According to Historic England’s criteria the 1980’s house we moved into earlier this year is sufficiently old to be considered for listing. Age isn’t everything of course, and whilst it will not be pushed forward for consideration of this accolade I do feel an obligation to record its current state.
Leaving behind an Edwardian home oozing character from its days as a bakery this modern house makes me feel like a fish out of water, however it has sharpened my focus of period details. If listed what would be worthy of note of this 1984 home?
Its urban context is that of a small series of semis, defiantly facing up to majestic Victorian homes opposite through a veil of foliage of preservation-order trees. It probably typifies small-scale suburban developer housing of the time.
Within the UK cultural context of yuppies and laissez-faire economic policies where oil flowed freely in certain parts the feature single-glazed timber windows is perhaps a view to the soul. Indeed, part of me wanted mothball them when a prominent window company quoting replacements were visibly in awe of their existence. Possibly a sales tactic but all the same I felt the custodian of something unique. The 1984 Building Act, implemented in the December of that year, consolidated building control legislation and would have found this property wanting for energy efficiency.
The entrance door is similarly naïve of fuel conservation with almost half its area single glazed, featuring a quaint shot-bolt at the bottom which would probably do little to prevent unwanted visitors. The hallway is an exercise in developer space-economy with some corners so tight architraves disappear into one another. The heavily stained hollow-core internal timber doors – possibly faux walnut – bring a certain depth of shadow to the interior.
In an era of Postmodernism, at a time when Philip Johnson was breaking the statement pediment at the Sony Tower in New York, the developer at our house was taking dramatic liberties with cornicing over the first floor doors. The broken cornices seem an awkward detail – a little more ceiling height would have solved this immediately.
It was Juhani Pallasmaa who observed, ‘The door handle is the handshake of the building.’  Our greeting is a twist rather than a shake: the simple circular Postmodernist geometry more style over function.
Listing identifies much for the visual sense but I would suggest this is can offer only a partial understanding of a space – places can be characterised by their sound as well. For instance privacy can be afforded by effective acoustic dampening. The lath and plaster ceilings of our Edwardian home, probably embellished with puggin between the floors, provided excellent sound absorption. The 1980’s must have been a time for sharing your business: the floor boards rock around under foot – concealed pipework adds a metal twang to the mix; a gentle boiling kettle has the power to wake those slumbering above. Certainly little is private in our household – and I haven’t yet navigated a quiet route on the landing!
So, where does our society stand on early 1980’s domestic architecture? There seems only a thin argument to preserve fast-disappearing examples, and once we’ve refurbished these ‘machines for living in’ the limited defining details may be erased for good. It is possible to conceive a time when their value to us has no practical relevance: the energy inefficient culture that so heavily shaped defining features may cause the architecture to ‘eat itself’ in the shift in our societal values. Perhaps similarly to the Post-War offices of the previous blog post (click here) their value is their inherent adaptability. However, for this 1984 home it will not be long before the only reference to its period will be the broken cornicing.
1: Pallasmaa, J., The Eyes of the Skin: Architecture and the Senses, 2005, John Wiley & Sons, 2nd edition.