According to RIBA, as much as 75% of the population don’t ever want to buy a new build home. The issue is a complex one, with a variety of factors fuelling the public’s dislike for these kinds of buildings. It includes old prejudices formed in previous decades when new build homes were poorly designed and constructed, as well as a slew of negative stories around house building companies taking advantage of market pressures.
However, it is also the case that people are deterred by the very nature of new build estates; these ‘pop-up’ villages are often of an almost uniform design, and built onto nature rather than in combination with it.
Writing for the Guardian, property expert Kate Faulkner explains:
“From the Future Homes Commission, we’ve learnt people want natural light through large windows, high ceilings, a big main living room, flexible space, storage, and access to green space. They also want easy-to-integrate technology and an energy-efficient home. The type of property that provides all of this? In the public’s mind: a Victorian terrace. We need to change people’s perceptions of new build properties, and convince them that new homes can provide all that older properties can.”
However, big building companies would argue that speed is of the essence. To solve Britain’s housing crisis, their solution is more homes, and fast. As a result, new builds are not individually designed, nor are they always constructed well. And although new build estates are often built on the edges of cities, close to the countryside, paradoxically they actually lack proper access to green spaces.
The solution is staring us in the face. It’s time to begin using nature to break up the homogeneity of new build estates and make them more pleasant places to live.
If it is unrealistically expensive to individually design more new build homes, then the key is to build in a way that complements the natural surroundings they are built in. Biophilic design has been proven to improve the sense of wellbeing of the people who use that building. If it can be employed in a design for a workplace, why can’t it be used in house building? An increased connection with the natural world can mean enormous benefits, including a lowered crime rate and increases in property prices – making new builds a safer investment.
British housebuilders have a poor reputation, in part because it appears that in many cases they use poor quality building materials and knowingly sell houses that may not last over 30 years without major reconstructive work. If this is indeed the case, the challenge is not finding a material that lasts long-term, but convincing a builder to use it if it means less profit in the short-term. Likewise, we associate nature with wilderness, with an element of the uncontrollable. Natural building methods don’t have to mean using bamboo and leaves to construct homes. However, it does encourage a uniqueness – even if it is contained within a single estate.
If large building companies can be convinced to use biophilic designs (and a greater variety of them) they can make new build estates more pleasant places to live, driving growth and improving return on investment.