The English predilection for houses on the ground

June 1, 2008

I have just read the London Review of Books review of the reissue of a facsimile of The English House by Hermann Muthesius. The reviewer Rosemary Hill makes a long-repeated proposition that the English have an inherent need for low-rise housing: ‘why do the English leave town planning to be “handed over to the lowest order of intelligence”, creating incoherent city centres? Why do they bother to experiment with blocks of flats which don’t suit the national temperament and would, if multiplied, mean “the demise of one of the best aspects of the English heritage”? English Children will never thrive in them. Today, as the Modernist-inspired tower blocks come down and public housing looks again to low-rise and terraces, and as Birmingham, Manchester and other cities attempt to redeem their centres from the ravages of postwar planners… It is hard not to conclude that like Casaubon the English middle classes might have saved themselves a great deal of trouble if only they had read German.’

But why do the English ‘need’ to have a front door on the ground? Is it simply to do with the uniqueness of English character, as proposed by Kate Fox (Watching the English: the hidden rules of English Behaviour, 2004)? The need for a high density solution within these constraints is increasingly apparent.

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