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Heritage project explores a new way of living

  • Date: 22 August 2014
  • Area: Midlands
Image of one of the Ideal Homes built in 1959

A heritage project, supported by investment from Arts Council England’s Grants for the arts programme and the Heritage Lottery Fund, is exploring what people in the late 1950s envisioned as the ideal place to live.

In 1958, Ideal Homes Magazine and the Royal Institute for British Architects (RIBA) launched theSmall House Competition.

The competition asked architects to design a low cost family house of no more than £3,500 and 1000 square feet. More than 1,500 proposals flooded in and in 1959, four daring new open plan bungalow houses were built in the expanding village of Allesley in west Coventry. These were described by the architect, Geoffrey Salmon, as “a new way of living for a brave new world.”

The experimental thinking behind these novel post-war homes is the inspiration for a new oral history, exhibition and performance project that will be staged over the Heritage Open Day Weekend from 11-14 September.

For the first time in more than 50 years, the doors of one of these experimental homes will be open to the public. Visitors will get the chance to explore the house and find out what people thought of these futuristic-looking buildings when they were first built; who the original owners were; and what people think of them now.

Funding from the Arts Council and Heritage Lottery Fund has supported artist Anna Douglas - the owner of one of these 'ideal homes' - to work with playwright Vanessa Oakes to collect people’s memories of these houses. 

The recollections and anecdotes they have collected will be shared as part of a new play written by Vanessa and performed by actor Aimee Berwick, as part of the house tours taking place on Saturday 13 and Sunday 14 September.

“The problems that the Small House Competition competition was tackling around affordability and quality contemporary housing is, even after 50 years, still with us,” said Anna 

“Working with people's memories - we call them 'small stories from the front line of modernism' - has informed our humorous exploration of the varied responses people had to the house. People say they are like marmite, 'not to everyone's taste'. And we've found everyone's views equally fascinating."

“We hope that our project will not only shed light on a fascinating moment in postwar history in the Midlands, but will also get people thinking about what they want from their home today.”

Find out more

Visit the Heritage Open Day Weekend website for tour times, booking details and directions. Attendance to the house is strictly by appointment only – and is almost sold out, but a waiting list is open.

You can read more about the project on Anna’s blog.

‘A New Way of Living’ has been produced in association with University of Warwick’s Institute of Advanced Studies, and the Centre for the History of Medicine.