Reflections on the semi-detached house

February 28, 2008

Recently received from the publishers, a book on the history of the English semi-detached house by Finn Jensen makes me think about the transformation that English suburbs have been undergoing in recent years. The classic semi from between the world wars provided the ideal compromise between the privacy and individualism of a house on a plot and the density required for mass housing. However, current pressures for increasing densification are risking the loss of the qualities of the suburban built environment, with the large-scale extensions of houses creating a continuous frontage of building where before there was side access. The impact is also environmental: the concreting over of the green front gardens means a loss of extensive acreage of natural drainage. At the urban scale it is interesting to see Jensen’s analysis of the change in plot size and shape, with the increase in oddly shaped plots and highly segregated configurations of culs-de-sac. Whilst Victorian and Edwardian housing lends itself quite easily to urbanisation and intensification due to its relative griddiness, the more recent layouts are much more rigid and inflexible.

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