Interior complex: Design standardization in London’s housing

Seyithan Özer (2021)

A thesis submitted to the School of Architecture of the Royal College of Art for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy
London, June 2021

Abstract. This thesis studies design standardization in London’s housing, understood as an interrelated set of standards and conventions that shape design outcomes towards specific forms. Working iteratively between theory and data, the thesis threads broader issues in housing – housing design, design governance, design quality – with an empirical study of housing designs in London at the dwelling unit scale.
Integrating literatures on housing policy and regulation, real estate, state-market relationships, architectural practice, standards and conventions, the thesis conceptualizes design standardization. The empirical focus of the thesis is London’s housing stock and its residents’ experiences and practices of home. To this end, the thesis draws from a mixed methods research that consists of a descriptive statistical analysis of the spatial patterns in a sample of unit plans from inner London’s housing stock (n=3,438), visual analysis of comparative floor plan matrices, an online survey with people living in London on their experience and use of their homes (n=234) and follow-up semi-structured interviews with some survey participants (n=22).
Built largely over the last two hundred years, London’s housing stock contains a variety of housing typologies. While new housing typologies designed for changing needs have emerged, older housing stock has been modified, subdivided, and converted. The research shows that existing housing interiors, in aggregate form evidence processes of standardization. Dwellings built in the past forty years, since the 1980s, show a high level of repetition in their dimensions and interior layouts. I argue this as the result of on the one hand a high-pressure housing market, a perpetual housing shortage and high land prices that all lead the market to function with strict design conventions, and on the other legislations, regulations, codes, and guidelines central and local governments introduce to sustain quality, affordability, and access. Dwellings from the older housing stock – terraced houses – show a wide variety of interior layouts. Despite this, however, there are spatial and organizational directions that emerge at the intersection of the architectural affordances of terraced houses, social change, asset-based welfare and permitted development.
Based on a study of residents’ experiences and domestic practices in relation to design patterns observed in London’s housing, the research also found that existing housing does not sufficiently meet current needs, preferences and occupancy patterns. The assumptions of use and home underlying standards and conventions fail to acknowledge changing domestic needs.
The thesis, studying London’s housing at their intersection, makes original contributions to architectural design, housing studies, infrastructure studies, and material geographies by developing a design standardization framework that incorporates standards and conventions, by constructing a novel dataset of existing housing stock and providing up-to-date data on the housing designs, by analysing residents’ domestic experiences and practices in London, and by analysing home alterations from a socio-technical perspective.

Extract: “This section of the thesis outlines the conventions of market-driven and creative stakeholders and discusses their interaction with standards. Drawing on the empirical studies conducted on different stakeholders involved in housing design, in this section I outline the conventions in housing design and development and their impact on design outcomes. In framing the conventions in housing design and development, studies in the Economics of Convention provide useful methodological approaches by recognizing the plurality of normative values. In particular, the works of sociologist Luc Boltanski and economist Laurent Thévenot on the role of conventions in economic decision-making and justification are of interest. Boltanski and Thévenot study collective cognitive forms that stakeholders use to coordinate, ‘criticize, challenge institutions, argue with one another, or converge toward agreement’.56 These collective cognitive forms, conventions, are essential not only because they help the process of coordination when formal standards and other institutionalized arrangements fall short or require interpretation, or where outcomes are uncertain, but also because actors base their critique of standards and institutional arrangements on them.” (p. 37)