10 Weird And Wonderful Things About Flats/Apartments*


*This is a Collaborative Post*


Flats building insurance specialist Deacon shares 10 Weird and Wonderful things about flats!

With the current rate of global population growth, experts forecast a rise of approximately 1.8 billion people over the next 30 years worldwide. This means that the population will rise from the current 7.6 billion inhabitants to 9.8 billion by the year 2050. 

It can be difficult to visualize such vast numbers, so let's change the unit from people to seconds. So, if 1 million seconds takes just under 12 days to elapse, can you quickly estimate how many days a billion seconds might take? Well, it would take roughly 31 years, 251 days to elapse. which makes you realize just how vast a number a billion is in any context. The difference between millionaires and billionaires is actually quite a lot as it turns out.

The British Government estimates that there are approx 2.75 million private leasehold flats in England - which actually accounts for about one eighth of all dwellings in England, not including statistics from Scotland and Wales. Flats and apartments therefore account for quite a high proportion of homes in the UK. So when we were told 10 weird and wonderful facts about flats, past, present, and future, by Deacon Insurance* who are themselves specialists in blocks of flats insurance we felt we just had to share them with you. 


1. What Do The Romans Have To Do With Flats - They Lived In Villas! Right? . . . 

It certainly came as somewhat of a surprise to me to learn that like with many other things the Romans were the first civilization to realize the spatio-economic benefits of building domiciles skywards with what we could easily recognize today as being akin to modern day flats/apartments. It wasn't all luxurious country villas and exotic bath houses for the ordinary rank and file. As the ever increasing population in Roman cities posed more significant housing challenges it forced the Romans to learn new methods and invest in building structures which were higher and much stronger than previous buildings.

Critical to this process was the use of concrete, which allowed them to create new architectural forms and when combined with the standardization of a building brick, this step forward allowed for a relatively quick, reliable and durable construction. The earliest Roman multi-storey blocks, which would usually feature shops on the ground floor, with apartments on two or more floors above, were called 'insula', which translated from Latin means 'islands'. This name stems from the fact that these insulas would often occupy an entire city block, rising above all of the roads leading around the tower block created the illusion of an island surrounded by the sea.

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2. Forest Flats You Say???

Forest flats in the heart of the northern Italian city of Milan are an unusual yet ingenious way of incorporating nature and beauty into an architectural form which often times is anything but beautiful. This particular incarnation of flats is the brainchild of a clever Milanese architect named Stefano Boeri. His concept for the 'Bosco Verticale' or, 'Vertical Forest' in English, uses more than twenty thousand trees and plants with which to adorn the high rise buiildings from top to bottom. Due to the the stunning effects of balconies covered with beautiful fauna this concept has now been followed the world over from China and the Far east to the Netherlands. Most people are cognisant of the need for greenery and that trees are good for cities, and as you can see from the images below, they are very eye catching and quite stunning in their own way.


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3. The Seventy Year Time Capsule

This is a rather unusual yet brief introduction to a story which I found to be interesting. Prior to the outbreak of hostilities in the 1930's that would become known as the Second World War, and with the Germans looking to conquer the European mainland (which would largely come to fruition); a young woman fled her Parisian apartment for the south of France, she never returned. Her name was Marthe de Florian and she was a famous actress. 

The strangeness is not that she didn't return, as during that period of time millions of people across the continent were displaced. The weird thing is that the owner of the building never noticed that his tenant had gone and not returned. I don't quite know how such an oversight could be made, but when the owner died in 2010, experts were called in to his property to access the value of his estate. Upon opening the front door they walked 70 odd years back in time, the flat was absolutely untouched and looked exactly as it did all those decades prior. Must have been a slightly eerie feeling walking in and seeing that.


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4. Shape-Shifting Buildings You Say? Have You Lost Your . . . Oh Wait . . .

It may sound completely bonkers or like the stuff of science fiction, but the world’s first shape shifting rotating tower block is set to be unveiled in Dubai by the year 2020 according to architectural firm Dynamic Group. The images below look every bit as inspiring, futuristic and incredible as one might have guessed. Dubai and the middle east are definitely pushing the boundaries of architectural structures. I would love to go visit and see them all for myself at some point in the not too distant future. It's the only real way to grasp the scale of something so large. 


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5. Recycling On A Huge Scale

Here in the UK at present there are some absolutely huge re-cycling projects taking place across the country in inner cities. Familiar buildings are being saved from demolition and reducing levels of neglect for such buildings in effort to convert these huge places into flats and living accommodation. This is obviously great in terms of putting a beautiful building to good use, rather than simply letting them fall into a state of disrepair and becoming an eye sore. In fact due to the architectural significance, history and beauty many of the original features of these building are being carefully maintained and in some cases restored in order to preserve the legacy of those who built them so many generations ago. The BBC Television Centre at White City is one example, as is Battersea Power Station and the Hoover Building in London. The first residential tower block in the UK, "The Lawn," was constructed in Harlow, Essex in 1951. It too is now a Grade II listed building. Conversions are taking place across the country and there seems to be no shortage of buyers for urban loft apartments especially so in prime city-centre locations, so we can probably expect the current trend to continue as developers look to cash in.


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6. What The Hek Is That Noise?!

Chinese planners aren't quite as sensitive as their British counterparts it seems. They certainly didn’t let a little thing like a railway get in the way of the need to build more flats in the emerging mega-city of Chongqing in order to help solve the ever increasing inner city urban population. The train line actually goes straight through the residential building and it is every bit as crazy as it sounds! I don't know what safety measures are in place, but perhaps safety wasn't at the forefront of the planners minds in this case given that people could get hit by a train just upon opening their front door! However, I bet it certainly gives those who live there a greater sense of appreciation for life once they finally do make it out of their building safely! :)


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7. Where In The World Are The Tallest And Smallest?

Dubai's iconic Burj Khalifa is currently the tallest skyscraper in the world standing at 72 metres high, but that is set to change. In 2020 the 1000 metre mile high Jeddah Tower, with serviced apartments, is set to claim the prize of being the world's tallest building, for a while anyway. While in the Chinese city of Wuhan, with serious concerns of overpopulation looming, they've gone tiny. The city has built two person apartments that are only 50 square feet! But when it comes to the largest, then first prize has to go to The Copan Building in Sao Paulo, familiar to Sim City players as a building they can drop in. The 38-story residential building comprises over 1,160 apartment units and is home to more than and 5,000 residents!

The Tallest . . .

Dubai can currently lay claim to having the world's tallest sky scraper, the Burj Khalifa, which stands at an astonishing 829 metres tall, with 163 floors. It has been the tallest building in the world since it was topped out in 2008. However, should plans in Saudi Arabia materialize then this record is set to be broken. The 1000m tall Jeddah Tower looks set to be completed sometime next year (2020).

The Smallest . . .

Back to China here for a look at what has to be the antithesis of the kinds of development going on in the Middle East. In the city of Wuhan, local government and planning officials have decided upon a rather non glamorous solution. With a rapidly rising inner city population they have decided to build tiny two man apartments which are only 50sq ft in total. Don't think I'll be moving there anytime soon.

Worth a Mention . . .

In Sau Paulo, Brazil, The Copan Building, at 38 storeys, is by no means anywhere near the tallest in the world or even in Brazil. However it's still worthy of a mention for the simple fact that with around 1160 apartments it is called home by upwards of five thousand inhabitants. Which is quite staggering in my humble opinion.

World's tallest


8. Going Underground And Underwater?

Again with this one we are teetering on the brink of Sci-Fi surely? But lo and behold, architects are now seriously considering building downwards as a viable alternative to building skywards. In 2011 a so-called 'EarthScraper' for Mexico City was proposed, the Greater Mexico City area being one of the most heavily populated cities in the world with over 21 million inhabitants. That's approximately a third of the total population of the United Kingdom.

Although the Mexico City plan is the only serious plan put forth of its kind, the concept is most definitely on the drawing board, with a whole range of obstacles and challenges which would need to be overcome. With technology expanding at such a rate it might not be as far fetched as it might seem. Give it time. After all, with 70% of the earths surface being covered in water, Aequorea a visionary city that would be built off the coast of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, has already been proposed. This kind of makes the whole subterranean 'Earthscrapers' concept seem quite fathomable by comparison, to the layman like me anyway. Again, give it time, the future looks set to be every bit as crazy as we we could imagine.


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9. Most Expensive

Having lived in London myself it certainly came as no surprise to me, nor will it to many of you, that the city ranks at No. 2 in the world for the most expensive cost of a city centre flat beaten into second place only by Hong Kong which I have to say did surprise me slightly. 

As an interesting aside, MSN Money investigated the different costs of living in UK cities with an emphasis on housing being a major component. Unsurprisingly, they found that London is the most expensive place in the UK to live; where they estimate that in order to lead a relatively comfortable life one would need about £7090 per month. Oxford, Edinburgh and Brighton took the next spots all with a figure of around the £5000 mark. With such extortionate living costs it is little wonder why so many tens of thousands of people choose to commute daily rather than living close by to their work. 

If money were no object how much would you be willing to pay for an apartment? Well in October 2018 the UK's most expensive flat was valued in October 2018 at a cool £160 million. The address? 1 Hyde Park. SW1. Which to be fair is a cool sounding address. Not sure it's quite worth such a hefty price tag though.


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10. The Last Word . . . The Legacy Of Feudalism

People are often surprised now in the 21st century that it is still possible to lose your flat and be left homeless if you break the terms of the lease or don’t pay the necessary service charges!  Of course in practice, it’s become more difficult over the years for a freeholder (also known as the landlord) to evict people and reclaim homes, but it most definitely can and does happen

Where did such a feudal practice come from? Well, Land Law in Great Britain can be held at least partly responsible as the system in place in the UK today can trace it's roots way back to just after the Norman Conquest of GB in 1066. King William the new Lord of this realm was as business savvy and astute as he was absolutely fearless and brutal. He along with other powerful Lords would often grant 'inferior interests' aka leases in land and then in turn take an income from it themselves. King William at the higher end of this would reward many of his loyal friends and supporteres with vast estates in his newly acquired kingdom. These men were given titles such as Baron and it was up to them to make sure they collected all of the rents due from the inhabitants of their particulara area of jurisdiction. From these monies, the Baron would then send a percentge to the Crown, - if he valued his life that is. 

Interestingly enough, covenants on freehold properties only go as far as to define what you cannot do with regards to the property itself. With leasehold property they can also define what you must do in order to remain legal and above board. So for example, this might entail a directive to pay for the upkeep of an asset which might still be owned by the freeholder. 

In Scotland the system is quite different, there is no 'feu duty' - and so the equivalent of the British 'ground rent' could be set up post 1974, and no residential lease for more than 20 years could be created.

*Deacon has specialised in providing buildings insurance and associated products for flats and apartments for more than 29 years.


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Deacon is a trading name of Arthur J. Gallagher Insurance Brokers Limited, which is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority. Registered Office: Spectrum Building, 7th Floor, 55 Blythswood Street, Glasgow, G2 7AT. Registered in Scotland. Company Number: SC108909 FP1129

The opinions and views expressed in the above articles are those of the author only and are for guidance purposes only.  The authors disclaim any liability for reliance upon those opinions and would encourage readers to rely upon more than one source before making a decision based on the information. The sole purpose of this article is to provide guidance on the issues covered. This article is not intended to give legal advice, and, accordingly, it should not be relied upon. It should not be regarded as a comprehensive statement of the law and/or market practice in this area. We make no claims as to the completeness or accuracy of the information contained herein or in the links which were live at the date of publication. You should not act upon (or should refrain from acting upon) information in this publication without first seeking specific legal and/or specialist advice. Arthur J. Gallagher Insurance Brokers Limited trading as Deacon accepts no liability for any inaccuracy, omission or mistake in this publication, nor will we be responsible for any loss which may be suffered as a result of any person relying on the information contained herein.  All the links provided were active and working correctly at the time of publication but may not work in future. 

*Article contributed by Deacon and edited by Michael David. Header image source Pexels. Other images contributed via Deacon.


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