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									Building into the Basement                                     11:30 Graham Place - 1

Building into the Basement
24 Jan 2005, QEII Conference Centre London

Dr Peter Bonfield

Thank you very much Minister. You couldn’t have given us a more positive start and I’m sure like
me we all feel much more energised now, both to make today a success and any follow-up
activities that come from today. Very good luck with your initiative you’re launching today.

There were some very strong and positive messages in the Minister’s presentation. Having a
Minister for Housing and Planning that is a basement buff is a very good starting point.

We’re going to follow that with Graham Place. Graham Place is the Managing Director of Home
Architecture who are housing specialists, who look at good design in housing and homes and have
particular interests in basements. So this is our first perspective from the day from a construction
professional and so, could I invite you Graham to come and join me here at the stage so that we can
hear something of your practical experiences of designing using basements in new housing. So
over to you Graham.

Why a Basement? Graham Place, Home Architecture

Thank you very much.

(Slide 1) My name’s Graham Place, a Director of Home Architecture, an architectural practise
conceived in 1995 to complement the commercial services offered by our sister company, Work
Architecture. Home Architecture is concerned with the provision of good housing, capable of
providing a home, not just a house.

(Slide 2) Modern family housing design has failed to keep up with the pace of change, resulting in
unsustainable, inappropriate and ineffective housing solutions that have little relevance to the way
we live our lives today.

(Slide 3) Today I aim to open your minds to the prospect of including basements in our new
housing projects. You will understand the need for urgent change and recognise how detrimental
the current direction of housing design is to our society. (Slide4) The greater the step forward in
knowledge, the greater is the one taken backward in search of wisdom. The more adventurous the
advance, the more important become the sources from which it stemmed. And the further we go,
the further back we must explore in order to go forward again. It follows, therefore, that before we
can commence the debate about the merits of basements in our housing stock, we must look back
and understand where our roots lie. Why the housing we have is the way it is, and why we have
developed at the pace we have.

Today’s presentation will commence with a brief overview of the last 400 years’ of housing design
in this country. We will consider the speed of change of man’s achievements since the birth of
Christ and consider whether housing design is keeping pace. Following this, we will draw
conclusions as to the necessity of change moving forward, and investigate the possibilities
available against a backdrop of legislation and ever-decreasing land availability.
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It is possible to consider a time 11,000 years ago when people lived in caves and examine what
motivated them to leave, to stretch and to begin the long business of making progress. However
we have only got a short time today, so you’ll be pleased to know that we’re going to accelerate
forward to 1485 (Slide 5), the beginning of the Tudor and Jacobian period to begin our
consideration of the fundamental changes in our housing design. This period was the turning point
in architectural design, both Henry the seventh and Henry the Eighth were prolific builders, and so
too were their subjects. Through an era of strong rule and political stability, many timber buildings
were rebuilt in stone and brick. Critical changes through the period emerged, making houses more
comfortable. The central hearth, which had throughout the entire medieval period been the sole
means of heating a house, was abandoned and replaced with a fireplace at the side of the room.
This simple innovation removed the need for a single storey house with a hole in the ceiling to let
the smoke out, and brought the possibility of two-storey living to the masses.

(Slide 6) For a man’s house is his castle. This has become the cornerstone of the way we think and
live. Ironically, this was said at the same time Indigo Jones was building the first modern house in
England, the Queen’s house at Greenwich. From this point on, people cared for their houses, not
merely as strongholds of safety and domestic wealth, they loved them for their architecture. The
house was becoming a home.

(Slide 7) The Baroque period was a time of little significant development in terms of housing
design, instead we enter a period of theoretical development. The introduction of the planning
system. Educated Englishmen in the 17th Century were humbled by the belief that their own
culture was inferior to that of the ancient world. Architecture was an element that demonstrated
this inadequacy. In view of this, the first two Stuart kings introduced a universally applicable style
that was dependent upon the building’s use. Fundamentally, they laid down rules that dictated the
structural and practical design of the house, the court style. In principle, the house was required to
be divided into basement with a service purpose, both structurally and functionally; a main
reception floor with its ceremonial function expressed by its height, and an attic or top floor for
sleeping, that would have little or no significance to the property. Only in more desirable, higher
density areas was the introduction of a fourth floor between the reception and the attic floor

(Slide 8) Following on from the Baroque comes the early Georgian period. In the wake of the
Great Fire of London, the planning restrictions in the form of the court style were complemented
by the introduction of building codes. All housing must have stone frontages to minimise spread of
flames and windows must be recessed into window reveals. With these new building regulations
came a new breed of professional architects. These architects were influenced by international
design trends, and in particular the work of Italian architect, Andrea Palladio. His style was
derived from the ancient Roman architectural influences, so style, design and image had gone
mainstream. With rapidly rising costs in the towns and cities, dense planning and terraces with as
many rooms as possible lit by windows, due to the high price of candles, basements continued to
become popular. Often the basement was the domain of the servants, as many of these houses were
occupied by many more people than the resident family.

(Slide 9) The late Georgian saw further developments in the patterns that had gone before. The
court style was developed into the 1774 Building Act where categories or rates were laid down for
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housing, ranging from first to fourth rate. Building regulations and fire regulations were tightened
further. Architects remained pivotal to the process of housing design, with such names as Robert
Adam and Sir William Chambers rising to almost superstar status. In parallel with these
developments of the city terrace, the late 18th Century saw the construction of large numbers of
suburban dwellings on larger, cheaper plots. These new buildings, because of the cheaper
available land, were no longer employing the basement construction, restricting the practise to the
towns and the cities.

(Slide 10) Interest in the work of fashionable architects, John Nash and John Soame during the
Regency period saw a time when the late Georgian rules were pushed to the boundaries.
Widespread wealth lead to the development of large areas of major cities being handed over to a
broadening base of middle-class patronage. This wealth extended across the country to the seaside
towns where houses were, for the first time, planned for leisure. Spacious reception rooms with
tall, curved bays, from which elegant windows opened onto balconies and verandas.

(Slide 11) British Victorian followed through most of the 19th Century. One-third of the houses in
Britain date from before 1914 and most, by far, are Victorian. The demand for the style grew and a
building boom through the 1850s, 60s and 70s ensued. Town-dwellers were bored by the Georgian
houses now encrusted in soot and grime, as a result of the increasing industrialisation, and they
wanted colour and innovation. The period saw the evolution of the railway and the introduction of
services to property for the first time. (Slide 12) Just as the Victorians saw the introduction of the
railways, the Edwardian period was the age of the motor vehicle. Gradually it made room for itself
in the coach house and the stables became superfluous. By 1900 the battle of the styles was more
or less over. Luxury and comfort were higher priorities than the championship of one style or
another. English city-dwellers who had always preferred to live in houses, however tall and
narrow, took reference from their European neighbours and London, in particular, saw the
introduction of the mansion block. Perhaps, in part, the reason for this was the invention of the
ascending carriage, or the lift. Apartment blocks were considered more convenient, with
communal lounges and a porter to take deliveries.

(Slide 13) Although a period of very little progressive building in light of the War and the
Depression, the 1920s to the 1950s sees the period known as the Modern Movement. Part
visionary, part practical, part elitist and part socialist, the modern movement was a self-conscious
style that refused to acknowledge that it was a style. It was created by architects; theorists who
wished to break with the past and express the spirit of the machine age. In its aim to change
society’s attitude to design by telling the public what was good for them, it was not universally
popular, and as a result, few developers were willing to risk speculative building in an
un-commercial style. This un-popularity lead housing design into a very dark period. The modern
movement had lead to concrete becoming the fashion of the post-War period. (Slide 14) The work
of master architects like Le Corbusier whose work was universally revered in architectural circles
was to be denigrated by the blunders of those who came to be his followers. Followers who have
lead local authorities down a route of poor imitation and failed construction methods.

(Slide 15) Using a method of prefabrication, the tower block, a local authority speciality, an
extension of the previously popular mansion block, proliferated all over Europe. With millions of
homeless and cities flattened on a massive scale, the prefabricated tower block was the
technological tool that could provide mass housing fast. Governments saw system building as the
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solution to a dire problem, compounded by an extreme shortage of building materials, and a
shortage of skilled craftsmen. In Europe alone, more than 100 versions of the system were
developed, all leading to the crudest possible picture of functionalism. A faceless, anonymous,
tediously repetitive landscape with a total disregard for national characteristics moved across
England, Europe and Russia at an unprecedented rate. It wasn’t until 1974 that Anthony
Crossland, Labour Government Environment Secretary, put a stop to the system build local
authority schemes.

The political objectives of the redevelopment had been credible enough aim. To replace the
multitude of blitz neighbourhoods and Victorian back-to-back slums, with the gleaming visions of
towers all equipped with mod cons, standing in green parkland. People were to be given sparkling,
modern, healthy, hygienic new homes. So what went wrong? Design fell into the wrong hands.
Mass production of housing, lead to an almost take-over of the housing scene by the
manufacturers. Design was put into the hands of the machine. Panels prefabricated in the factory
were delivered into site by road and erected by cranes. Architects became an irrelevance. A single
floor plan could be repeated over 60 times and the savings in professional fees could not be
overlooked. These were among the factors that, during the 1950s, pushed the architect out of the
housing picture. Local authority managers employed architects to work within pre-determined
boundaries and as a result the English were left lagging behind the rest of Europe. Naturally, there
were plenty of mistakes made abroad, but the desire to drive for quality there, was regarded as a
matter of common sense, unlike here at home.

(Slide 16) As a side effect of War came the worst building on the largest scale of all time. By the
1960s the phenomenon was at its most aggressive. What the housing estates failed to do, the
construction of the motorways completed. So where peaceful neighbourhoods once stood,
environments were blighted by noise and pollution.

In England, the public blamed the architects for what came to be called the £10 billion mistake.
Meanwhile the architects blamed the planners and politicians, calling it a numbers game, 300,000
new homes to be built, but no members of the government were stopping to think how people
would care to live. The tower block was an entirely alien form of family living, with no private
gardens, children were kept in, running out to play was an-impossibility if parents couldn’t keep an
eye on them. Sound insulation was poor, lifts would break; the criticisms went on and on. Failures
in the buildings themselves were prolific. Bad design, poor construction, disease due to
condensation, moisture and mould, lead the people themselves to force a change in direction.
Public protests against further developments were common and anger was not far away,
particularly in 1968 when there was a gas explosion in London’s Ronan point, when one side of its
24 storeys collapsed. This was the end of the tower block. In the early 1970s demolitions began,
with projects through London, Liverpool and Birmingham all being demolished. Some of these
projects were less than 20 years old.

The resulting collapse in confidence in architects following the people’s experience of tower block
living, and the failure for private architects to establish the post-modern as an economic, desirable
style dropped further in the 1980s when the Prince of Wales made his own damning attack on the
profession. With his famous reference to the extensions to the National Gallery as a monstrous
carbuncle on the face of a much loved friend. In some ways of course, he had a point. He was
rightly horrified by the damage done by the blundering attempts to clear up the mess left by the
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war. But he had missed an opportunity to make a comment on the building form that makes up
three-quarters of our urban surroundings. In common with past monarchy, no one has tried harder
than the Prince of Wales to change the direction of architecture, especially domestic design, but
unfortunately the results to date have been disappointing.

As a consequence of the proceeding failures and confusion, the planning rules in the 1980s were
sufficiently relaxed to allow the majority of applications to be made without a design by an
architect. After this the work of the spec developers took off in a way that not even the most
exceptional pessimist could have anticipated. The resulting spread of bleak, centre-less sprawls
presented a disturbing parallel with the tower block era. The limitless, low-rise developments that
are devouring our countryside are as frightening as its predecessor, if not more so.

Looking back to the old century from the new millennium, we see an unparalleled picture of
confusion, disillusionment and a battle of the styles. As a result, we are moving forward in a way
that is unsustainable and inevitably will lead to a repeat of the old, of the disastrous conclusions of
the 60s and 70s. (Slide 17) We must return to a programme of design lead, community focused,
integrated, environmentally viable-homes, such has been achieved in Holland and Scandinavia.
All of the ingredients we need to create great housing are available to us on our doorstep. We only
have to look back to our past and to our European neighbours to see the way forward. The time has
come to put the architecture back into housing, to create property that is fit for its purpose now and
moving forward into the 21st century. We need to reinvigorate everything that made British
housing some of the best in the world - To change our attitudes, our approach and our aspirations
for the future.

From all of this, we can see there has been enormous change in our housing provision over the last
400 years, we have moved from single room, single storey accommodation, through town houses,
Victorian slums, concrete boxes and into individual brick houses that we recognise everywhere
today. But have we been keeping up with the speed of change in our house design that we
recognise in all other aspects of our lives? We know little fundamental change has occurred in the
last 20 years, since the developer took control, but should we see this as a benefit or a problem?

I’d like to show you a sequence of slides now that illustrates just what is the speed of change
{Slides 18 - 29}. So, if you apply this notion of the speed of change to aviation, communication
and automobiles, you can see what enormous steps forward in the pursuit of progress we have
made. If you recognise that today’s average consumer carries more computing power in the
pockets than existed in the entire world before 1961, you will begin to understand the
achievements that man is making every day. The 21st Century will inevitably continue to change at
an unprecedented pace. Already we see examples everywhere of people adapting their housing to
accommodate the needs of today.

(Slide 30) Commonplace is the decision to sacrifice the spare bedroom for an office or computer
room. Two adults with two children are demanding a four-bedroom property as an essential right.
The availability of computers, games consoles, DVDs, satellite television, the list goes on, has lead
us to a situation where no longer does the modern family come together each evening to read, play
games or watch television. Increased wealth has lead us to a consumer culture. (Slide 31) The
opportunity to have gym equipment, cinema, saunas, and even swimming pools has become more
and more available to more of us. Unfortunately, our houses, the place where we wish to contain
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all of these new essentials are incapable of fulfilling the demands we place upon them. The
demand for space is accelerating, whilst the cost of land required to provide the space, is

Okay, so what can we conclude from all of this? We know that the requirement for design to lead
the provision of new housing in this country has been abandoned over the last 50/60 years and, as a
result, we have seen stagnation of the fundamental progress of housing design. We know that
society’s demands are changing faster than ever before and the speed of change in every aspect of
our lives is progressing faster and faster all of the time. We know that consumers are demanding
more and more space all of the time, to accommodate all of the consumables that are so readily
available to us everywhere. And we know that urban sprawl is detrimental both to our society and
our countryside. So it is clear, therefore, that we need to re-evaluate the fundamental principles of
our housing design and move to higher density living is essential to both save our environments
from further destruction and recreate a sense of sustainable community. Flexible, light,
comfortable, low maintenance space is required to provide us with places to work, places to play
and places to relax at home. No longer does the house, as we know it, suit the way we live. The
basic premise of 50% living and 50% sleeping is no longer relevant. Communication has made it
possible to spend more of our time at home, to work from home and to entertain ourselves at home.
The challenge is to provide more space at home with less and less available land.

Ironically, this is the same problem the early Georgians were faced with at the beginning of the 18th
Century. They too needed to maintain a sense of community, they were unable to develop a
high-rise solution, but they needed more space to accommodate their ever increasing family size
and staff requirements. Land was expensive and the solution they have left us with gives us some
of the most notable examples of fine British architecture that we have today. They elected to build
basements under their tall, high-density terraced developments. Obviously, our demands on the
space requirements are quite different to the Georgians, and we have a much wider palate of
materials and construction techniques available to us. We have the technological ability to make
the additional space below ground suitable for all, not just for the below ground staff. We can
build tall, with large areas of glazing to bring light deep into our buildings. We can build large,
open plan spaces, suitable for occupants to divide up as they choose. We can integrate technology
throughout our homes and include greater flexibility for the future within our planning.

(Slide 32) Multi-level living is the answer to the challenges we find ourselves facing in the
provision of the modern family home; that much is clear. So why do we not just build taller? Why
go to all the extra effort to build a floor below the ground? After all we have the technology to
build as high as we choose? But it is at this point that we must be drawn back to the fundamentals
of designing for the individual. A preoccupation with functionality and solution, and a failure to
recognise the importance of emotion and joy a home will bring will result, as we have seen before
in the tower blocks, in soulless accommodation that simply doesn’t work for the way we live today.
An understanding that a trip to the supermarket that culminates in carrying bag after bag of
shopping upstairs will quickly suck the joy out of living in your home, brings us to conclude that
we must keep our kitchens and utilities at the entrance level.

Sleeping has, since time begun, been necessary in a place of comfort and safety. Retreating
upstairs to sleep is, and always will be, a naturally human thing to do. But retreats are high and the
inconvenience of ascending and descending stairs during the frantic breakfast rush becomes
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intolerable. We all like to go upstairs to bed, just as long as there isn’t too many of them. This
leaves the most consciously time-consuming activities within the home, living, working, relaxing
and entertaining. With the explosion of gadgets and equipment available, the opportunity for us to
make a noise, lots of noise, is abundant. We can provide space for this activity above our entrance
level, but this isolates our sleeping accommodation from the fridge. We can provide this space
above our sleeping accommodation. But then we need to bring friends and guests into the deepest
realms of our homes, past our bedrooms and we are faced then with the conflicts of noise when the
children are sleeping below us. More logical is to place the functions of living under the kitchen
space. In the morning, the breakfast area and sleeping areas are directly connected. During the day
the living space and kitchen space are equally well connected. And at night, the kitchen zone
provides the perfect isolating space between the sleeping and living accommodation.

So now we understand the problems and we know the solution, but how will these underground
bunkers feel? After all, nobody wants to retreat from the sun and live in dark, dingy, lifeless boxes.
Well, the evidence is everywhere; basement design can be light, airy and imaginative (Slides 33 –
53). Modern building methods allow us to create open-plan, flexible space, clean, hygienic space
that really can deliver the dream promised to us over 50 years ago. Thank you. (End - Slide 54 -
Event title slide).

Dr Peter Bonfield

Thank you very much Graham. Some sobering words and thoughts from the past. Clearly we
don’t want to repeat some of the mistakes that have been made before. I have to say, that I was
getting quite depressed in the middle. But fantastic to see the images and the reasons for
considering basements in housing today. Just time for one question, perhaps two questions, would
anybody like to raise a question for Graham?

Alan Crawford, Architect, Crawford Partnership Architects

I was interested to hear that Graham advocates keeping bedrooms upstairs. It seems to me an
obvious thing to put the bedrooms in the basement, as usually the best quality of light, air, sun,
view, is achieved when you get slightly higher. I just wondered what you thought about that

Graham Place

I think there’s a certain arrogance by architects and myself included, to design spaces that dictate
where people should sleep and where they should sit. I think we have the ability, particularly with
the basement construction, to provide completely open plan space and let the people decide where
they want to sleep. I think you’re right, there’s benefits and conflicts etc. One advantage with
living accommodation in the basement is, that many basements have the opportunity to get out,
they can spill out into the garden, into patios, and the ability to actually get outside and let the
children run around is valuable. Living upstairs and having to go down flights of stairs to get to the
garden can lose that connection. The other advantage with putting that function in the basement is
this thing of noise. Basements are fantastically sound insulated, if that’s the correct terminology.
Where we’re sleeping we’re generally being quiet. When we’re living, we’ve got the stereo on,
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we’ve got the surround sound telly, and to have the volume is helpful. But let people decide where
they want to be. Let’s build these houses a little bit more flexibly so you can sleep where you want.

Dr Peter Bonfield

Okay, right well thank you Graham. I mean, Graham is an enlightened architect that is looking to,
as you see, include basements in his future designs, so the suppliers here today, might like to speak
to Graham over lunch to show him what solutions you have on offer. Anyway, thank you very
much Graham.

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