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Whether or not our political class has the ability or the will to control immigration, we have to accept that many of the millions who have come to this country in the last two decades are here to stay, and will need to be housed. Without a massive expansion of the housing stock, prices will continue to rise and the pressure on planning laws and infrastructure will become increasingly difficult to manage. As a result we face a question that concerns every resident of Britain, and which must be addressed with true public spirit: how we should build. As the Government embarks on a programme of affordable building for first-time buyers, then, it is reassuring to note that a “design panel” of experts, including the architect Sir Terry Farrell, is being appointed to address exactly that issue.
We are not facing the question for the first time. The mass migration to the industrial cities in the 19th century prompted a great movement of critical reflection among architects and social philosophers.
How should the new cities look? What style and materials would suit the new civic buildings, and what pattern should be adopted for the streets that would house the working class? This was the age of the Greek and Gothic revivals, of brick terraces, sash windows and pattern-book churches, of classical city halls, Renaissance banks, Romanesque chapels and Byzantine beer-halls, all springing up in a few decades to create proud settlements like Leeds and Manchester, and all to be torn apart in the 20th century, when the question of how to build was raised again. ….