Low cost today


The British have become a nationa obsessed with house prices (delighting in the value of their own, and outraged at the price of others). When Margaret Thatcher gave the right to buy Council Housing  in 1979 she delivered the death knell for social and affordable housing in this country.  Today, our housing is the:

Smallest new housing in Europe

Most expensive new housing in Europe

Least architecturally interesting new housing in Europe.

55 years after the announcement of The Small House Competition, the situation for new British Housing has taken a giant step backwards.

We know that the Austin-Smith bungalow, turned out to not be so cheap for Coventarians back in 1960. But what would the house cost to build today.

We asked three Coventry builders to price up rebuilding the Experimental House today, ex land purchase.  G Molloy’s quote suggested that a budget of £175k – 190k would do it.














We must travel in the direction of our fear

For the past 4 months, Vanessa and I have been thinking about why The Experimental Houses did not sell, despite being lauded by the  national press, architectural critics and commentators, including Basil Spence. There are pragmatic reasons ( too small, not enough storage); economic reasons  (too expensive); and there are stylistic ones (too much ’empty’ white space). But we are still left contemplating another question:

Could it be, that in some way, the houses prompted a much less intellectualised and rationalised fear  …of ‘the unknown’?

Whilst for some the architectural encounter with The Experimental House  – with the ‘untried and untested’  – prompted accusations of the house being ‘unnatural’ and not fit for family life; others saw its unorthodoxy as a liberation, an opportunity to re-invent themselves in its mutable space.

So fear ( or ‘the unknown’)….was the opening theme of the A New Way of Installation: How do you approach your fear?


For anyone, who did not get a chance to come to The Experimental House this weekend, the following photographs and accompanying texts will hopefully provide you a sense of what it was like. What is missing is the contact with the materiality of the artefacts ( always important to me), and the animated conversation that rang out throughout the house. And of course, the light and shadows that caressed our bodies. You’ll have to imagine all of this…

On entering the passageway, is an extremely vibrant orange wall, upon which we encounter the first exhibit.




The Experimental House, Embroidery on cloth, Margaret Adler, 2014.Text selected by Anna Douglas, after John Berryman.



In the rear conservatory ( difficult to photograph due to all the light, shadows and glare) a table with texts, photographs and artefacts.











Each home has been reduced to the bare essentials – to barer essentials than most primitive people would consider possible. Only one woman’s hands to feed the baby, answer the telephone, turn off the gas under the pot that is boiling over, soother the older child who has broken a toy, and open both doors at once. She is a nutrionist, a child psychologist, an engineer, a production manager, an expert buyer, all in one. Her husband sees her as free to plan her time, and envies her; she sees him as having regular hours and envies him. Margaret Mead, 1949



It was as though they stood inside a crystal of salt. “isn’t it wonderful, she exclaimed.”


 Freedom from Ornament is a sign of spiritual strength – Loos



It’s a peculiar thing this idea that your house should represent you…’Eric Lyons


We are homesick most for the places we have never known. Carson McCullers


What are we missing that we look so hard for in the past, Witwold Rybczyski


Both the sense of community and of security depend on the familiar. Freed of them, transcendental experience becomes possible, Mark Rothko, 1968

Instead of existing it felt like living here would become more of an experience, something worth coming back to, Ken Green
“It is exactly this kind of nonsense that we need to throw off, all this romanticism, all this ….clinging to the past.
This is everything our house will not be”!
Front room installation
Every time man makes a new experiment he always learns more. He cannot learn less”,  R. Buckminster FullerOperating Manual for Spaceship Earth

Just as modern mass production requires the standardization of commodities, so the social process requires standardization of man, and this standardization is called equality, Erich Fromm, 1956


Our own epoch is determining, day by day, it own style. Our eyes unhappily, are unable yet to discern it. Le Corbusier

 Around 80% of Britons now deemed to be suburbanites.
It was a brave new world, we could do anything and no-one was going to stop us. It’s amazing how long that feeling went on for before it gradually subsided. It was rather like a great froth…we’re going to win, we’re going to win… and then… gradually, it slipped away, Geoffrey Salmon, architect

The Outrage is that the whole land surface is becoming covered by the creeping mildew that already circumscribes all of our towns … Subtopia is the annihilation of the site, the steamrollering of all individuality of place to one uniform and mediocre pattern, Ian Nairn, Outrage, 1956

 The Bookshelf
The plans




Stories from the front line of modernism

If you couldn’t get to the performance and house opening and exhibition this weekend, or even if you did but would like another copy of the limited edition (250) house guide with historic text, room-by-room guide and anecdotes from people associated with the houses, we’d be delighted to send you a copy. Just send us a 1st class stamped addressed A5 envelope to:

The Experimental House, 7 Bexfield Close, West Point, Allesley Village, Cv5 9BG.

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Sample pages, by our wonderful designer Paul Leadbitter, at Hands On Associates.

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Front page with the house embroider by Margaret Adler, commissioned by us especially for the house opening.





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We did it!


We did it! 

We have really enjoyed meeting everyone who visited the house over the last four days – all 165 of you who booked tickets and also those that turned up on speck who we managed to squeeze in for a brief tour in-between shows (especially the gentleman from Birmingham who saw us on BBC 1 and scanned the streets from his seat on the 900 for a flat-roofed bungalow).

Special thanks to all our funders, participants, VIP guests and last but not least, the neighbours – we couldn’t have done it without you.

Selected email messages:

Dear Anna & Vanessa, We had such a good time last night, thank you. It has been a lot of fun being involved (up to my neck at times in stitches!) in this project. I was very surprised & humbled that I got VIP treatment both last night & on the blog. Thanks again for all the kindness & friendship from everyone involved. We will keep in touch from time to time,  with our very best wishes for the rest of the week, Margaret & Gerry

Thank you for letting me know about the BBC broadcast so exciting. Thank you for a very interesting and informative evening.  A lot of work was put in and it really was worth it. Pat Garner. Ps It was also fun.
Dear Anna, I want to thank you very much indeed for inviting my daughter Fiona and me to your function yesterday.  We were both much impressed at the undoubted energy and enthusiasm you have obviously put into mounting this event and the exhibition.   I am sure my brother Geoffrey would have thoroughly approved, as I most certainly do. Many congratulations. With our very best wishes, Paul McLean

Vanessa & Anna, Thank you for a very interesting and pleasant afternoon on Friday.  It was a real pleasure to be there and especially to meet Mr McLean.  I could listen to the play again!  Pity you weren’t doing a longer run! I have really enjoyed taking part in the project; meeting others from Allesley and reading the accompanying booklet, which I found extremely informative. Best wishes, Juliet

Your opinion counts


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Lorraine Hemming & Aimee Berwick taking a break

Our project has been selected by Heritage Open Days as one of only ten venues across England to be evaluated. Our market researcher for the last day was Lorraine Hemming from Perspective Research Services.

We also conducted our own informal research and asked our guests to sign our Visitors Book at the end of each performance (we had hoped to track down the original show home visitors book).

11/09/14 Selected messages:

An interesting interpretation, sometimes challenging which indeed reflects the architecture. Brill! James Lawrence Heritage Lottery Fund

Well done – wonderful history of high hopes. Douglas Burcham

Fabulous. Really useful informative brochure. Lovely house (and so tidy!) Thank you. Jean Macdonald

Thank you so much for opening your home to us. A fantastic little-known piece of history. Paul Bovey

Loved the play, thanks for the viewing. Margaret Adler

The soliloquy was brilliant!! Gerry Adler

I’ve known about these houses for 30 years and this has been the first opportunity to visit one! John Brightley


Laura Elliott & Janet Vaughan give their opinions

12/09/14 Selected messages

 Most enterprising and interesting. Michael Downing Chair of Allesley & Coundon Wedge Conservation Society

Interesting to be back again. Came to see the house when it was a show house! Juliet E. Amery

Enjoyed the play and the house for the 2nd time. June Babb

Thank you for inviting us. It’s brought back lots of memories! Fiona Pitton née Mclean

Lovely relaxing design. Could we see more designs like this in the future? Councillor Hazel Noonan, Lord Mayor of Coventry

An enlightening view of a model and unique experiment, am jealous of the owners. Christopher Noonan

A fascinating house & great performance. Louise Campbell

Light, airy, thoroughly modern – a machine for living. Rev Andrew Fisher

What fun! John East


Anna shows guests the linen cupboard

13/09/14 Selected feedback

Coventry – what a brilliant, unusual &surreal experience – wonderful! Josie Llewelyn

It’s a treat. But this is not a small house. There is a garden that could be converted into more rooms!! (This my asian mind working J go to see some houses in asian villages. Thank you for the performance. Tiur Passmore

Congratulations on a wonderful show! Angela Davis

Bravo – the perf + the house. Adrian Johnson

Inspiring! I love the light. David Roxburgh

Very thought-provoking + fun! Gabrielle Leese

Truly fascinating. It made me think differently about space! Cathy Connan

Fabulously written and acted. Loved the way it flowed and introduced us to the house. Like the light of the house. Brought back memories of a flat roof. Julie Boden

The house looks amazing. Full of light and colour and personality. Alison Askew

A very enjoyable performance of an insightful piece. Catherine Nisbet

I’m in Madmen!



Gerard talking about his exhibition of Henry Moore prints

 14/09/14 Selected messages

 Entertaining and informative – love the house. Jan and Campbell Perry

I came & saw the future – and it’s flat roofed! Fantastic. Derek Nisbet

Fascinating and evoked memories of growing up in Coventry. Makes me want to learn more! Ruth Weatherall

Inspiring!!! Noel Doran

Has given me lots to think about! Maureen Barlow

We still live in a 1960s house, &we got rid of the flat roof as soon as we could. Angela Thompson

Having visited California this summer this has been a delight! Sally Heartshorne

Interesting, thought-provoking, a seemless performance that cleverly interwove current unease with the original concept. Thank you. Becky Clarke

Very interesting and enjoyable. Made me think about how we judge house + the way we live. Corinne + Sean Davies

An amazing experience – fantastic performance, really evocative + thought-provoking. Bravo! Geraldine Clarkson

Lived in Fairways Close 1964-1982, always passed house by. A great insight. Thank you. Mark Lewis

Beautiful house, very interesting and enjoyable performance! Thanks very much! Xxx Judit and Emese Naughton

Stunning house, enviable art collection and thoroughly appreciated the entertaining and warm sharing. Kulwant Dhariwal

The house was a pleasure to be in & the play brought it to life. Thank you! x Kim Hackleman

Enjoyable meditation on spaces, people, living. Anne Forgan







Whose performing for whom?



One of the themes that has come through our oral history with people who saw the original show house was their concern about being seen through the large plat glass front windows by passersby. Many were very concerned about privacy: theres.

Gerard and I have been cast by Vanessa in the play as ourselves. And, sitting outside in the garden Gerard has enjoyed looking in on the audience engrossed in the play. He catches them  unaware that to us THEY are the performance!









Looking out from the front of our house 15 mins before a performance commences and there’s a queue of people waiting….and I don’t know any of them. It’s a very peculiar, or might one say ‘particular’ experience having so many strangers waiting to see my home!

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the prize for making the most effort goes to…




Bill Wroath & Vanessa Oakes with Rubis

People have travelled from far and wide (& walked across the street) to experience A New Way of Living but artist/filmmaker Bill Wroath gets the prize for making the most effort (180 miles from Plymouth). Bill and I first met 27 years ago when we were both working at Plymouth Theatre Royal.

In case you were wondering this shot isn’t taken at The Experimental House but in-between shows at my home – a drover’s cottage in the village’s conservation area which was converted for residential use in 1712 (An Old Way of Living).

It’s our last three shows today – hope you managed to get a ticket.

Returning to West Point after 54 years


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Paul McLean from the firm who original built The Experimental House back in 1960 meets our current Lord Mayor. A lot had changed in 55years since Paul last visited the estate, which he and his brother Geoffrey McLean were responsible for building.

The terrace of houses was the gateway to West Point, where five other house designs were erected: The Strand ( a detached two storey); Queenhythe ( a semi); Mayfair ( a detached bungalow); Nash Townhouse ( a terraced two storey house); and a block on maisonettes. All these houses were set in an open styled landscape of lawns ( an american-style  estate). These were designed by McLeans resident partner architects Diamond Hodgkinson of Wolverhampton


Regional RIBA Director Matthew Dobson meets with the Mayor and discusses the need for well designed homes fit for C21st living. Has any thing changed in 55years. We think the situation is probably worse now than back then. We need another Small House Competition.




Paul McLean and his daughter find that being in the Austin-Smith house brought back memories of their own modern house designed in the 60s. Paul and his wife loved Scandanavian styling and regularly went to Copenhagen, where the would buy furnishings.

Paul McLean’s daughter grew up in a modernist house, also full of large glass panes. She remembers how time consuming it was cleaning all the glass. The flies  stain the windows almost on a daily basis. So much for functionalist architecture!


Paul looks at an Ideal Home April 1960, in which his brother wrote a think piece about the future of Housing Estates. Geoffrey shared  views with Eric Lyons, the architect/developer behind SPAN housing, that ‘the day of the semi-detached home is over’…and the day of the terrace ‘is coming’.

His prophetic views proved not to be the future we now live in. Despite ‘his brave efforts’, Geoffrey could not encourage sales of the Austin-Smith terrace house, and the rest of West Point is made up of semis and detached -which he saw as not only wasteful of land resources, but anti-community. His vision was for a Neo-Georgianism: elegant parkland in which graceful terraces would line tree line streets, cul-de-sacs and quadrangles. West Point looks a far cry from that today!


Paul, his daughter and Gerard enjoy a humorous exchange, maybe its the joke about why the British seem not to appreciate contemporary design!


a particularly busy day…


Paul Mclean is introduced to the Lord Mayor of Coventry Cllr Hazel Noonan

Yesterday was a particularly busy day for The Experimental House – following a morning visit from the BBC to prep for their early evening broadcast on Midlands Today, we welcomed the Lord Mayor of Coventry, Cllr Hazel Noonan.


thru glass

Champagne Cocktails

Following the play Hazel proposed a toast to good contemporary design and the house with a champagne cocktail.


The BBC are back again

BBC reporter Lindsay Doyle and two camera men were back again by 4pm to interview our guests and film an extract of the play, putting together a package before broadcasting live on air at 6.44pm.


June & Sheila

Our participants caught up with each other’s news, mingled with our honoured guests and discussed the pros and cons of contemporary house design.


Marguerita and Michael Downing

Michael is Chair of Allesley & Coundon Wedge Conservation Society – he was asked to stand in for The Ideal Home Magazine in our re staging of a photograph taken by The Coventry Evening Telegraph at the opening in 1960.


20th Century Society members only VIP event

Just when we thought we might put our feet up for five minutes our next guests arrived for the VIP evening performance…

Don’t worry if you missed us on Midlands Today, you can still catch it on iPlayer for the next few days


 It’s about 14:42 minutes in