Housing: rethinking inside the box…

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Housing: rethinking inside the box…
British pavilion curators (l-r) Finn Williams, Jack Self and Shumi Bose at Futuro House on top of Central Saint Martins, London/ © Suki Dhanda

The young curators of the British pavilion at this year’s Venice Biennale aren’t officially recognised as architects, but their radical solutions for ‘Generation Rent’ could transform our ideas of what we expect from a house

In 2014 the bed overtook the sofa as the most used item of furniture in British homes. This shift might be something to do with shrinking living space, but it mostly is the outcome of a behavioural change indicated by other well-I-never statistics – that Britons now spend more time looking at screens than sleeping and that 80% of smartphone users look at their devices within 15 minutes of waking up.

I receive these nuggets from the trio in charge of the British pavilion at this year’s Venice Architecture Biennale, Jack Self, Shumi Bose and Finn Williams, who say they want to address Britain’s “anxious relationship to the idea of home”. Aged 29, 32 and 33 respectively, and selected through an open call for entries by the British Council, they are the youngest ever to receive this honour and appear determined to use the stage of the world’s biggest architectural exhibition to make an impact.

They have chosen as their theme housing, a subject now so vast, intractable and pervasive, at least in the more expensive parts of the country, that it dominates mayoral election campaigns and dinner parties, pervades the twittersphere, and inhabits the sleeping and waking dreams of those with and without homes, politicians, planners, economists, landlords, developers, tenants, owners. And, indeed architects, whose job description is about doing something or other to do with buildings and might therefore be thought to have something to contribute, but who have so far tended to be ineffectual in leading the debate.

Self, Bose and Williams are not architects in the sense that they have designed a number of completed buildings. None of them, indeed, are fully recognised by the Architects Registration Board, the official body for such matters, although ARB begrudgingly accepts that Self’s qualification, obtained in Australia, has some validity. They have all studied architecture, but they have different ways of putting that training into practice. Bose teaches, writes, edits and curates. Self also writes, has worked for the esteemed practice of Jean Nouvel and now has his own practice that is somewhat conceptual in its output. Williams has been working in the planning departments of local authorities for eight years, first in the London borough of Croydon and then for the Greater London Authority. […]