On Wednesday 29th March we attended an event held by the think-tank Centre for London entitled Thinking Outside the Box: A Debate on the Role of Microhousing in Tackling London’s Housing Crisis. The event was hosted at the offices of property developer U + I and was comprised of two parts, starting with a debate and ending with the viewing of two prototype micro townflats.

Individuals present to partake in the debate were:

  • Ray Omar: Founder,  Unmortgage
  • Simon Scott: Head of Residential Investment, JLL
  • James Wallman: Author and Futurist
  • Christine Whitehead: Professor Emeritus in Housing Economics, LSE

The event was opened by Deputy Chief Executive of U+I Richard Upton who gave a short speech, saying the private sector has a responsibility to push “innovation, challenge accepted norms and champion change if we are to develop solutions which do not rely on the public purse” adding “we must find creative and flexible ways” to remedy the lack of affordable housing in London if it is to continue to thrive and attract workers.

Onto the debate, James Wallman appeared to be the most supportive panel member of microhousing saying young single Londoners would happily choose the convenience of living so close to the centre of London and the experiences it can provide even if it meant compromising on space. Simon Scott somewhat agreed, adding if managed the right way then a microhousing scheme could provide a strong sense of community, especially with regards to events held in the communal areas that would be contained within buildings where the only residential units were micro.

A little later, Ray Omar pointed to Richard Upton’s opening remarks saying it was an overwhelmingly positive factor that the introduction of microhousing is being led by those who are genuinely interested in addressing and fixing the housing crisis whilst also providing solutions. However Omar also added it would only take a few developers to “poison the well”.

One theme consistent throughout the debate and agreed on was that microliving would be aimed at and be beneficial to millennial and single Londoners the most, who would move on when their circumstances changed. This being the complete opposite of the view often trailed in the media where families with no other alternative would be forced into these small unit becoming trapped there.

Once the debate was over, individuals were allowed to view two prototype townflats. The smallest being 19m2 with the largest at 24m2. At the beginning attendees were asked to say with a raise of hands if they were in favour of microhousing or not, the result was roughly two thirds in favour. During the viewings however this seemed to change, with the number of those in support increasing. Many remarks were overheard where people expressed surprise at how well designed these flats were, with every inch of space being utilised. Others were saying they would happily live in units of this type, but emphasised they only thought it possible alone, drawing the line at occupying the micro space with a partner.

Amidst all the negative press and pushback surrounding microliving and suggestions of reviewing spatial standards, the evening provided a refreshing and interesting contribution to a housing debate that divides so many.

Taking photos of the prototypes was prohibited, but the layout and design of the 24m2 unit can be viewed on the architect’s website, here.