Is a London housing expo a good idea?

Can engaging the public with quality housing design reduce opposition to new development, asks Thomas Lane

Ben Derbyshire’s idea of a London-wide housing expo over 2,000 sites to drive positive attitudes to development is an intriguing one. Although there are many barriers to new development, resistance from so-called Nimbys is a key issue particularly when it comes to building on the green belt. Derbyshire’s idea is to get architects and builders to work up ideas for different sites to demonstrate what “good looks like”.

There are already plenty of good examples out there – the housing category in BD’s recently published Architect of the Year shortlists being notable for the diversity of high-quality work. This includes local authority housing, estate-wide regeneration, contemporary townhouses, mixed-tenure redevelopment of London urban centres, homes for the homeless, modular housing and developments in leafy areas next to the capital.

A London housing expo is a fine idea but would benefit from being widened out to include real schemes and given teeth by an effective communications strategy

Last month we ran two comment pieces on architects’ failure to engage with non-architects. Both writers made the point that architects are more concerned about impressing each other than the general public. Eleanor Jolliffe argued that people are fed a diet of expensive minimalist schemes via TV programmes and glossy magazines and books and see architecture as a fantasy accessible only to the rich.

A London housing expo is a fine idea but would benefit from being widened out to include real schemes and given teeth by an effective communications strategy. As incoming RIBA president, Derbyshire is well placed to encourage this. RIBA could widen out its awards portfolio to include more general housing. The message should be that there is good quality housing out there, and it isn’t just for posh people.

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