By Alain de Botton
We're a nation obsessed by home decoration, DIY and property prices. And yet most of the houses being built in this country at present are repetitive, unimaginative and patronising. British housing is as bad as British cooking was around 1975. The best way to live in a beautiful house may be to try to build one yourself.
1 Be Ready for a Struggle
All sorts of things get in the way of building a home. The problems fall into three categories:
Building on a virgin plot of land is almost impossible, so don't buy a field. Your best bet is to go to a regular estate agent and look for an ugly, badly built bungalow which no local authority could claim to be attached to, flatten it and start again.
Beware of buying any building before 1940, as it could be deemed to be of historic value - even if it's ugly. The British planners' attachment to the old knows no realistic bounds.
It comes as a surprise to many people just how strict planning regulations are in this country. While we routinely speak of how 'free' society is, when it comes to building, you need a permit from the headmaster just to alter a window or add a garage.
While the big supermarket chains bully planning departments into giving them the necessary permissions, ordinary home builders feel the full might of pedantic bureaucracy when they try to get their schemes approved.
So unfortunately, it pays to be relatively conservative when applying for planning applications. Think of ways of paying homage to 'local styles'. This could sound depressing and twee, but in many cases, you can use local materials in inventive contemporary forms, and produce something of value.
Going to an architect is a perplexing business because none of them seem able to give you a price for the house they're planning to build you. Imagine going to a tailor who couldn't tell you whether your suit would cost £200 or £2,000, yet such cost overruns are routine in architecture. Even huge infrastructure projects regularly crash through all their budget predictions.
When choosing an architect, look out for one who appreciates the role of proper budgeting and beware of those who see themselves primarily as artists. There is of course art involved in architecture, but good technical and financial skills are equally important.
The bigger the architecture firm, the more you'll be ignored. The younger the architect, the more they'll learn at your expense. So it pays to go for mid-size middle age firms.
Here are some that are on the right track, from a design and delivery point of view:
For more go to www.alaindebotton.com
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