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Thursday, July 25, 2013

Why Florence Works & Can It Be Copied

   In March I was on holiday in Florence and it is a wonderful place. I recommend if you go you join the Friends of the Uffizi rather than getting regular tickets. That gets you into that gallery and a number of others as many times as you want and we got more than our money's worth. Beyond that the friends don't have to wait in the normal queues.

   However what I really loved, more even than the statues and paintings, was the city itself. It is still the medieval city with houses crammed together and plied on top of each other with a number of piazza communal areas of about 130 x 220 feet. The medieval city, where we were, is only a couple of km across so you can walk anywhere in a few minutes yet in the Middle Ages had a population of 100,000.

     You can see how, over the centuries, floors have been added and new houses piled in every corner. The effect is chaotic but full of life.

       OK so here's where I'm going. The flats are themselves not large and, except on a few roofs, people don't have gardens. The flat we were in was about 10ft x 25, but the advantage of being able to go anywhere in a few minutes walk is well worth it. Clearly it works or Florence would not be one of the world's greatest cities in the history of both science and art.

      I have previously written of container houses. Containers being 8 1/2 feet in height and width. On ships they get stored up to 8 high, but these are full containers on a rolling ship whereas houses are mainly air and static. Not sure what the safe height limitation of container flats would be but it must be several multiples of that.

      However it is permissible to transport single units a bit bigger than that.

"The authorities need to be notified if a road vehicle is over 3m wide and/or if a vehicle is over 18.75m long" (10ft x 62ft)  20ft high, which means 2 stories, would be OK as long as you have a note in your cab not to drive under lower bridges.

      If there was a market for cheap housing and the only reason there isn't is because of regulations, there would be enough demand for manufacturing of lots of 10ft x 60ft by 2 floor housing, which is 1,200 square feet which is actually a substantial modern house.

   So far such container housing has been built out of old shipping containers. This is another function of us not being allowed a mass production housing system but if you think about it the inherent cost of making a shipping container, designed to take the knocks of travelling the world and then cutting all the necessary holes for windows, doors etc, is bound to be considerably greater than mass producing these boxes to fit the more stationery role of housing. It is the savings in mass production that make the current difference. Also I can say from my holiday experience that a 10ft width is fine but 8 1/2 is a little tight. All in all we could have good housing units capable of being delivered by lorries any time it is allowed.

     So lets try a little chaotic free marketism. Allocate an area of 1 - 4 square km. Put in drainage and electric connections and a fair bit of paving. Designate some areas as piazzas - in Scotland I would suggest some sort of movable clear plastic roof.

     And then get the regulators out of the way.

     It could be done by arranging it all in terraces all organised in advance like Keetwonen in Amsterdam but I rather like the idea of them being heaped up wherever the customers want - well within the limits of what a factoring organisation will allow to be safe and profitable. There must be a factoring organisation or better yet, several, each, say 1/2km on a side, but if we want it to be innovative and chaotic it had better not be governmental.

    The history of Florence suggests this would be a lot better than normal housing schemes. A side advantage is that it is an experiment. I am certain architects would find out a lot more about what people actually like from watching them doing it than from all the mass planning we have had.

    Now all we need is some island, with under 200 inhabitants to be discomfited and enough space that a few km of development would have no effect - say 367 km, about 2/3rds the size of the Isle of Man, 70 miles by road and tunnel from Glasgow and with the potential for the establishment of a major new industry.

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Neil, I assume you haven't seen Their student accommodation is aparently still going strong
Thanks, I hadn't and will include in future. They appear to be using a Chines manufacturer I discussed previously but providing all the installation services as well.
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