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Importance of Internal Space Size in Housing

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Housing
Wordcount: 3003 words Published: 23rd Sep 2019

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Section 1- Abstract

The United Kingdom battles with a significantly important and controversial issue- the case for internal space within residential buildings. The UK has the smallest average floor area in new residential homes by 5.5 square metres, with Italy sitting close second, (Gallent, Madeddu, & Mace, 2010), as shown in Table 1. As described by the RIBA’s Case for Space Report (RIBA, 2011), the average new household in England is only 92% of the advised minimum size. The case for space report suggested:

The average one bedroom home from our sample of 1,159 homes across 41 sites is 46 sqm. It is 4 sqm short of the recommended minimum for a single storey, one bedroom home for two residents.

 4 sqm is just a number. But in lifestyle terms it means…

 The equivalent of a single bed, a bedside table and a dressing table with a stool. 3 sqm is the equivalent of a 3 seat sofa and a desk and chair.

So in real terms, a space of 4 square metres allows an individual to work at home on a computer during the day, and also the space to have an additional sofa. In regards to the 5.5 square metre difference between the UK’s internal floor space average, and that of Italy, it may not sound like much however the additional space could make somebody’s day to day life a lot more comfortable.

The government’s main focus is to relieve the current housing shortage, and the circumstance that the present demographics of society are changing. The population is increasing, and the number of dwellings to accommodate this are not growing at the equivalent rate. With the increase in value of land, and the inevitable housing crisis (in which public authorities and housing associations are endeavouring to shelter as many people as possible), the government are actively trying to reduce the legal minimum internal spacial standards of residential dwellings, to maximise the number of new homes, and to reduce the level of government spending on temporary social housing. Currently, the existing nationally described internal spacial standards are as shown in Table 2.[1]

 In comparison to table 1, the data shows that the national described minimum Gross Internal Floor areas (GIF)of a five bedroom dwelling, sits at 103-110 square metres (one to two storey). The national average GIF area of the same typology of 4.8 bedrooms, rounded to 5 in this instance, processed to be significantly smaller than the nationally described minimum. This implies that despite the “standard”, house builders and home owners continue to exploit the recommendation.

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With the housing shortage being such a prominent issue, I believe that the reduction of the legal minimum internal spacial standards will have a significant impact on those in the forefront of the new changes. I believe that yes, the government are attempting to tackle such a large issue, however several other notable issues have not been thoroughly considered. The importance of space in everyday life is vast, particularly in the home, and I believe that space has a large impact on people, both supportively and destructively. The extent of space in a dwelling determines how occupants live. For instance, how people sleep and bathe, where and how people eat, and the level of privacy that each person can have. The amount of space allows people to adapt to unplanned circumstances, and if such spaces become smaller, it becomes more difficult to accommodate these occurrences. (Roberts-Hughes, 2011).

In order to support my position on the issue, I am going to analyse the importance of the size of internal space. I am targeting the minimum internal spacial standards of the home, and the impact that the potential reduction will have on those residing in new dwellings. To conduct this, I am going to assess several case studies and accumulated data, from both a psychological impact on people, and statistical data. I am going to look at the shift of spacial standards within the past 70 years, to see if in fact we are going backwards-   The reduction of internal space standards has caused a wide range of debate, provoking the work of those such as Malcolm Morgan and Heather Cruikshank. Their research suggests that the reduction of internal space standards could push the UK to live more effectively, by making the most of the resources that we currently have.

Their position suggests that the current housing crisis that we are facing, will merely be resolved by building new homes, but by tackling the deeper issue of inefficiency within current households. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) analysis revealed:

[…] out of 23.4 million households in England and Wales in 2011, most households (16.1 million) were under-occupied and under-occupancy was most likely to occur in owner occupied households (82.7%), compared with privately rented (49.5%) and socially rented households (39.4%). Overall, there were 6.2 million households that matched the bedroom standard. (ONS,2014)[2]

As proved by by the ONS, under‒occupancy in England is astonishingly high at present, and is increasing at a tremendous rate, despite the housing shortage. Morgan and Cruikshank supports the principle that the relationship between homes that are too small and under‒occupancy is causal. (Morgan, M, Cruishank, H. 2014) It seems highly reasonable that with suitable storage and reasonably sized bedrooms, we would have less cause to accumulate bedrooms. It is also reasonable to suggest that a rebalancing of space would encourage older people to downsize – or, as some prefer to call it, to ‘rightsize’.

Literature Review:

Tadao Ando expressed during a DesignBoom interview in the Hotel de Milan, Milan, Italy (2001) “I believe that the way people live can be directed a little by architecture.” Agreeing with Tadao Ando, I believe that we, as a society, should understand the importance of space within people’s every day lives. Looking back at the governments aim to reduce the minimum internal spacial standards, this will significantly impact space, not necessarily taking into consideration the repercussions that it may have on those in the forefront of the change. 

On the topic of the importance of space, and how the reduction of spacial standards may adversely impact residents of the new dwellings, there have been several charities and organisations which actively try to support those who are suffering from the huge impact of confined spacial issues. I have confidence in the fact that it is awfully important to discuss the immediate issues, and consider both the psychological and physical effects that smaller spaces may have. Shelter, the housing and homeless charity, interviewed 500 homes which were suffering from overcrowded conditions, making it the greatest study of its sort.

As discussed, the internal size of a dwelling can play a large role in day to day life, particularly when the conditions are smaller than necessary. Shelter England (Full house? How Overcrowded Housing Affects Families, 2005), interviewed a family living in Greater London, in which Mita was living with her 3 children in a 2 bedroom flat with an internal floor area of 50 square metres. Shelter England recorded their conversation with Mita, in regards to her current living situation and how it was ruining her family:

 […]Mita says: ‘My children are all growing up into teenagers and need their own space now. Sometimes the younger ones come and sleep with me in the living room.’ […] My children suffer from stress and feel ‘squashed’[…]

[…] I am concerned about my son, he failed a year at college and has to re-take that. There is very little space for him to study and that is not helping at all. My children aren’t able to enjoy a normal social life. They don’t ever have friends round, it’s because of the embarrassment and that they can’t take friends to their rooms.

Despite the fact that Mita is living in a home which is smaller than the Greater London’s housing standard by 20 square metres (London Housing Standards, 2015), and is considered as an overcrowded home, it is evident that her lack of space has an unbearable impact on her families lifestyle. Shelter England’s (2005) interview with Mita additionally expressed how her health was poor, and her employment had been affected due to her lack of sleep and her stress-related sick notes. This correlates to the target issue of the reduction of the legal minimum internal spacial standards as the data shows how smaller living spaces may have adverse effects on people’s quality of life. The Building Research Establishment (BRE) approximated that the NHS spends over £600 million per year on the results over overcrowding (Davidson, Roys, Nicol, Ormandy, & Ambrose, 2010).

Look at the Happiness index

Despite the importance of space, and the impact that it may have on people’s lives, it has been discussed that the reduction in the internal space standards may force society to live more efficiently. Julia Park, the head of housing research at Levitt Bernstein and architectural researcher, expressed in her publication, (NHF Housing Standards Handbook, 2016)  how she was

 “surprised by how little we consider the effects of domestic confinement. When you’re living in smaller and smaller flats, you reach a point where it makes sense to take out the walls because one big room feels nicer, but I think that implies a lot of compromise we’re not examining,” […]“Some of these flats pose threats to physical health, but, in small spaces, it’s going to be mental health that is most affected.”

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In some respect, I agree with the stance of Julia Park, as the reduction would inevitably push people to live more efficiently, by maximising storage, and generally taking more care of what is inside their homes, rather than accumulating pointless clutter (which seems prevalent in UK households). However, it is quite a large statement to make in the sense that the reduction in spacial standards may fall even further, and be potentially exploited. As described by Zogolovitch (2018), it is a great cause for apprehension that in the government’s proposal to reduce the internal space standards there is “no acknowledgement of the role of market conditions or the quality of the designs.” My concern is that the government’s method towards feasibility has been slanted in the direction of the monetary interests of large developers, over the long-standing interests of communities. With this shift in the reduction of internal spacial standards, there is the risk that the interests of consumers, and their desires of quality homes, may be exploited by developers in the quest to maximise the number of housing units that can be fit into a residential scheme. This is the question that we may ask about the government’s aim to reduce these standards. Will it really make a huge impact economically in the grand scheme of things? Are the potential effects on residents going tot exceed the pros of tackling the housing shortage? Are there other ways in which we can tackle the problem without having to merely take a vital chunk out of a person’s future home?

Case Studies:

There were several social housing development examples around the 1960’s and 1970’s, during the post war slum clearance, which show the important shift of thought within architecture. There were several design approaches within these examples, which were legally acceptable during the era, however today, such methods would not be legal. Despite this, I believe that there were several strategies that were unsuccessful, yet could be rebuilt and developed today. There has been a great shift in internal space standards within the past 100 years, and housing space standards can be tracked back to 1918, the year of the Tudor Walters report (Walters, T. 1918).  The Tudor Walters report was produced towards the end of the First world War, where the Government attempted to revive the extensive bomb damage by implementing a large housebuilding programme. During the 1930’s the Government attempted to control overcrowding within domestic dwellings through the implementation of the Housing Act of 1935, which is still in effective use today.

Until the 1960’s the UK did not have any complete, fully implemented domestic spacial standards. In my opinion, there has not been any particular drastic changes until the last ten years; a period which looks clear to be considered as one of the most extensive evolution of space standards.

Space is likely to remain a highly contentious issue. Many people believed then, and still believe now, that it would be simpler, better and fairer for the space standard to be regulated. My curiosity is that history may be about to repeat itself. In regards to spacial standards, I am going to analyse a certain typology of dwelling, in order to conduct an assessment that is as fair as possible. The typology will be…… and I shall examine the internal spacial footprints. By doing this, I can see running trends, analyse what worked successfully and what didn’t, and to conclude whether the internal housing standards are a good idea.

One case of interest is the Robin Hood Estate by Alison and Peter Smithson in 1972. The residential estate consisted of two large blocks, covering an area of 14974 square metres.[3] The flats were a combination of single-storey apartments and maisonettes, ranging from one to six bedrooms. The standard typology of the Smithson Estate was a two bedroom, 4 person flat. This typology has a GIF area of 60 square metres, a considerable size for the era, however a great deal smaller than the current national average. The Robin hood Estate is a particularly topical building, as many would consider it as either an Architectural celebration, or an architectural disaster. 

Plan of action, to analyse further case studies and to set the typology of 2b4p dwelling to keep analysis consistent.


Further Case Studies to Analyse: Park Hill Estate, Barbican? Quarry Hill Flats, Leeds.

To consider.. Are we shifting backwards? Going back towards the 70’s/80’s typologies?

Main text

Why space? And why standards?

Look into the last decade of space standards

What history tells us about previous space standards

Counter opinion: reduction in space standards, and the push for the UK to live more efficiently

Trusting what we have learned previously- is there a better solution?


  1. Bernstein, L (2016) NHF Housing Standards Handbook,  National Housing Federation.
  2. Davidson, M., Roys, M., Nicol, S., Ormandy, D., & Ambrose, P. (2010). The real cost of poor housing (First.). BRE. Retrieved from http://www.brebookshop.com/details.jsp? id=325401
  3. Evans, A. W., & Hartwich, O. M. (2005). Unaffordable housing: Fables and myths (First., p. 41). London: Policy Exchange.
  4. https://www.london.gov.uk/sites/default/files/housing_standards_malp_for_publication_7_april_2016.pdf 6.11.2018
  5. https://www.vam.ac.uk/articles/robin-hood-gardens Retreived 22.10.2018
  6. LG. (2013a). English housing survey. London: HMSO. Retrieved September 06, 2013, from https://www.gov.uk/ government/organisations/department-for-communitiesand-local-government/series/english-housing-survey
  7. Morgan. M, Cruickshank, H. (2014) Quantifying the extent of space shortages: English dwellings, Retrieved from http://publications.eng.cam.ac.uk/675623/
  8. ONS, Census suggests 1.1m households in England and Wales were overcrowded, 17 April 2014.
  9. Roberts-Hughes, R. (2011). The case for space: The size of England’s new homes. London. Retrieved from http://www. architecture.com/Files/RIBAHoldings/PolicyAndInternation alRelations/HomeWise/CaseforSpace.pdfTechnical housing standards – Nationally described Space Standard, Department for Communities and Local Government, march 2015
  10. Zogolovitch, Roger.(2015) Shouldn’t we all be developers? Artifice books on architecture Tudor Walters Committee (1918) UK Parliament: Tudor Walters Report

[1] Source: Technical housing standards – Nationally described Space Standard, Department for Communities and Local Government, march 2015


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