Little Boxes by Malvina Reynolds
‘Little boxes on the hillside, Little boxes made of tickytackyLittle boxes on the hillside, little boxes all the sameThere's a green one and a pink one and a blue one and a yellow oneAnd they're all made out of ticky tacky and they all look just the same.’
Over the past year, I have watched a block of flats being built, and the result reminds me of that song. Little Boxes was written about suburbia, but the lyrics suit my surroundings: the growing Land of The Buy To Let Dovecots, which - as I have seen - really are made out of ticky tacky, and really do look just the same.
The construction process begins with an enormous hole in the ground, surrounded by hoardings, all exclaiming how exciting and innovative this particular new development will be. Developers start the lift shaft, with gallons of concrete poured from a crane, and wary men in hardhats screaming as the skip floats ominously above them, waiting to shoot its load. The building takes shape; all are variations on a theme. Most newbuilds are stacks of one bedroom flats, with a few two beds at the end of the corridoor.
Newborn dovecots are tended by a gang of cranes; they look like huge, sinister insects building a nest. There are dumper trucks, and lorries arriving crammed with building supplies, noisily unloaded at 7am. When they fall silent, the building is nearly ready.
The facade is tacked on towards the end of the process, giving the building the look of a book shelf, or a corporate pigeon hole: anonymous empty frontages where people, rather than post, will be filed away. It’s difficult at this point to decide whether this shell will grow up to be an office block, or housing. Ideally, both are designed after considering very different requirements and priorities: homes should be comfortable, with living space, offices ought to favour functional practicalities, but they both look just the same.
Balconies are soon visible, with men suspended from winches seeming to bungee jump as they work on the exterior. Well before the dovecot is completed, visitors can be seen wandering around inside, switching on a checkerboard of houselights, presumably inspecting their new home, or being persuaded to buy one of these ‘exciting and innovative’ apartments.
Finally, a ‘design feature’ is added. In the example I was observing, this is an enormous white (presumably fibre glass) teepee type structure covering the entire roof, illuminated at night. My own dovecot is at the less classy end of the buy to let/purchase off plan design, and subsequently has no ‘features.’ It’s a rabbit hutch for people; a filing cabinet for human beings.
Even with cranes and lorries still working through the night, when the block is obviously still incomplete, television sets begin to flicker inside. Some brave pioneers are already living in these brand new, designer dovecots, which are all made out of ticky tacky, and all look the same.