Monday, February 17, 2014

A home for less than €100 000?

I was delighted to come across another book by Olivier Darmon in which he has brought together in a single volume no fewer than 40 projects costing less than €100 000 (excluding land) from all over France. They all feature family homes with an average three bedrooms, a garden or outside space, and are built using the latest materials - timber, metal, glass etc - and the latest techniques for heat and sound insulation, and break the tradition of bricks and mortar.

As Darmon says in his introduction building this new type of property involves a radical change in thinking which traditionaly has regarded a dwelling as something permanent and lasting, carefully preserved and maintained, as part of the nation's heritage. New homes he - and numerous architects consulted - agree should be semi-permanent structures, capable of being expanded or changed according to the occupiers' needs over time, and even  packed up and moved to another location. Think of the many owners in Britain and France who have seen their homes seriously damaged by flooding and whose value has plummetted as a result.

At the same time, The Guardian has published an account of a new initiative by the YMCA and architect Richard Rogers to design a £30 000 flatpack house - 'suitable for housing the homeless'. It is these last words which trouble me, as they give the impression that factory built units which can be erected on site within a matter of days are only suitable for emergency situations or as a stop-gap solution to the shortage of affordable 'traditional' housing. Darmon's book proves that this is not always the case, many buyers choose to live this way, and indeed the Guardian article includes descriptions of some 'permanent' housing projects that use pre-fabricated dwellings.

There are sometimes adverse reactions from neighbours, concerned about the 'value' of their traditional homes and reluctance by local authority planning officers to approve anything that departs from their concept of the traditional house design. The good news is that home buyers are warming (literally!) to the idea of improved energy efficiency and lower costs, while architects report that planning officers are increasingly open to designs that break the traditions of permanent housing. And while France has a housing crisis, needing some half-million new homes to resolve, there may be pressure on the government to re-think their approach to non-traditional construction techniques.

For further reading:
'Maisons d'aujourhui à €100 000' Olivier Darmon, Editions Ouest-France, €24. Fully illustrated with floor plans and detailed breakdown of construction costs of each project. Oliver Wainwright, Architecture and Design Blog, 15 February 2014 'Richard Rogers and YMCA unveil £30K homes for homeless people'.