In 1945, in his regular Tribune column, George Orwell wrote about the “time-wasting drudgery” – washing up, mopping floors – that blighted the domestic life of ordinary people in Britain. He went on to speculate about the homes of the future:
“If one thinks simply in terms of saving trouble and plans one’s home as ruthlessly as onewould plan a machine, it is possible to imagine houses and flats which would be comfortable and would entail very little work. Central heating, rubbish chutes, proper consumption of smoke, cornerless rooms, electrically warmed beds and elimination of carpets would make a lot of difference. But as for washing-up, I see no solution except to do it communally, like a laundry. Every morning the municipal van will stop at your door and carry off a box of dirty crocks, handing you a box of clean ones (marked with your initial of course) in return…”
“And though it would mean that some people would have to be full-time washers-up, as some people are now full-time laundry-workers, the all-over saving in labour and fuel would be enormous. The alternatives are to continue fumbling about with greasy dishmops, or to eat out of paper containers.”
Some of that has come to pass, but most rooms still have corners and councils have so far resisted the temptations of a communal washing-up service – dishwashers have come along instead. So predicting the future has always been tricky, but this was what HQN’s Rethinking Social Housing event in London last week, tried to do.
The day’s main purpose was for attendees to take time out from the office and do some creative thinking about the forces that will shape the UK’s housing over the next 50 years – one of which will be climate change, the topic of HQN’s annual conference a few weeks ago, where it was pointed out that the UK housing sector is not as geared up as it needs to be to respond to our changing climate.
But last week’s conference also considered other changes that will shape our future. What will households look like 50 years from now? How will a more diverse and ageing population affect us? How will technology change the way we build and retrofit our homes?