state itself increasingly became a housing developer in the twentieth century, design standards were subject to self-regulation. Through this, the idea that housing quality includes minimum dwelling sizes - space standards - has entered public consciousness. The 2010-2015 coalition government introduced suggested space standards through planning control, but also extended the range of ‘permitted development’ - a form of deregulation - where space standards could not be applied. In this paper we explore the history of space standards in England and what these tell us about planning regulation.
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... There is limited discussion in housing studies on how housing systems and policy approaches inform design regulations, standards, dwelling size, and housing quality (Hoekstra, 2005;Kemeny, 1991). Equally, despite a focus on housing design, architectural and planning studies rarely engage with wider policy contexts and housing system characteristics that determine how homes are procured (Branco Pedro, 2009;Foster et al., 2020;Ishak et al., 2016;Madeddu et al., 2015;Rowlands et al., 2009;Roy & Roy, 2016;Tervo & Hirvonen, 2019). The value of exploring the connections between standard housing solutions and housing systems, policy, and regulations remain a significantly understudied interdisciplinary problem in design research and housing studies. ...
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Comparative housing studies traditionally focus on housing systems and social or economic policy, only rarely considering design issues. Through an examination of subsidized housing and its design in 20 countries, this paper explores how design research can benefit cross-national housing studies. Subsidized housing is essential to delivering decent and affordable homes, underpinning the right to housing. To relate design dimensions to housing systems, the analytical focus is on regulatory instruments, technical standards, and socio-spatial practices as well as housing providers, tenures, and target groups. Design research benefits the contextualization of housing systems and design outcomes in several ways. It reveals the contextual and contingent nature of regulatory cultures and instruments, socio-technical norms and standards, and socio-cultural expectations and practices that shape housing solutions. The paper concludes by considering productive ways architectural design research might contribute to an interdisciplinary housing research agenda by offering new means of theorization and analysis beyond traditional housing system typologies.
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Background: Household overcrowding is associated with increased risk of infectious diseases across cultures and countries. Limited data exist in England and Wales linking household overcrowding and risk of COVID-19. We used data collected from the Virus Watch cohort to examine the association between overcrowded households and infection to pandemic coronavirus SARS-CoV-2. Methods: The Virus Watch study is a household community cohort of acute respiratory infections in England & Wales that began recruitment in June 2020. We calculated the persons per room for each household and classified accommodation as overcrowded when the number of rooms was fewer than the number of people. We considered two primary outcomes - PCR-confirmed positive SARS-CoV-2 antigen tests and laboratory confirmed SARS-CoV-2 antibodies (Roche Elecsys anti-N total immunoglobulin assay). We used mixed effects logistic regression models that accounted for household structure to estimate the association between household overcrowding and SARS-CoV-2 infection. Results: The proportion of participants with a positive SARS-CoV-2 PCR result was highest in the overcrowded group (6.6%; 73/1,102) and lowest in the under-occupied group (2.9%; 682/23,219). In a mixed effects logistic regression model that included age, sex, ethnicity, household income and geographical region as fixed effects, and a household-level random effect, we found strong evidence of an increased odds of having a positive PCR SARS-CoV-2 antigen result (Odds Ratio 3.67; 95% CI: 1.91, 7.06; p-value < 0.001) and increased odds of having a positive SARS-CoV-2 antigen result in individuals living in overcrowded houses (2.99; 95% CI: 1.14, 7.81; p-value =0.03) compared to people living in under-occupied houses. Discussion: Public health interventions to prevent and stop the spread of SARS-CoV-2 should consider the much greater risk of infection for people living in overcrowded households and pay greater attention to reducing household transmission. There is an urgent need to better recognise housing as a leading determinant of health in the context of a pandemic and beyond.
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For the past century, governments have been compelled, time and again, to return to the search for solutions to the housingand economic challenges posed by a restructuring countryside. The rural housing question is an analysis of the complexity of housing and development tensions in the rural areas of England, Wales and Scotland. It analyses a range of topics: from attitudes to rural development, economic change, land use, planning and counter-urbanisation; through retirement and ageing, leisure consumption, lifestyle shifts and homelessness; to public and private house building, private and public renting and community initiatives. Across this spectrum of concerns, it attempts to isolate the fundamental tensions that give the rural housing question an intractable quality. The book is aimed at policy makers, researchers, students and anyone with an interest in the future of the British countryside.
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The Lifetime Homes (LTH) concept initiated in 1989 by the Helen Hamlyn Trust, and subsequently promoted by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, emerged at a point when there was growing awareness of the decline of both private and public sector housing quality, especially in relation to floorspace standards (Karn & Sheridan, 199429. Karn V Sheridan L (1994) New Homes in the 1990's: A Study of Design, Space and Amenity in Housing Association and Private Sector Production (University of Manchester/York, Joseph Rowntree Foundation) View all references). LTH were intended to offset the concerns of first, the house buying public of the appearance and affordability of homes suitable for successive generations, second, the private house building industry of the cost and marketability of incorporating ‘inclusive’ design features, and third, Registered Social Landlords (RSLs), who had to balance cost constraints with addressing the needs of a growing number of households with older and/or disabled people. Approved Document Part M of the building regulations was extended in 1999, from public buildings to private dwellings, and currently requires that all new housing meet minimal ‘visitability’ criteria. Indeed, although the signs are that Part M will be incrementally extended to comprise LTH principles, the paper argues that in their existing form they are insufficient to act as a key component of the government's ‘new agenda for British housing’. This paper therefore explores how they might usefully be expanded from an approach, largely based on compromise, to one that inspires innovative, flexible and inclusive house forms, which also challenge design conventions.
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The supply of land for housing has been restricted by planning controls. The prices of land and of houses have risen in consequence. As a result land has been used with increasing intensity with infill, 'town cramming' and smaller houses on less land—'rabbit hutches on postage stamps'; a destruction of the urban environment of the many to preserve a rural environment for a few. Why is the supply of land restricted? Firstly, it is suggested, because the British misapprehend the degree of urbanisation in their own country. Secondly, because rural and farming interests ensure that the planning system operates in their favour. And thirdly, and most importantly, because the planning process is tilted in favour of the existing residents of an area who seek to preserve their environment by resisting intruders. A number of suggestions are made to resolve the situation by increasing the supply of land or reducing the demand for land.
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This contribution aims to illustrate the most recent initiatives of cluster strategy analysis and implementation to revitalise the Turin metropolitan region. In the paper, theoretical and methodological, analytical and political assumptions interweave inextricably. For these reasons, it is divided into a number of distinct but sequential parts. First of all, the problem of regional competitive advantage and the underlying logic of interpretation are established as the expression of the structural dynamics that involve the contemporary economy. The quantitative and qualitative methodologies that were used to outline the existence of clustered business systems in the Turin region are then examined. More particularly, the Turin manufacturing system has been broken down into eight clusters of three different types: (a) strategic, (b) innovative, (c) traditional. Starting from the clusters identified, I then try to grasp the logic of interpretation of the Turin system and, as a consequence, the strategies of political intervention. Finally, this contribution examines the problems of implementing an industrial policy strategy, which is centred on the creation of `Cluster Observatories', the reorganisation of the local economic and urban planning offices, and the establishment of a special agency for industrial policy.