Housing Standardisation: The Architecture of Regulations and Design Standards

Lead Research Organisation: Royal College of Art
Department Name: School of Architecture


Equitable access to affordable and well-designed housing is fundamental for a just society. Yet, there is an estimated demand for 345,000 new homes per year in England alone. Housing inequalities and a failure of the market to supply decent housing to the subsidised sector that meet changing user and household demands is exacerbated by Covid-19. Already around 31% of adults in Britain experienced mental or physical health problems due to housing conditions during the first lockdown, with over 10% feeling depressed because of a lack of space. Growing pressure to deliver more and better-designed housing requires a re-evaluation of housing use, design, and quality. However, there is a great lack of design research bringing together practice-led research, architectural academic studies, and housing research in other disciplines. Especially how the evidence base informing housing design and its regulation is determined and limits innovation has received little attention. This knowledge gap is critical to architecture, with evidencing housing design value recognised by the Royal Institute of British Architects and the UK Collaborative Centre for Housing Evidence as an urgent problem.

Despite widespread consensus on the positive impact that housing can have, what is specifically meant by design and what role architecture plays is often unclear. Especially the value of architecture and design to the homes we spent more than half of our lives in and how they are determined by regulations and standards or the external factors defining them, is insufficiently understood. In fact, we know surprisingly little about what the average home looks like or what determines its design. This project examines how architectural housing is standardised by design governance, especially in the subsidised housing sector. It explores the questions: What are the means of design governance to regulate housing design, and what evidence-based design and decision-making emerge from the underpinning spatial, technical, and social reasoning? How are typical housing designs standardised through design controls, typological preferences, and social norms? To what extent are the relationships between design governance, definition and assessment of design controls, and typical housing design contextual to a time and place or transferable?

This project examines these questions through a historical comparison of design governance and housing design approaches in England and an international comparison of typical housing designs in Chile, Spain, Switzerland, the Netherlands, and China that represent the most common design controls used today in different design governance, housing market, and subsidised housing contexts. Providing a comprehensive analysis of the contextual determinants of housing design and a re-evaluation of the links between spatial, social, and technical reasoning and housing design research, the lessons that can be learned from this for housing challenges in England today will be assessed.

While there is an abundance of studies from an architectural perspective of design, these are largely disconnected from housing studies in other disciplines that, in turn, tend to disregard questions of design. Especially little attention has been paid to how policies relate to design governance and technical research, and how this determines typical housing design and usability. These issues are commonly dismissed as a problem of architectural practice, undeserving of historiographical attention or critical study. To address this, the project develops an integrated and transdisciplinary review and design history of the relationships between housing design, design governance, and evidence base as shaped by diverse housing research. This will further enable a more inclusive historiographical and methodological revision of housing studies and architectural design research.


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Description Housingstandardisation website 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Creation of project website. Posting of regular blogs and sharing data and updates.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2022,2023
URL https://housingstandardisation.com