In contemporary Western culture, innovation is viewed as a 'good thing'. Throughout the UK speculative development accounts for the vast majority of new homes built1.
In this essay I explore what is meant by the term innovation in volume house building, to what extent it may be desirable, what forms it could take and what the current drivers and barriers are; the forces encouraging and resisting innovation.
The key question addressed is whether the environment created by the mix of drivers and barriers is ideal and, if appropriate, how the environment could be changed for the better.
What is Innovation? (330 words)
Innovation is a fashionable word in today's economic climate and many arguments have been presented to support its merits2
. Often though, the term is misused or poorly understood, so its meaning in this essay merits a short explanation:
It is worth reflecting on the foundations of innovation and attitudes to it around the world. In Westem cultures innovation has been viewed positively and can be traced to Christian beliefs3
, most specifically the belief that human beings are supreme over all other animals and nature. People have sought to conquer nature and tame it to serve their needs, seeing no reason why they should not do this vigorously.
Civilisations have been measured by the extent to which mechanisation has harnessed the latent energy and resources provided by nature and the natural environment. By contrast, many Eastern cultures are founded on beliefs of spirituality and deity embodied in elements of the natural world: rocks, sun, water, trees and animals. Thus a much greater respect for nature has characterised all aspects of these civilisations, leading to a lower rate of development of technologies exploiting nature. Paradoxically, largely under western influence, many of these cultures are now causing increasing damage to the environment and this is projected to continue to grow significantly before it levels off. There is hope that scientific and technological research and development efforts focused on by Western cultures will lead to positive innovation mitigating or even remedying the negative impact of technology on the natural environment.
So, by some definitions, innovation is not all good, or, while it may seem so in the short term, its longer-term impact is detrimental. Within the context of this essay, innovation is not simply inventing a different design or way of doing things. Only when the result of this difference, deviation or mutation is better in some way than the alternatives (in the times cales we can envisage), is an innovation said to have resulted. In the context of this essay, innovations.
Innovation in House Building (18 words)
In the context of house building we can consider three broad categories of innovation: • Product
• Business model
Product Innovation (119 words)
Product innovation provided the initial motivation for this essay because this includes the form and aesthetics of a house. There is a widely held view that modern houses have no character; either 'new' character based in this era, or even sensitive interpretation of the character of past eras. With such creative and capable architects could we not produce stimulating, sensitive homes that lift the spirits and have significant design quality without costing the earth?
At a component level there are many contributors to the whole house 'product'.
Different rates and types of innovation are taking place at these lower levels.
Materials used in domestic buildings, systems installed, interior layout are examples of these sub-categories and each experiences different innovative pressures.
Process Innovation (47 words)
Processes involved in the creation of domestic buildings comprise the second category of innovations. These include the design and configuration or customisation of individual homes, on-site and