Architect or fortune teller?

Architecture drawing floor plan

A challenge for architects and designers, when it comes to planning the layout and facilities within a new home, is imagining how people may use them in many years to come.

For instance, professionals designing houses in the 1950s wouldn’t have known that we would develop such a reliance on electrical items seventy years on. If a 1950s house hasn’t undergone a rewire or a modern refurbishment, it’s common to find just one double socket per room! When you think of the entertainment systems and media we use—our task lighting, all our appliances, and the sheer number of devices requiring charge each day—you’ll likely find extension upon extension plugged into these solitary sockets.

If only architects of the 1950s had crystal balls. Back then, housewives hankered after a separate dining room in which the family would come together at dinnertime, and which housed guests when they entertained. Today, most rooms of this kind have been knocked through into the kitchen, or they’ve become the home office for the remote working householder.

Many houses, unless a sprawling property owned by the very wealthy, come with limited parking by today’s standards. The average 2.4 family needs a lot of space for all their cars once the kids grow up, given that their generation is leaving the family home much later than previous ones. Doing the ‘your car’s behind mine and I want to go out’ dance with four cars on a tiny drive, or each vehicle taking any opportunity to park on the road outside, represents a massive pain for many families, but there just isn’t the land to include four comfortably-sized parking spaces with each individual newly built property, particularly given that developers already battle to maximise their profits with the land available. Parking space is dead space, particularly if it could be used to fit another four or five houses in the development!

Electric sockets can’t be reduced, however. The future of electric is assured, given that even the most rural areas have seen mass electrification. New technologies, appliances and the needs of remote workers have put extra strain on our homes in recent years; even during the pandemic, the electric industry saw enviable growth. So, if you’re working out how many sockets to put in a room, you’d be along the right lines if you calculated average usage, then doubled this figure and added ten to be on the safe side…maybe then you will have enough to cope with the average family’s needs going into the future.

Government tax incentives have also played their part in the growth of the electric industry, particularly those supporting green initiatives, such as LED lighting and the installation of fast chargers in new properties, to charge electric vehicles.

There are fears that the country could suffer blackouts, arising from the sheer number of users plugging into the system at the same time. Green energy is all well and good, but they’re not as widespread as they need to be, to meet even average demand. Though the powers that be reassure us that we will never run out of electricity, they’re less confident about our reliance on fossil fuels that are currently used to produce it. Eventually, these will run out, as we have a finite supply.

Back to sockets. In theory, it doesn’t make much difference to the network if the family in the 1950s house plugs all their devices in via various extensions, or if all the devices belonging to the family in the new build were plugged straight into the wall, each with its own socket. The health and safety ramifications, however, are hugely different. Running extensions from an extension is an absolute no-no, yet some families have little choice. Luckily, most houses can be adapted to each generation’s idea of comfortable living; older houses can be rewired to include more sockets.

No doubt the housing planners of today face a similar challenge when it comes to imagining how families will use their homes fifty years from now. They may even feel more like psychics than architects…