Were there any particular buildings that made an impression on you?
I get asked what made an impression on me to be able to do what we’re doing now in terms of housing, and everything that I remember is from around the houses I lived when growing up. In Blackburn what I remember was these tall flats where the lifts stank of piss, but I don’t remember much about the inside. I can remember every little detail of how well it was landscaped around those flats. I remember the play area, I remember that they took an old stream and made it a place where we could sail boats, and it went in to a man made lake in Queens Park. I remember that they built really steep slopes for kids to slide down. Lots of them had those long metal slides that you don’t seem to see nowadays, and that was great fun. I remember being outside all the time. And then when we moved out of Blackburn, on that estate, I remember a great play area there and a football field. I can picture the street, I can picture where I played with my mates, and so I think in life you remember the really happy things. To me the best fun I must have had was being outside of the house, and that’s informed everything that we do now to do with housing.
I always think people have got to be able to afford it - to me that’s the number one thing. I remember my Mum was very careful with money and she was always the one who would run the purse strings of the family and work out what the outgoings were. She was always very good at that, the outgoings, the income and what mortgage she could afford. And that was the reason why we were able to move around these houses, so that’s our first priority. Who are we aiming our houses at? Can they afford it? If it means taking out something that an architect would love, it comes straight out because the punter isn’t thinking about that, they’re thinking 'I need a house, I want somewhere to live, I want it to be nice, but number one thing, I’ve got to be able to afford it, because if I can’t - if it starts stretching me too far, I’m buggered.' So that’s the number one consideration.
Secondly, because it was the most important thing to me (and Gerardine was saying the same), is the stuff around the outside. So we think about what the environment outside of that house is like. I don’t like the idea of shutting yourself inside your little castle, and I’m sure most people don’t. There’s some fantastic research out at the moment: a report called 'No particular place to go' which shows children’s attitude towards where they live. And it shows that children’s attitudes haven’t suddenly changed so that they all want to be inside playing on a Gameboy. They feel that they are forced to do that by their parents, which is completely the opposite of what we’re told in the press. And this is quite detailed research that is showing that kids actually want to be outside but society is forcing them to go in through perceived fear and through the lack of things to do outside of the house - having to go too far to do anything.
And the third priority for us is the architecture, and that is something that rankles quite a lot with some people. They think I’m doing it to be anti-architecture but I’m not. It’s just that we’re not trained as architects, we don’t class ourselves as architects, we consider ourselves to be in a position to be able to build better housing developments than have been built before.