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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I've always found it interesting how most of London have so low density housing / building. Most of London looks like this, even some really central areas: http://goo.gl/maps/Lkaiz (i.e. Bethnal Green in this example..)

I lived in Sweden which even in outer areas of a city you'll find a street like this quite commonly: http://goo.gl/maps/QmrQp and Gothenburg only has a population of ~550k. Most people are happy to live in flats, since in general they're clean, well mentioned and good value for money in terms of space / amenities. Each building would have its own communal washers & dryers and there would also be plenty of storage in the basement, where as in London everybody seems obsessed to live in houses / victorian conversions.

I would think most European cities would be similar in density. Is there a reason London doesn't or shouldn't have plentiful supply of mid-rise, and well proportioned flats?
 

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Was the catalyst for the London's predominantly flat appearance not the controversial Queen Anne's Mansions? The unpopularity of a fourteen-storey building ushered in legislated restrictions on the height of buildings, ensuring the dominance of the low-rise status quo.

That said, this account perhaps indicates a long-standing feature of Britain's architectural mentality. Whereas elsewhere the archetype of the modern city has slowly come to possess a variegated, soaring skyline—as an image search of the term "city" quickly demonstrates—this trend has unfortunately been resisted over here.
 

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Interesting question. Not sure I have the answer but I can contribute something at least as I know a small bit about late c18 housing policy in UK and in one city in the continent.

In Berlin where 5/6/7 storey courtyard buildings were common they were built by different developers owning small plots of land as 'rental barracks' (literal translation) with different social classes renting different levels within them. This is why some courtyards appear incomplete, the developer who owned the land didn't have the money to build.

While in Britain there was a law specifying minimum standards of terraced housing, so many ended up being what is called bye-law houses, which meant they just met the minimum standards. I'm not sure, but it might be the same bye-law that prevented the building of mansion blocks. But equally it could be economics: quicker profit in building and flipping bye-law homes than in making money from renting over the long term.

Hopefully we'll have someone who knows their stuff more than me as it's a question I've wondered about before.
 

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. I would think most European cities would be similar in density. Is there a reason London doesn't or shouldn't have plentiful supply of mid-rise, and well proportioned flats?
I would say much of inner London's (and certainly, around where your example of Bethnal Green is, the_partisan, most of inner East London's) housing stock is actually mid-rise and (internally) well proportioned, being made up primarily of inter-war and post-war estates. However their layouts do not form traditional streets (unlike your Gothenburg example and others on the continent) and are often relatively cut-off from their surroundings (not making it easy to explore on streetview). Combined with intermittent green/open spaces such areas can seem less dense than a European city's equivalent area. I'd be interested to know the density some European cities/districts (like the area of Gothenburg you posted) compared with inner London's average of between 10,000-11,000 people per sq. km. All I'm vaguely aware of is Paris's average of around 20,000 p/sq km and Barcelona having parts up to 40,000 (apologies if these are completely incorrect to tired for fact checking).

eta:
where as in London everybody seems obsessed to live in houses / victorian conversions.
I think this is two-fold. Firstly the there's historical social ("Englishman's home is his castle" etc) and economic factors (touched on above) of how and why houses were built in the UK. Secondly is the fact that in contemporary times, in most people's opinion the stuff built since (including the estates) isn't actually very good, or nice to live in etc while the older housing stock, comparatively, is.
 

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I'm not entirely convinced by the premise of the question.

Your Gothenburg example is only 4 stories, very large areas of London are like that, or denser. Even the more 'traditional' housing stock. I tried to think where I might find a reasonable example, first thought was 'Marylebone', put that in google maps and I swear I dropped pegman on a random backstreet, and voila - http://goo.gl/maps/mQs7L

that's what I consider pretty typical central london density, much more than the Bethnal Green example, and representing a Gothenburg sized area across mostly inner london.

more genuinely 'random' backstreets from central:

kensington - http://goo.gl/maps/xu7GG
pimlico - http://goo.gl/maps/cKsC5
soho - http://goo.gl/maps/5Dpks

and "4 stories not even counting as midrise" type of density commonly continuing further out into the suburbs.

putney - http://goo.gl/maps/CFtJu
stoke newington - http://goo.gl/maps/FW887
holloway - http://goo.gl/maps/KW7kB
norwood - http://goo.gl/maps/wtJ5D

sure, across greater london there is probably a greater area of 2 stories like that bethnal green example , as london has such a geographically big suburban sprawl, but it's not quite representative of typical london ('proper') density to me.
 

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Typical densities I feel are worse than the Bethnal Green example. Largely down to large private gardens.

Following on from Steve's post here's the same areas from a Bird's eye view image:

Norwood - http://binged.it/1sMcH1E
Holloway - http://binged.it/VuhA0R
Stoke Newington - http://binged.it/1sMcPOP
Putney - http://binged.it/1sMcU4R

Compared with Berlin: http://binged.it/VuhXZi
http://binged.it/Vuijz4

London does have areas like this, but they're the areas that were largely built pre-1850 like Pimlico, Marylebone, etc which Steve mentions.

The inter-war period is particularly responsible for large gardens in semi-detached housing, but the late Victorian period's terraces don't match the densities of what was being built on the continent at the time either.
 

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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
Yes I believe Gothenburg vs Bethnal Green wasn't probably the best example I could find.

Going on the train to Waterloo, vast areas feel massively undeveloped for a city this size. You can have streets like this http://goo.gl/maps/nPPym minutes away from Clapham Junction station, which is a major transport hub, but feels like a village in terms of density. While most of Berlin will look a lot denser.. http://goo.gl/maps/B88uW and here's a better example from Gothenburg: http://goo.gl/maps/MxawG

The only areas I feel have similar density would be the very central Zone 1 areas, i.e Pimlico, Marylebone which have that feel with lots of purpose built mid-rise flats.
 

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The height of London's buildings was limited for a long time. Then quite a few poor taller buildings were built and I think this is why the UK never seemed to take to towers. Now, with excellent designs, the need to fit more more building into smaller areas and developers wanting to maximise profits, London is getting taller.
 

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I find that most Londoners or other people who regularly visit the city I talk to seem to love the place in part for its low-rise character and "village feel". You're in the middle of a vast metropolis yet the city doesn't feel overbearing.

As for the reasons for London's appearance I can think of a few reasons. First of all the English have for centuries held the country house and indeed the countryside in general in high regard. Perhaps because of the geography of the country. In terms of feel, decoration and scale the "country house" has long been held as the ideal. Compare that to the more bombastic and palatial ideals of the continent.

Furthermore there has, ironically, for centuries existed a widespread disgust for urbanity, industry and overcrowding in Britain. Even during Elizabethan times London was seen as a polluted monster that needed to be broken up. The early arrival of industry probably amplified these beliefs. Britain was the first country in the world to experience industrialization and terrace housing was probably seen as a solution to overcrowding. Indeed London's perhaps greatest contribution to city planning is the garden square, which was introduced as a sort of "village within the city", and designed to keep the surrounding urbanity at bay. Naturally, the concept failed as these squares quickly became just as crowded and "urbanized" as the rest of the city.

Personally I find terraces and town houses to be very beautiful to look at. Sure, they can feel suburban and monotonous, however, compared to many of the rather ugly inner city streets I've seen on the continent in cities like Barcelona they aren't all that bad. Throw in a few good sized modern apartment towers and it will look great.
 

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London has plenty of blocks like that, Charlie. That doesn't change the fact that most British people would prefer to bring up their family in a house with a garden.

Also, the last link you posted features terraced houses which were built as private individual homes. So I'm not sure why you posted it.

In any case, England = most of Britain.
 

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Furthermore there has, ironically, for centuries existed a widespread disgust for urbanity, industry and overcrowding in Britain. Even during Elizabethan times London was seen as a polluted monster that needed to be broken up. The early arrival of industry probably amplified these beliefs. Britain was the first country in the world to experience industrialization and terrace housing was probably seen as a solution to overcrowding. Indeed London's perhaps greatest contribution to city planning is the garden square, which was introduced as a sort of "village within the city", and designed to keep the surrounding urbanity at bay.
London was a polluted monster in many ways. Paris was equally filthy, but they solved their problem by demolishing half the city and replacing it with Hausmanian boulevards. London solved the problem by creating a colossal network of suburbs outside of the city centre.

Other cities in Europe were always much smaller than Paris & London, and didn't really develop in size until the 19th century, by which time idealistic urban planning and technology had emerged which made it easy to built elegant boulevards lined with large flat blocks.
 

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It's also important to consider how unpopular the Haussmann Renovations were at the time in Paris. They have produced a fantastic, working city structure now, but that came at a huge socio-economic cost and effectively forced lower earners out of the inner city.
 

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London has plenty of blocks like that, Charlie. That doesn't change the fact that most British people would prefer to bring up their family in a house with a garden.

Also, the last link you posted features terraced houses which were built as private individual homes. So I'm not sure why you posted it.

In any case, England = most of Britain.
Scotland has a different tradition to England in this respect, period; & while England might be most of Britain but it isn't all of Britain. My correction (as tangential to the topic as it might have been) stands.
 

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I agree that Scottish cities have a slightly different urban fabric, and that large "tenement" blocks are slightly more widespread than the terraced workers houses which prevail in most of the UK. Possibly because the colder weather in Scotland: communal blocks are cheaper to heat than individual houses.

Regardless, that doesn't change the validity of future.architect's point: "in Britain most people with children aspire to live in houses".
 

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Also think it has something to go with London's geology. Clay isn't the best material to build traditional heavy structures on. Only advances in engineering have made it possible for the skyline to change so dramatically over the last 20 year.
 

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London has plenty of blocks like that, Charlie. That doesn't change the fact that most British people would prefer to bring up their family in a house with a garden.

Also, the last link you posted features terraced houses which were built as private individual homes. So I'm not sure why you posted it.

In any case, England = most of Britain.
no - i think you've misunderstood him. edinburgh and glasgow have plentiful and desirable 3, 4 and 5 bedroom apartments for normal people. and there is no corresponding 'english' desire to rush out and buy a semi detached house with a garden that needs maintaining - or at least not before tv and postwar planning got to work. in that way scotland is more european.

and who was it who said about continental bombast? which is exhibited in london far more than is common in england* - not surprising when you consider the amount of jewish and huguenot heritage we have. those are kind of an inheritance/cultural legacy - there is no rural ideal/idyll, which is and remains a very anglo (english/american/australian) concept.

*but then as we know, everything that is common to, wonderful about, terrible about, and just is about england is magnified in london. so i don't think it can fairly be described as low rise because it encompasses everything. i'll post examples of my meaning tomorrow if i have time. the paradox of london it that it's so representative of england and you'll find any english 'type' somewhere, and yet it's the least typically english or european city. it's just iconoclastic london.

it's a cultural thing imo. purely. any laws could've been replaced and amended if it wasn't.
 

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I agree that Scottish cities have a slightly different urban fabric, and that large "tenement" blocks are slightly more widespread than the terraced workers houses which prevail in most of the UK. Possibly because the colder weather in Scotland: communal blocks are cheaper to heat than individual houses.

Regardless, that doesn't change the validity of future.architect's point: "in Britain most people with children aspire to live in houses".
dismissive.

more likely to do with their history - the geography of edinburgh which was the only city of note for centuries, and the french influence which allowed them to leapfrog the more unattractive elements of our urban centres.

in favour of wide, well proportioned elegant flats, built with substantial materials, good walls, cheaper to run because flats heat each other, better to live in because more neighbours to notice the untoward or watch each others children...

children who play in what are - with great irony, much larger back gardens than the average english house enjoys.

compare to london (clearly not on a high volcanic ridge, walled until the 18th century, and hemmed in by a loch, a castle, and a royal palace/estate, and characterized by necessity with buildings of up to 15 storeys, with different social classes renting different levels of one common walk up in the continental manner), which could grow out and out and out - and did. until a greenbelt was girdled round it by parliament.
 
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