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Eco-friendly homes take inspiration from the great architects of the past

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Our houses do not stay still for long. They are always moving forward and evolving, as our own needs and patterns of living shift and change.

Some of these changes might be modest, with an extension here or an attic conversion there. But over the past 100 years of evolution, our homes have changed radically.

The layout, look and feel of the modern home has been shaped by the gradual move towards a more relaxed, open and informal approach to the spaces we inhabit, combined with innovations in architecture, engineering and home technology. 

Pioneer: Le Corbusier’s Villa Savoye on the edge of Paris, built in 1931, is an early example of modern architecture

Pioneer: Le Corbusier’s Villa Savoye on the edge of Paris, built in 1931, is an early example of modern architecture

While the Georgians and Victorians were content with an ordered arrangement of cellular rooms, each with a clear purpose of its own, we have moved towards open-plan living, while drawing the kitchen from the back of house and placing it centre stage.

At the same time, we want to connect with our gardens and outdoor rooms as never before.

It was, above all, the pioneering modernist architects and designers of the 1920s and 1930s who began to reinvent the way we live. 

Le Corbusier’s Villa Savoye of 1931, in Poissy on the edge of Paris, famously showcased his Five Points Of Architecture, which included open-plan living spaces and integrated roof terraces and outdoor rooms, as well as long ribbons of glass windows made possible by a reinforced concrete frame and steel pillars, which supported the house rather than the exterior walls.

In the South of France, at Roquebrune-Cap-Martin, Irish architect Eileen Gray designed an avant garde home for her lover, fellow architect Jean Badovici, that spliced the five points with fresh ideas of her own and art deco flourishes.

The main living spaces at E-1027, as the house was known, were on the upper level and in an open-plan arrangement, while connecting to the elevated balcony via a wall of glass that also framed open views of the sea. 

The house has the glamorous sophistication of a moored yacht, with its decks and maritime references.

Closer to home, English architect Patrick Gwynne built a house in Esher, Surrey, known as The Homewood in 1938 that translated Corbusian-style early modernism to a very English context.

Originally built for his parents, but inherited by the architect himself, The Homewood was another ‘upside down’ house with a ‘universal space’ upstairs looking out across the gardens through sheets of floor to ceiling glass; the house is now in the hands of the National Trust.

During the mid-century period, the push towards open-plan living accelerated, along with the blurring of the boundaries between inside and outside space. 

One of the most controversial examples of this was the house that the former Bauhaus master Ludwig Mies van der Rohe built as a weekend escape in rural Illinois for his client, the Chicago kidney specialist Dr Edith Farnsworth.

Dr Farnsworth gave the architect carte blanche. The result was a glass pavilion floating on a meadow by the Fox River, supported by a lightweight steel frame.

The house’s elevated position helped frame the landscape, while inside, the pavilion was little more than a single room with a ‘service core’ holding a kitchenette and bathrooms.

The arrangement of the furniture helped zone the house into spaces for relaxing, dining, working and sleeping.

Dr Farnsworth declared it unliveable — but carried on living at the house, finished in 1951, for nearly 20 years.

British architects Richard Rogers, Michael Hopkins and Michael Manser, inspired by American dream homes, created their own high-tech houses in the 1960s and 1970s. The Wimbledon residence that Rogers designed for his parents in 1969 also explored open-plan living.

Open-plan living, with integrated kitchens and free-flowing connections to gardens and outdoor rooms, is now a staple of the modern home. 

Even period terrace houses have gone open plan, with front and back living and dining often knocked together, while a Mies-inspired glass and steel extension is a common addition at the back of the house.

Factor in the rise of the home offices and even ‘accessory dwelling units’ tucked away at the bottom of the garden, and you will see that the modern home has surely come a long, long way.

Looking ahead, our houses will evolve, gradually greener and for the better.

  • The Secret Life Of The Modern House: The Evolution Of The Way We Live Now, by Dominic Bradbury, is published by Ilex, priced £26.

On the market… futuristic homes 

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Facebook admits high-profile users are treated differently

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Facebook’s oversight board said the social media company hadn’t been “fully forthcoming” about internal rules that allowed some high-profile users to be exempt from content restrictions and said it will make recommendations on how to change the system.

In the first of its quarterly transparency reports published Thursday, the board said that on some occasions, Facebook “failed to provide relevant information to the board,” and in other instances the information it did provide was incomplete.

For example, when Facebook referred the case involving former US president Donald Trump to the board, it didn’t mention its internal “cross-check system” that allowed for a different set of rules for high-profile users.

Facebook only mentioned cross-check, or XCheck, to the board when asked whether Trump’s page or account had been subject to ordinary content moderation processes.

The cross-check system was disclosed in recent reporting by the Wall Street Journal, based in part on documents from a whistle-blower.

The journal described how the cross-check system, originally intended to be a quality-control measure for a select few high-profile users and designed to avoid public relations backlash over famous people who mistakenly have their posts taken down, had ballooned to include millions of accounts.

The oversight board said it will undertake a review of the cross-check system and make suggestions on how to improve it.

As part of the process, Facebook has agreed to share with the board relevant documents about the cross-check system as reported in the Wall Street Journal. – Bloomberg

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Green mortgages may leave owners of older homes unable to sell

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Estate agents warn owners of older homes, rural houses and listed properties could struggle to sell under green mortgage plans

  • Boris Johnson has unveiled his plans for turning Britain green by 2050 
  • The plans include proposals on how to make the housing stock greener 
  • The plans would see lenders disclose the energy performance of properties










Homeowners living in older, rural and even listed properties risk being unable to sell if strict green finance targets are introduced, estate agents have warned.

The warning comes after Boris Johnson unveiled his plan for turning Britain green by 2050 this week, with mortgage lenders having targets for the energy performance of properties in their portfolio.

A body that represents estate agents across Britain claimed that the property market could be distorted as a result of the measures and called for Britain’s historic housing stock to be taken into account.

Boris Johnson revealed proposals on how to make the housing stock greener this week

Boris Johnson revealed proposals on how to make the housing stock greener this week

Timothy Douglas, of Propertymark, said: ‘Incentivising green improvements to properties via lending creates risks of trapping homeowners with older properties, those who live in rural areas, listed buildings or conservation areas, making their homes difficult to sell and therefore reducing the value.’

Propertymark said that those living in older properties could be left with homes that they could not sell if buyers were unable to secure finance on them due to their lower energy efficiencies.

The effect would be likely to be felt more by less wealthy owners, as deep-pocketed buyers would be more able to overlook mortgage restrictions and high-end older homes would continue to be desirable.

Mr Douglas said: ‘The use of targets could distort the market and sway lenders towards preferential, newer homes in order to improve the rating of their portfolio.

‘Stopping a large portion of housing stock from being able to enter the market could cause havoc for home buying and selling as well as the wider economy.’ 

He added that improving the energy efficiency of homes should be reliant on consumer choice and not something enforced by mortgage lenders, with all the knock-on effects this could entail.

He said: ‘We would be concerned if lenders raise rates and limit products because fundamentally, improving the energy performance of a property is reliant on consumer choice and it is not the core business of mortgage lenders.’

Mark Harris, of mortgage broker SPF Private Clients, said: ‘The green agenda is not new but there is increasing impetus behind it. There are more green mortgage products aimed at those purchasing more energy-efficient properties – A-C rated, and not just from specialist lenders but the high street banks too.

‘However, there is a real danger that green initiatives could create the next round of mortgage prisoners if homeowners are trapped in older homes that can’t be improved, so they can’t move because they can’t sell them on.

‘Without changes or improvements, lenders may restrict lending to lower loan-to-values, higher pricing, or not lend at all. This could penalise those who are unable to adapt to or adopt new efficient technologies economically.’

A UK Finance spokesperson said: ‘Greening our housing stock is vital if we are to meet our climate change obligations and banks and finance providers are committed to helping achieve this goal and making sure consumers are not left behind.’

Ways to boost energy efficiency  

Propertymark recommends three measures to improve the energy efficiency of homes without negatively impacting the housing market.

1. Improvements linked to an EPC

These include linking a plan for energy efficiency improvements to the recommendations on a property’s Energy Performance Certificate.

It could demonstrate the ‘most suitable route’ to a warmer home, regulatory compliance and zero carbon, according to Propertymark.

2. Tax breaks

It also recommends using tax breaks to incentivise homeowners to finance energy efficiency improvements.

For example, these could include making energy improvements exempt from VAT or offering lower rates of council tax for homes that have been made more energy efficient.

3. Adjustable tax rates

An adjustable rate of property tax that is tied to energy performance is also being recommended by Propertymark.

This could be done in two ways, it suggested. First, by applying the adjustment as a reduction on more energy-efficient properties. And second by offering rebates to buyers if energy efficiency improvements are made to less efficient properties within a certain time period after purchase.

Propertymark said that by linking energy performance with property taxes, this could help introduce increased saleability for more energy-efficient properties. In addition, it suggested that improvements would become standard for homeowners seeking costs and improve the desirability of their homes.

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Johnson rules out face masks as UK’s daily Covid cases rise above 50,000

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Daily coronavirus cases in Britain have risen above 50,000 for the first time since July, but Boris Johnson said he will not bring back compulsory face coverings or introduce vaccine passports.

Speaking in Northern Ireland, the prime minister said his government was holding firm to its policy of no legal restrictions introduced in July, but was watching the numbers carefully.

“The numbers of infections are high but we are within the parameters of what the predictions were,” he said. “We are sticking with our plan.”

Mr Johnson acknowledged the “patchiness” of Britain’s vaccination programme, urging people to come forward for their booster jabs as soon as they are invited to do so. But Labour leader Keir Starmer said the government should beef up the programme, ensure that more children were vaccinated and aim to deliver half a million jabs a day.

“The government said that the vaccine would be the security wall against the virus and now the government is letting that wall crumble,” he said.

“We’ve seen those that most need it not able to get the jab they need. Only, I think, 17 per cent of children have got the vaccine. And the booster programme has slowed down so much that at this rate we’re not going to complete it until spring of next year. So the government needs to change these, it needs to get a grip. I think it needs to drive those numbers up to at least 500,000 vaccines a day.”

Vaccine passports

The British Medical Association (BMA) accused the government of “wilful negligence” in not bringing back some restrictions, and of failing to learn the lessons of a parliamentary report last week about its handling of the pandemic. The association’s chairman, Chaand Nagpaul, said doctors could say categorically that it was time to bring back compulsory face masks and to introduce vaccine passports.

“By the health secretary’s own admission we could soon see 100,000 cases a day, and we now have the same number of weekly Covid deaths as we had during March, when the country was in lockdown,” he said.

“It is, therefore, incredibly concerning that he is not willing to take immediate action to save lives and protect the NHS. ”

Health secretary Sajid Javid warned this week that some restrictions could be introduced if the public failed to exercise caution and to take up vaccination offers. He acknowledged that Conservative MPs could show an example by wearing masks in the House of Commons, but house leader Jacob Rees-Mogg on Thursday rejected the suggestion.

Crowded spaces

“There is no advice to wear face masks in workplaces. The advice on crowded spaces is with crowded spaces with people that you don’t know. We on this side know each other,” he told the SNP’s Pete Wishart.

“Now, it may be that he doesn’t like mixing with his own side, wants to keep himself in his personal bubble. He may find the other members of the SNP – who I normally find extraordinarily charming…but we on this side have a more convivial fraternal spirit, and for our calling the guidance of her majesty’s government.”

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