Thoughts on housing
Recently, I’ve been thinking about houses and communities.
Yesterday, I was struck by the thought that the building in which I’m currently living (a Victorian psychiatric hospital, arranged around a courtyard, and now mostly used as offices), if subdivided into flats, would make a good community. I was also struck by another old mental hospital, which I often pass on my travels, which is currently used as expensive residential. Also on my mind was a farm which I know of, whose old buildings, arranged around a yard, are gradually being turned into houses.
One theme that strikes me, in all of this, is privacy. Being able to have a space from which the outside world is shut out, or at least kept at a distance. Another theme, conversely, is the need for community space. Spaces that people can share and, if they want, to use as a venue for community activities.
England being England, the privacy aspect is probably fairly high on most people’s agenda. ‘An Englishman’s home is his castle’. Nevertheless, I read a couple of years ago about a street in London, which is cut off from the outside world by having (I’m not sure about the accuracy of this) one or two restricted access points. The street had a good community life, with neighbours getting on with each other, and taking a communal pride in the streets’ appearance.
I think that, as well as privacy and communality, people also need beauty in their lives, whether it be man-made or natural. I feel pretty certain that living in a beautiful place must have some positive impact on people’s spirit and their state of mind. Although having said that, I don’t think that beauty should be over-emphasised. There are lots of beautiful locations with a poor community life and vice versa.
Maybe what we need is for more people to study the links between things like the built environment, nature, community, privacy, beauty, psychological health and so on. I know that there is currently, within the UK, a high level of understanding of the practical, utilitarian aspect of the built environment. However, I wonder whether there is room for more understanding of these other aspects of housing.
12 pm, 30th April, 2014. Exeter, Devon, England