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In the book Home Truths, Ben Derbyshire, chair of HTA Design penned what has been described as an unconventional design guide. 

Rather, it is more of a manifesto for professional practice in an era of multiple crises – in social, economic and racial disparity, in housing supply and affordability, in climate change, in our emptying high streets and homelessness in our town centres.

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We asked Derbyshire some of the most pressing questions of the day, as well as what’s important to him.

What are the immediate steps needed to address the housing shortage?

The task of housing the nation needs to be elevated so that housing enjoys the status of infrastructure. Like transport, health and education, the nation’s housing supports our wellbeing and economy. In just the same way, housing needs to be planned in the right place and to be safe to use, well designed, sustainable and affordable.

How is the climate crisis affecting housing?

 Our ageing housing stock, the leakiest and least efficient in northern Europe is contributing to the climate crisis, emitting 20% of total emissions. 

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Not only should we consider how best to mitigate overheating in homes, but we must invest more now to renovate homes if we are to have any chance of achieving net zero by 2050.

What is your most important home truth?

 We must create a better relationship between the producers and consumers of the built environment, and housing especially. In just about every aspect there is misinformation, misunderstanding and missed opportunity. We can and should free up communication, give stakeholders more of a say and improve choice in planning, design, performance and management.

What lessons can we learn from the Grenfell Tower fire?

The procurement of housing has become hopelessly fragmented in the interests of reducing capital costs, which account for only 20% of the total over lifetime of a building. Tragic loss of life and dreadful misery for survivors must be the spur to turn from the nadir of cheese-paring culture to one where we all share in a vision of investment for sustainable wellbeing.

Did you ever think that the issue of cladding would be so important?

The way we clothe our buildings speaks volumes for our priorities. As architects we always care passionately about the functionality and aesthetics of the external envelope. We must win back control ceded in recent years to others – employers’ agents, cost consultants, contractors and subcontractors.

Take part in the discussion at Temple Bar, London

Join Peter Murray OBE and Patricia Brown in discussion with Ben Derbyshire and Ellie Jolliffe who have recently published books on the architectural profession.

Ben Derbyshire is the chair of HTA Design and ex RIBA president. He has recently published Home Truths, which is informed by 50 years as a housing architect and is an expansive view of building well, building for longevity, and learning from successful historic buildings.

Eleanor Jolliffe is an architect, associate at Allies and Morrison, and writer based in London. She has a regular column in UK architecture title Building Design, and is co-author of Architect: The evolving story of a profession.

Book tickets here The Architect: creative genius or master builder? Monday, 17 July, 18:25 - 20:15