Can you live without space and light?

Do you ever think about how the amount of space and light in our homes and workplaces affects our quality of life?

RIBA have just launched a campaign called HomeWise, aimed at improving the space and light standards in new build homes in the UK. British homes are shrinking. The average UK home size used to be 86 square metres but is now a measly 76 square metres. Our new build homes are the smallest in Western Europe - homes in the Netherlands are 53% bigger and homes in Denmark are a whopping 80% bigger!

This is a subject close to my own heart as our neighbourhood is currently in the midst of fighting a planning application for a dense and oppressive multiple occupancy development. The developers are seeking to cram a large number of tiny bedsit rooms into a beautiful old derelict Georgian property - a listed building which if sensitively restored could be a wonderful family home. There is certainly no shortage of people looking for homes for their growing families in the area, and ironically there is actually an oversupply of flats and smaller properties, but development is usually driven by the potential return on investment rather than what people actually want or need. The living spaces the developers are proposing to create will accommodate a bed and a shower cubicle, and not much else. Some are even crammed into a basement with little or no natural light and all of them will offer their occupants a pretty miserable standard of living.

It's an example of how the wellbeing of the people who will occupy the new homes we build in years to come is often overlooked in the rush to maximise profits. Pile 'em high is the mantra, and the government currently does very little to regulate this market impulse.

Space is a key issue in the quality of our homes. We need privacy and space to relax, a communal area to eat and ideally an outdoor space - not to mention somewhere to store stuff! Most new build homes aren't built with these basic requirements in mind. The average 1 bedroom new build home is 46 square metres - exactly the same size as a Jubilee Line carriage on the London Underground!

No less important is the amount of natural light we are exposed to. In my former career in the world of corporate marketing I worked for several years in a tiny office with no natural daylight and so I know from first hand experience how long term light deprivation can have a debilitating effect on our physical and psychological well-being. A lack of natural light can lead to all sorts of unpleasant effects including a diminished immune system, diabetes and premature ageing. Increasing the amount of natural light we are exposed to can decrease the risk of depression, insomnia and obesity. So it's pretty serious stuff.


To support their campaign RIBA commissioned an Ipsos Mori survey aimed at comparing the levels of satisfaction with new homes in the UK with those built more than 26 years old (when Government minimum standards were still in place). What they discovered was that the highest levels of dissatisfaction were found amongst the people who live in the newest homes.

Here's what RIBA had to say in response to these findings.

"Future generations will live and grow in the homes we build now. The housing quality standard set by government and the decisions builders and architects make today will echo through tomorrow's society. And yet the chief ambition of the Government's current housing standards review is to reduce "unnecessary cost and complexity to the housebuilding process." despite public complaint about the quality of new homes."

The campaign has attracted the support of lots of well known names including Alain de Botton, Stephen Fry, Tom Dyckhoff and Kevin McLeod who has made this short video to highlight some of the main issues.

What are your views?

Would you buy a new home in the UK? Do you think the government should be doing more to ensure that the design of new homes is influenced by the well-being of the people who will live in them rather than the profit of the developers?

If you agree with the concerns raised by the campaign and would like to join the fight for space and light, here's how you can help spread the word.

  • Visit the the HomeWise website to find out more.
  • Write to your MP
  • Share the campaign on Facebook
  • Follow the campaign on Twitter @BeHomeWise and share a link using the hashtag #HomeWise