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By 2050, 68 per cent of the world’s population is expected to live in urban areas, so that the issue of healthy housing will only get more prevalent. Sometimes, health concerns can clash with energy efficiency. If a house is designed to contain heat as well as possible — as with the “passive house” model pioneered in Germany and Sweden — it may tamper with adequate air circulation. Who is responsible for the quality of air anyway — the local authority, residents, or businesses? A parliamentary inquiry is currently trying to find answers. Meanwhile, academics at the University of Bristol traced the chimneys and wind patterns of Victorian England. They found that because the winds in the northern hemisphere tend to blow from west to east, and industrial chimneys were often located in the city centre, the east side has tended to be more polluted. This explains why in London, Paris and New York the east ends have historically been more deprived.

At the same time a lot of a neighbourhood’s health comes down to psychological cues. In the early 1980s, social scientists James Wilson and George Kelling introduced “broken window theory”. When a broken window is left unrepaired, it will serve as an invitation for anti-social behaviour in the neighbourhood. Their theory was supported by various empirical experiments. One study showed people were twice as likely to steal an envelope containing a €5 note and hanging out of a mailbox, if the latter was covered in graffiti and surrounded by litter.

On the flipside, giving people a sense of ownership creates functioning community. Two years ago, the Chilean architect Alejandro Aravena won the prestigious Pritzker prize for creating energy-efficient buildings for schools and low-cost housing projects where residents get to design their own homes.

The most imaginative thinker when it comes to how buildings affect our wellbeing was the artist and architect Friedensreich Hundertwasser (1928-2000). He denounced modern architecture, and ridiculed symmetry by wearing different-coloured socks. Goldfinger’s concrete Balfron Tower would have been his nightmare, his antithesis.

Most of Hundertwasser’s houses are bright red, blue, pink and yellow. There are ceramic pillars and glazed columns that seem to consist of beads otherwise worn by an eccentric person. Whimsical balconies and gilded onion domes accentuate the facade. Most of all, there are no straight lines.

Hundertwasser was categorically opposed to straight lines, arguing they were “ungodly” as nothing in nature is truly linear. And so, visitors at his Art House Vienna (KunstHausWien), for example, walk on a deliberately uneven floor. He called his floors “a melody to the feet,” and it’s undeniable that walking on his undulating floors feels both exhilarating and relaxing.
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December 20th, 2018
9:12 PM
It is customary, when elaborating on the delivery of enough shelter for the population, to ignore any factors exacerbating the apparent shortfall. To nitpick, the Chancellor is, in reality, one Mark Serwotka t/a Philip Hammond and is very happy with life as a socialist votary.

December 6th, 2018
8:12 AM
Wonderful. If only our housing market was free of the big builders and nimbys and we could revitalise our home-owning democracy.

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