House building over the past century – time to reflect
Sunday 11 November will mark 100 years since Armistice Day, when the Allies of World War I and Germany signed the armistice that ceased hostilities on the Western Front. While a formal peace agreement was not signed until the following year, it is on the anniversary of Armistice Day (or more recently, Remembrance Sunday) that we honour the fallen.
The UK has changed immensely over the past century. The ways that we dress, work, relax, exercise and eat have all undergone fundamental shifts, with technology accelerating the pace of change in the past couple of decades.
The way we build our homes has also changed, though perhaps not so fundamentally as other areas of life in the UK. The period between 1870 and the start of World War I saw a massive boom in housing, with improved building techniques leading to the erection of some 5 million homes. However, World War I led to an immense shortage of materials. For a brief period after the war, some even resorted to earlier home building techniques, using earth, chalk, lime and gravel to build walls.
With a focus on building ‘homes fit for heroes’ after the war, the government inspired a push for new housing. Both local councils and private builders stepped up, with buildings often receiving a mix of funds. London County Council, for example, launched a major investment programme, offering 1920s investors a 6% return on their purchase of London housing bonds.
Over the century that followed, house building embraced everything from the generously pro-portioned homes of the 1930s to the blocks of flats that began to spring up in the 1950s. These were the precursors to the soaring apartment blocks that today grace our inner cities with their presence, as young professionals seek out homes at the heart of the action.
“While the first apartments in the UK date back to the 1860s, it was not until the 1950s that the country really embraced the idea of the apartment block, as changing building techniques allowed architects to look at housing from a different perspective.”
Homes changed both structurally and cosmetically over the course of the century. Aluminium alloys altered the building process, while laminates changed the appearance of kitchens and bathrooms.
The pace of change has picked up in recent years as a result of the drive to be more environmentally friendly. Many new residential developments are at the cutting edge of house building. An example is Ancoats Gardens in Manchester. The development’s use of sustainable, low-carbon technologies makes it one of the most energy-efficient buildings in the city.
“The need to reduce the carbon footprint of the homes that we build has led to architects and developers having to rethink everything from materials to processes. It has been a challenge that many in the building industry have embraced as a key driver of innovation for our modern homes.”
The UK’s housing landscape has changed a great deal over the past 100 years. With developers continuing to push the limits of technology and find innovative ways to build, that change looks set to continue apace, making the coming decades a fascinating time for our country’s housing sector.
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