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Outside space is not a luxury

Computer generated visualisations of castle park view roof terrace
Castle park view roof terrace vegetable beds

At times like this, thank heavens for roof terraces, balconies and gardens. The lockdown has reinforced how precious space for living is, both inside and outside our homes.  And with the government’s request to stay at home, we all need some respite from each other, and a change of scene, even if that only means going into another room.  The 2011 RIBA[1] research into UK housing space standards found that the average new UK home was substandard at 92% of the recommended minimum size.  The standard of 50m2 for the entire house, however demonstrates how much lower our UK minimum space standards are, compared with our European neighbours.  Although housing sizes vary substantially through the EU, the minimum standard is 42.56m2 per person[2]. The disparity between European housing sizes and our cramped British quarters largely goes unremarked because the UK market sells according to the number of rooms, not square meters. Needless to say, at the moment, being able to escape to an outside space is an essential safety valve and the value to our wellbeing should not be underestimated.

A spell outside can substantially lower the stress of being cooped up in our homes, reducing anger, and improving mood.[3]  Outside space helps us to relax and improves both physical and mental wellbeing.  So why aren’t all UK homes built with either a roof terrace, a balcony or a garden, and as a last resort, a minimum walk distance to a local park?  Perhaps the need for such basic amenity should be a new housing standard to be enforced through planning policy.  The Covid19 pandemic gives a perfect opportunity to research the effect of prolonged seclusion at home on large sections of the population, particularly those without access to outside space.  And, with this great experiment in enforced home stays, whether access to outside space is democratically available to all sectors of the population or skewed towards the middle class.  Historically the working class has been the most deficient in open space and many of the initiatives to provide access to it have been in an attempt to remedy this while extolling the benefits of doing so.  Octavia Hill co-founded the National Trust in 1895, specifically to benefit the urban working class so that green spaces could ‘be kept for the enjoyment, refreshment, and rest of those who have no country house’.[4]

In Bristol, we continue to work on a large roof terrace for a new housing development within the city centre.  The terrace is sufficiently large to have dedicated zones for various activities.  There is space for growing and gardening in raised beds; an outdoor kitchen and bar area; a covered screening room for films and meetings; and a flexible space for relaxing with friends in hammocks or participating in yoga or exercise classes.   We have used green walls to divide the spaces and maximise the potential for biodiversity, and there are screens to baffle and shelter the terrace on windy days.  The views will be spectacular and getting out into the open, while providing an excellent way to meet and engage with other people in the building, helping to build new social communities among the flat dwellers.

In days to come we hope that consideration of access to open space will be higher on the agenda, and more developers will look to extend their budgets to maximise the provision of open space, making really great places for people to live come what may.  


[1] Roberts-Hughes R. (2011) The case for space: the size of England’s new homes RIBA p.5

[2] European UNION  (2011) Energy: Content: Housing space per person Topic: Housing comfort

[3]MIND (2018) Nature and mental health: Tips for everyday-living  (online article)

[4] DARLEY G (2010) Octavia Hill: Social reformer and founder of the National Trust. Francis Boutle

Jane Fowles

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Jane Fowles

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