Charles Holland, a British architect, raises questions  in BD magazine about the lack of diversity in rural housing in the UK. He identifies the intersection of planning policy and development economics as the main culprits. Planning policy often restricts development to specific sites on the outskirts of towns and villages, while development economics leads housebuilders to opt for a “low-risk, high-profit” model. This results in the proliferation of standardised, uninspired, freehold properties.

There is very little incentive to innovate, because this simply means adding risk

Holland suggests that we can and should strive for better. Housing should be more affordable, less land and car-dependent, and cater to a diverse range of lifestyles.

He envisions homes for extended or blended families, communities wishing to live together, or older residents wanting to downsize. He also proposes designing housing that supports working from home, home-grown produce, or starting a business, making it easier for people to customise their homes beyond the constraints of affordability and bedroom count.

To achieve this, he recommends empowering local authorities to plan and build diverse new settlements, developing new villages that offer a variety of uses, landscapes, amenities, and infrastructure.

He also suggests facilitating a broader range of developer models, encouraging partnerships with community land trusts and cooperative housing groups, and exploring more progressive rental models.

We can, and should, do new housing better. We could make it less land-hungry, less car-dependent and more affordable. We could make it represent a greater diversity of lifestyles, catering for extended or blended families, communities who want to live together or older residents who want to downsize.

In 2022, Holland’s firm collaborated with a diverse team and earned the Davidson Prize for their innovative rural housing proposal. Their design, set on a typical brown-field site, introduced flexible architectural and ownership models. These featured adaptable, timber-framed units that could be modified and expanded as needed over time.