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Affordable, Innovative, Thoughtful, Profitable

Part 5

What lessons do you feel we've learnt from previous generations of social housing projects - looking back to the '50's and '60's?

I think one of the great things we're learning is the fact that you've got to mix communities now because the idea of social housing can be a really good thing for just your normal person. It's been seen in the past as being for disenfranchised people who can't buy into the housing market, but I think there's a real future in social housing for just me and you. I think the idea that you mix all of that is a thing to learn. But the main thing is to make sure is that the place is going to be maintained and not left to the council. That's the biggest thing.

I think a lot of the old 50's and 60's developments are fantastic, but they just haven't been maintained. That's what it's all about.

But generally now they're putting in a structure that's outside of the council, because what happens with the local council is they've got money one year, and then next year they get their budgets cut and can't maintain that particular estate, and it just spirals downwards. But as long as you've got maintenance - people have got to learn that part of their rental has to pay for maintenance.

It's sort of paradoxical that you don't meet architects - they don't have shops like newsagents on the street. If you're a punter you don't really see much of this process happening.

But people don't have to even know that an architect's been involved in a house. All they want at the end of the day is a house that's nice. In a similar way only a minority of people that want to know that there's a designer label behind their clothing. The design industry is absolutely tiny. As far as clothes go, the majority of people just want to go down the high street and buy something that gets them laid. That's why Top Shop is so successful, because that's what the majority of people want. People just want some clothes that make them feel good, and fit them and keep them warm but also make them look good. Just like people just want a great house - they don't give a toss who's designed it.

What factors do you feel separate good from poor housing?

Well, to me, "good" is when you step outside and you are uplifted by what you see around you. Not just that the houses are nice but that you are seeing trees and it looks mature and it looks like you could sit there if the sun was out, and it feels safe. You just think ooh, I might want to settle here. In the same way that when I step outside into my garden it's just a nice place to be. That's the number one.

But there are so many things that go into that. It means being clever with the cars - not just having black tarmac everywhere and cars filling the streets. Making sure the pavements get you to where you want to be without having to keep stopping to cross roads. Tons of stuff.

Do you think that part of the reason why architects have moved away from social housing is because of the negative connotations associated with those projects of the 50's and 60's? People are scared to dip their toes in. It's safer working with richer clients.

That probably is the reason, yes. Fear shouldn't put you off - it should drive you on really. Architects have a responsibility to people and the creation of good, affordable housing is their most important act of social responsibility.

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