Four and a half hours scampering around the BRE car park in Watford today brought on a familiar feeling of having been here before. New housing exhibitions opening, like Offsite 2007, are always accompanied by a feeling of excitement, anticipation, even euphoria, but I come away a little let down and rather bemused. “What was all that about?” I ask myself. It was rather like Offsite 2005 – hardly surprising because it was largely the same people on the same site. But it also reminded me of the Milton Keynes Energy World exhibition in 1986. Twenty years on, what has really changed? On the one hand, you want to congratulate everyone for the phenomenal amount of work undertaken to get everything up and running for the opening event. On the other, you can’t help wondering who this is intended to impress, especially as I understand the public don’t get access to the BRE site.
The star of the show was the Kingspan Lighthouse, the first house in the country to achieve Level 6 of the Code for Sustainable Homes – i.e. it’s zero carbon. It was a peculiar looking affair with lots of chestnut siding wrapped around a tall thin three-storey structure. It didn’t really look like a house, but I think that was the point. In fact, none of the new exhibits looked like houses that we would instantly recognise as houses. Tear up the old, bring in the new. You get the message: this is about re-engineering our lives just as much as re-engineering our homes.
The guys in Stewart Milne’s Sigma showhouse seemed just a little miffed. Their house only got to Level 5 and that thanks to three roof-mounted wind turbines which, of course, weren’t even spinning, let alone producing any electricity. “We’d get a six if we built them in a courtyard setting,” explained their minder. It’s all got very competitive, very quickly.
The Hanson Eco-Oast House made the nicest space, making use of one large room upstairs room, lit and ventilated by the huge vaulted roof. It was the only one with any wow factor, the sort of thing to excite the middle classes. Everyone had balconies, lots of balconies and there was timber in every shade and species you could think of.
So well done everyone who has chipped into this event. But is this the roadmap for tomorrow’s housing? We’ll have to wait and see.