House of sticks: an essay in little boxes part 8

I’m in favour of houses being designed to be as energy efficient as possible, but I do have some concerns about the designs that feature in Kevin McCloud’s initial thoughts for his Hab Housing company’s front garden development. Both in the gallery on his company’s website and in the photographs shown at his recent event in Swindon, wood-clad buildings feature heavily.

Mr McCloud has made a comparison between Swindon and Harlow. As I’ve noted before, I have lived in a couple places where architects have experimented, of which Harlow was one. Both those places featured many, many wood-clad buildings. Those in the St Ann’s area of Nottingham were built in the early 1970s… and demolished at the turn of the millennium. The many wood-clad buildings in Harlow have lasted somewhat longer, having been build in the 1950s and 1960s, but the majority have had the wood replaced with uPVC. The few that remain in wood look decidedly tatty.

Wood may look nice when newly painted or varnished, as in the photographs that Mr McCloud uses, but it’s a high maintenance building material and that look doesn’t last. Swindon has enough problems with flawed housing designs, such as the sytem-built pre-cast reinforced concrete houses of Parks, Pinehurst and Penhill. Lets hope that an obsession with making things ‘natural’ doesn’t add to that.

(And just in case anyone is tempted to get overly sentimental about a TV personality leading a housing development, McCloud’s Hab Housing is partnered by Footstep Homes, a joint venture company backed by some fairly unabashed capitalists.)