These cartoon people are advertising luxury apartments. So why do they look so depressed?

The South Bank Tower rises about London in 2013. Image: DncnH/Twitter.

Take a walk along London’s South Bank, and you’ll find a new housing development at Blackfriars. The South Bank Tower is the sort of swanky apartment building marketed at those professionals who get hot under the collar at the phrase “starting as low as £1.5m”.

Marketing such high-flying apartments should be the easiest job in the world. Yet, it’s almost as though the marketing team has struggled to transform these swish, city-centre pads into aspirational dreams. All too often, the posters seem instead to promote isolation and sadness.

Here are a selection of them. Spoiler alert: wistfulness is a common theme. We’re guessing that’s because everyone on the posters is wistfully wishing they hadn’t spent all their money on the apartments.

The saddest picture by far, this man’s shadow is so looming that it has cast the entire room into darkness. I can’t work out what’s worse – that he has purchased so much furniture when he clearly he has no friends to use it, or that he, too, hates where he lives and can’t bear to even look at the place.

The most depressing motif? A single set of headphones in the centre of the coffee table to drown out the noise of all those guests he doesn’t have. The crazy angle-poise is a poignant necessity – switched on in the middle of the day to cast a beam of hope through the cruel darkness of his black, despairing shadow.

A more subtle tone than the other misery-banners perhaps, but the aching loneliness depicted by this poster is enhanced by the artist’s solid use of blue, which everyone knows was coined by Van Gogh during his depressive “blue period”.

The bed is unslept in and obsessively neat – she is clearly alone, neurotic, and yearning for company as she wishes somebody would spot her glancing down from her lofty heights and ring her doorbell this winter.

Why the wistful gaze? Is she yearning for friends? Perhaps she accidentally glued her left hand to the window frame while trying to put up a picture and now she’s concerned she’ll die alone stuck to a wall. Or, perhaps, she too, is questioning why there’s an enlarged photograph of a tennis court behind her bed.

A ginger bearded faux-hipster leans against the window clutching a glass of wine, while a full bottle is readied on the counter. This man is a poster boy for anti-recklessness (unless you count spending his life’s savings on this apartment). He already has a single glass of water prepared for the impending hangover which he’s decanted into an actual water jug.

The poster raises many questions. Who decants water from the tap into a jug when there’s nobody else in the apartment? And how is he already on his second bottle of wine, when it’s clearly the middle of the day? How and why has got so wasted he needs to prop himself up against a pillar?

This advert leaves the viewer demanding answers. Only one thing is certain – that this is the life you could have, too, if you bought one of their apartments.

Granted, on first glance, she looks like she’s having a better time than the alcoholic hipster. Sure, she’s taking a bath in a tub that she can’t actually fit into, but that’s a #firstworldproblem.


I’m not sure what’s most disturbing about this picture. Is it that she’s wearing her dress in the bath? (Does she think this is how you wash your clothes?) Or is that a splurge of red where somebody has cleaved her arm off and left her in the tub to die like some horrifically crass Agatha Christie novel? You pay an arm and a leg for these apartments – maybe  if she’d severed her legs instead she’d be able to fit in the bath.

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Here’s how Henry Ford and IKEA could provide the key to solving the housing crisis

A flatpack house designed by architectural firm Rogers Stirk Harbour and Partners, on display at the Royal Academy, London, in 2013. Image: Getty.

For many people, the housing market is not a welcoming place. The rungs of the property ladder seem to get further and further out of reach. There are loud calls to build hundreds of thousands of new homes (and equally loud demands that they’re not built in anyone’s back yard).

If there was ever a time to introduce mass-produced affordable housing, surely that time is now.

The benefits of mass production have been well known since Henry Ford’s car factories made the Model T back in 1908. It was only made in one colour, black, for economic reasons. Not because it was the cheapest colour of paint, but because it was the colour that dried the quickest.

This allowed the production line to operate at faster, more cost effective, speeds. And ultimately, it meant the product could be sold at a more attractive cost to the customer.

This approach, where processes are tested to achieve increasingly efficient production costs, is yet to filter properly into the construction of houses. This makes sense in a way, as not everybody wants exactly the same type of house.

Historically, affordable mass-produced housing removed a large amount of customisations, to ensure final costs were controlled. But there is another way. Builders and architects have the ability to create housing that allows a level of flexibility and customisation, yet also achieves the goal of affordability.


Back in 2006, the “BoKlok” approach to affordable housing was launched to great acclaim in the UK. Literally translated from Swedish, the term means “live smart”. Originally created from a collaboration between flat-pack favourite IKEA and Swedish construction giant Skanska, the BoKlok housing approach was to allow for selected customisation to maximise individuality and choice for the customers. But at the same time, it ensured that larger house building components were duplicated or mass-produced, to bring down the overall costs.

Standard elements – wall panels, doors, windows – were made in large numbers to bring the elemental costs down. This approach ensured the costs were controlled from the initial sketch ideas through to the final design choices offered to the customers. The kitchens and bathrooms were designed to be flexible in terms of adding additional units. Draw and cupboard fronts interchangeable. Small options that provided flexibility, but did not impact on overall affordability.

It’s a simple approach that has worked very well. More than 10,000 BoKlok houses have now been built, mainly in Norway, Sweden and Denmark, with a small number in the UK.

But it is only part of the architectural equation. The affordable housing market is vital, but the cost of making these homes more adaptable is rarely considered.

Flexibility is key. The needs of a house’s inhabitants change. Families can grow (and shrink) and require more room, so the costs of moving house reappear. One clever response to this, in BoKlok homes, has been to allow “built in” flexibility.

Loft living

This flexibility could include a loft space that already has flooring and a built in cupboard on a lower floor which can be simply dismantled and replaced with a “flat-pack style” staircase that can be purchased and installed with minimal disruption to the existing fabric.

Weeks of builders removing walls, plastering and upheaval are replaced by a trip to the IKEA store to purchase the staircase and the booking of a subcontractor to fit it. The original design accounted for this “future option” and is built into the core of the house.

The best approach to new affordable housing should consider combinations of factors that look at design, materials and processes that have yet to be widely used in the affordable housing market.

And the construction sector needs to look over its shoulder at other market places – especially the one that Henry Ford dominated over a century ago. Today’s car manufacturers offer customised options in everything from colour to wheel size, interior gadgets to different kinds of headlamp. These options have all been accounted for in the construction and costing of each model.

The ConversationThey share a similar design “platform”, and by doing so, considerably reduce the overall cost of the base model. The benefit is quicker production with the added benefit of a cost model that allows for customisation to be included. It is a method the construction sector should adopt to produce housing where quality and affordability live happily together.

David Morton, Associate Professor in Architecture and Built Environment, Northumbria University, Newcastle.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.