July 8th, 2003, 04:57 PM
The Duchy of Cornwall is noted for its rural beauty. Like most such places, it is threatened by car-based suburban development: parking lots, strip centers, subdivisions, the humdrum stuff familiar to us all. This stuff takes up a lot of room, mostly to store cars; wherever it goes the country vanishes, and with it most significant evidence of where we are. Roadside Florida looks very much like roadside Cornwall, except for the trees in the planter strips.
Consequently, the architecture of the buildings in these places doesn’t matter very much, either; a roadside convenience store in England looks pretty much the same as it does in Massachusetts: interchangeable architecture for interchangeable places. There is no ‘there’ there.
People are beginning to worry about this and many other consequences of suburban development and the zoning that underpins it--consequences as diverse as global warming, obesity, loss of community, ugliness and boredom, loss of farmland, wilderness and urbanity--all more or less referred to as sprawl (not “urban sprawl”, please; that is an oxymoron.). You know that you are in an urban place if where you are does not sprawl.
The Duke of Cornwall, aka Prince Charles, is also concerned about all this. He is doing something about it in developing his bailiwick in Cornwall. Here is his project, the town of Poundbury.
Poundbury is the western extension of the ancient town of Dorchester. It grew from the kernel traced by the red line. There is a sharp delineation visible in this map between town and country. Charles intends to keep this abrupt boundary by omitting the suburban sprawl that exiles the countryside to a distance accessible only by car. To accomplish this, he enlisted the great Leon Krier, who drew this plan. The extent of Charles’ contemplated *enlargement of Dorchester is shown by the heavy line. The first phase and core of Poundbury has been built and is shown in red. It covers an area of 35 acres, less than the size of many a mall’s parking lot.
The center of Poundbury is a covered market surmounted by the municipal meeting hall.
Surrounding it are shops, including a pub inaugurated by Charles himself, designated British beer drinker of the year.
Peaceful residential enclaves radiate from here.
Streets are narrow and lacking sidewalks. They belong to the people on foot, though cars are permitted.
Where *excessive stretches of straight street occur, obstructionist trees discourage speeding. Cars here circulate at about 6 mph, as they do in similarly-planned Seaside, Florida. Note the garage doors.
Some alleys are too narrow for cars:
Some streets carry enough traffic to spawn sidewalks:
The market spills onto the Market Square:
It even spills across the street and tucks under the terrace of a house. Public and private are never far apart at Poundbury. Buffers? Never heard of them.
Precincts are marked by gateways:
The public realm is not threatening; no front yards are needed to keep strangers at bay:
Backyards are walled and private.
You can imagine that in Poundbury people know each other; “neighborhood” here is not a realtor’s marketing term.
And the country is still there, 18 inches away:
People also work in Poundbury, in factories, some of which require small parking areas for those who live elsewhere:
They also work in offices:
House types vary in style and material, just as in any other real place that developed incrementally. Not everyone wants the same house.
There are no sideyards, even though most houses are free-standing, as at Williamsburg.
Altogether, a livable place, though not perhaps for everybody. Whether or not one chooses to live in such a place, the government has no business making it illegal through zoning.
The consequently undeveloped:
(Edited by ablarc at 5:09 pm on July 8, 2003)
(Edited by ablarc at 5:10 pm on July 8, 2003)
(Edited by ablarc at 5:24 pm on July 8, 2003)
July 9th, 2003, 05:34 PM
So this is that that Prince Charles project, I saw a blurb on cable....This sort of town planning is all the latest buzz among planners. Close knit, community oriented, close to downtown, all surrounded by vast open spaces. Are these your pictures ablarc? Nice shots. It looks a little like a movie set or some too-clean Disney lot, you know, not real. It's hard to imagine what it's like there, what kind of sense of community is there? It will be interesting to see how this community grows over the years, time will tell how successful it is.
Very nice job putting this together, thanks for sharing.
July 10th, 2003, 09:52 PM
In some places reality is clean. Have you been to Seaside, Florida? You may have seen it in The Truman Show with Jim Carey.
Photos are by a Norwegian enthusiast.
July 27th, 2003, 04:52 AM
It may not be great, but in the age of corporations, it's a lot better than this...
July 30th, 2003, 04:35 PM
Wow, that looks really authentic. What kind of look would that be considered? European? Whatever it is... it looks good to me
November 11th, 2004, 04:22 PM
America’s best architecture critic weighs in…
Getting it right (maybe a little too right) in well-behaved England
By Robert Campbell, FAIA
Think of this column as a letter to a friend about a recent trip to England.
I was tagging along with the Seaside Pienza Institute, which is an informal gang of mostly American architects, educators, and developers all of whom subscribe, more or less, to the principles of the so-called New Urbanism. They agree, at least, that they prefer walkable towns to car-culture sprawl.
Sprawl is something you certainly don't see much of in rural England. It's amazing to an American: no roadside Dairy Queens, motels, billboards, used- car dealerships, suburban malls, or scattered single-family houses. Beautiful as it is, it's possible to get bored. The endless green countryside, unviolated by trade or commerce, bespeaks the heavy hand of a ruling bureaucracy, as it once spoke of a ruling aristocracy. Where, you ask yourself, is the insurgent who breaks the rules? Where is the bubbling up of private initiative that makes life irrational and interesting? Can I buy some fireworks, please?
They don't let sprawl happen. We talked to several government officials who told us there is a greenbelt around every city, town, and village. You can't develop anything in that belt unless you can prove to government planners that (a) there's a need and (b) there's no capacity for growth on existing sites inside the town limits. The "thrill of walking from the town into the country," as one speaker put it, is preserved by government fiat.
I'm certainly in favor of a sharp line between town and country. But with this same group, I toured Tuscany last year. There we discovered that the equally bucolic Italian farm landscape is uneconomic and survives only because it's considered historic and is subsidized by the European Union [RECORD, October 2003, page 67]. England has similar problems, its agriculture now threatened by cheaper overseas imports. One group is addressing that problem with the pleasingly named "Eat the View" initiative, trying to get town dwellers to buy fresh produce grown in the immediate scenic surroundings.
Logical there; heretical in U.S.
Planning happens on a big scale, too. We learned that the government has identified four national corridors where growth will be encouraged. The major one lies along the new rail link to mainland Europe. It's a proposal as logical there as it would be heretical in the U.S.
We visited Poundbury, the new town sponsored by the Prince of Wales and planned by New Urbanist guru Leon Krier, who met us there. He said architects should imitate rather than invent, and noted that "nobody has proposed an anticlassical Chianti." He also said, in a sentence worth thinking about, that "architecture should be divorced from art history."
Sponsored by Prince Charles, Poundbury follows New Urbanist planning rules.
Poundbury obeys the principles of Jane Jacobs and the New Urbanism. It's mixed-use and dense. The houses don't float on wasteful green lawns; they butt up against one another in traditional rows. Streets wander around as unpredictably as in a medieval village, in a way that's maybe too self-consciously picturesque. Parks are banished to the perimenter, so that the town itself can remain compact and walkable. Cars are tucked semi-visibly in parking courts. It's a real town, not just a bedroom burb, with commerce and light manufacturing.
I have to admit I was amused to learn that although Poundbury is only one-fifth built, the serpent of Nimbyism has already raised its hissing head. A group has been formed that calls itself PROD: Poundbury Residents Opposed to Density. At the time of our visit, PROD had just succeeded in getting planning authorities to deny permission for a modest new apartment building. These are guys who chose to live in a traditionally dense, compact settlement, and who paid a premium to do so (Poundbury has been a marketing success). They then turn around to protest the very qualities that, presumably, attracted them in the first place. Although I think PROD is selfish and absurd, it's somehow reassuring to know that contrariness can still flourish in a model community. Krier, as usual, gets it right. When you do a new development, he says, "You must build the noxious uses first or the residents will prevent them." They love to talk about architecture in England. George Ferguson, the current president of the Royal Institute of British Architects, has proposed an X rating for works of architecture. He hasn't explained the details, but the idea is that really terrible buildings would be given the X in the hope that, labeled with such a stigma, they might be demolished. Perhaps the government could subsidize the demolition, or perhaps it could refuse needed permissions or benefits. One delights in imagining the star-chamber gathering of taste police who would meet to award the X listing. Alas, it probably won't happen.
The hottest argument at the moment is over a government policy that says, or seems to say—the wording is the usual bureaucratic fog—that traditional styles of architecture are now banned in the British countryside. The law formerly banned any large new house in open countryside, since the government policy, as noted above, is to keep development in towns. But it was modified—with backstage pressure, everyone thinks but can't prove, from Norman Foster— to permit houses that are "truly outstanding and groundbreaking" and reflect "the highest standards in contemporary architecture."
Architects who practice in traditional modes believe this is a deliberate prohibition of historic styles, and they're up in arms, as are Americans like Andres Duany. A member of Prince Charles's staff suggested to me that if you were to ban architecture that imitates the architecture of some previous era, you'd have to demolish half of London. Gothic Revival? Palladian? Even a landmark like Tower Bridge is merely thick clothes of traditional stone over a modern steel frame.
Speaking of Foster, his office courteously arranged a private tour of the master's new office tower in the financial district of London, the so-called Gherkin. (Taciturn Americans lack the gift for nick- names that come so easily in the
more verbal culture of the Brits.) A gherkin is a pickled cucumber, and Foster's tower does indeed look like a pickle or a fat cigar standing on end [RECORD, May 2004, page 2181. I loved and hated it. From an urban point of view, it's remarkably unsocial. It wraps itself haughtily in its glass cloak, like an operatic diva, ignoring everything around it. The architecture tells you this is a generic building that could be sited anywhere. It offers nothing to the life of the street. The ground floor, which is tiny, as befits the end of a gherkin, contains only an elevator lobby.
A vertical cul-de-sac
Upstairs, though, if you're privileged to go there (the whole building is occupied by a single Swiss insurance company), the place is remarkable. Glass atriums spiral up the exterior, offering fresh air to every occupant. At the top are a restaurant and bar with spectacular views over the city, at least until the next tower blocks them. In a talk at Poundbury, the ever-quotable Krier fulminated about skyscrapers. They are, he said, "network disrupters" and "catastrophic social isolators." A skyscraper is a "vertical cul-de-sac" - cul-de-sac being, probably, the most vicious insult a New Urbanist can utter.
And indeed, the Gherkin functions more like an elitist club than a connected piece of the city. But it's an elegant work of architecture. Four days after my visit, when the Gherkin opened briefly to the public, the queue went around the block. Television crews were present to record the event. It's hard to imagine that kind of interest in a work of commercial architecture in the U.S.
Incidentally, architectural techies should check out the window-washing system at the Gherkin. Cleaning a building of this shape is a challenge, to say the least. Foster and consultants had to invent an elaborate crane and boom that climbs around the exterior like a giant spider. Let's hope it works. As every architect knows, in architecture you don't get to build, test, and improve a prototype before going on to the production model. You have to get it right the first time.
November 11th, 2004, 05:10 PM
Very nice architecture. Unique... a Portmerion II. How appropriate, that it's championed by #2!
November 11th, 2004, 05:23 PM
January 8th, 2005, 11:25 AM
What's grim about it?
Originally Posted by thomasjfletcher
January 8th, 2005, 01:29 PM
Nice pictures, does look like the worlds most boring place though
January 10th, 2005, 09:15 AM
January 10th, 2005, 10:41 AM
That was a bit harsh.
January 10th, 2005, 10:46 AM
Quite right and I apologise for my flippancy.
I actually shouldn't comment on Poundbury for as an Australian I have (for some unknown bizarre reason) a hatred for the British built environment. So I will withdraw...
June 19th, 2009, 10:20 AM
Old vs. new
Designing Britain: Is Charles in charge?
Britain's leading architect cries constitutional crisis as the Prince quashes his plans for a modern neighbourhood
By Doug Saunders
London — From Wednesday's Globe and Mail, Thursday, Jun. 18, 2009 03:44AM EDT
Lord Richard Rogers is the architect who brightened Europe's cities with such landmarks as the Lloyd's Building and the Millennium Dome in London, the Pompidou Centre in Paris and the new Madrid airport terminal. Until this week, he was to design London's newest and greenest housing project.
Prince Charles is the son of Britain's head of state. He is a sworn enemy of contemporary architecture, the head and founder of an architectural organization and a man known for sending long, handwritten letters to cabinet ministers and fellow monarchs in order to get his way.
When this unstoppable force of architecture and urban planning collided with this immovable face of hereditary rule this week, something resembling a constitutional crisis exploded over London.
It was revealed Tuesday that Lord Rogers, who has spent 21/2-years designing a $6-billion neighbourhood of condominiums and affordable-housing apartments on the site of the Chelsea Barracks in West London, had been booted off the project after the Prince lobbied Sheik Hamad bin Jaber Jassim al-Thani, the project's financier and a member of the Qatari royal family.
The Prince, furthermore, has suggested that his housing organization and his favoured architect design the project themselves in the conservative, neo-Georgian style he has had built all over Britain, described as “dreary” and “kitschy” by architecture critics.
This has provoked Lord Rogers to level charges that the Prince has overstepped his constitutional bounds by meddling in political affairs.
“I think there is a dangerous precedent which the Prince has entered into,” he said Tuesday. “In my opinion, anyone who uses his power due to birth breaks a constitutional understanding and a trust we have within our society about the role of people who received power in that manner.”
He called for a parliamentary inquiry into the Prince's use of his hereditary powers to impose his tastes – and, increasingly often, his own financially successful organizations – on the public projects of Britain.
It is not an idle threat from an architect who is highly respected at the top levels of government. Lord Rogers was appointed to oversee design for the 2012 London Olympic Games, and was chairman in the 1990s of Prime Minister Tony Blair's urban taskforce, which replaced the country's ugly public-housing projects with more neighbourly, humane and ecological structures.
Politicians have become increasingly worried about Prince Charles's attempts to influence legislation on subjects as diverse as agriculture policy, vaccination and medical policy in recent years; many complain privately about “black spider” lobbying letters they receive from the prince, in his characteristic looping handwriting.
Former housing minister Nick Raynsford was one of several politicians to issue direct threats Tuesday to the monarchy.
“It is not sensible in the long-term interests of the monarchy for members of the Royal Family to be engaged in an almost feudal way in discussions with members of royal families overseas about outcomes that should be determined by the normal democratic process,” the MP said in a statement.
It is the height of a 25-year battle between the Prince and the architect, one that has reshaped the appearance of Britain's cities and towns.
It was almost exactly 25 years ago, in 1983, that a much younger Prince of Wales surprised his country by giving a blistering speech that denounced the architecture of the time. He focused on a planned extension to London's National Gallery, calling it a “carbuncle” and calling for a neoclassical design.
The designer of that extension was Richard Rogers. As a result of the Prince's plan, it too was scrapped at the 11th hour, the first of at least four of his designs to be scuppered by the Prince.
In the 1980s, modern architecture was unpopular among Britons, after cheap housing projects in the postwar years and windowless poured-concrete styles led to a profusion of bland, crumbling cubes.
So the Prince's original speech proved popular with the politicians of the day, and inspired a following. His organization, the Prince's Foundation for the Built Environment, was hired to design houses, neighbourhoods and entire towns in traditional styles.
But by the 1990s, the mood had changed. With more money spent on buildings and the world's leading architectural minds flooding into London, the country's urban skylines began to fill with exciting new buildings and the public fell in love with such structures as Norman Foster's Gherkin, Birmingham's Selfridge's building and Newcastle's dramatic Quayside development.
In that atmosphere, the Prince's proclamations began sounding anachronistic and bizarre, as he lashed out against increasingly popular and well-liked designs.
His views also seemed to present a conflict of interest. While the Prince's foundations, including his architecture foundation, are officially non-profit or charitable, they pay high salaries, including a total of $32-million to the Prince himself last year, up from $24-million in 2005.
After the Prince succeeded in killing the project this weekend, Lord Rogers reacted with fury.
“Are we going to have royalty dictating to us on modern art? Are we going to have royalty dictating our taste in music? Are we going to have royalty dictating their taste in medicine, modern or not,” he said Tuesday, in a veiled reference to the prince's political advocacy of homeopathic cures.
“No, they're not experts in those fields, but more important still it's not constitutional for them to enter into fields which are political, where they're protected and we're not protected.”
June 19th, 2009, 11:02 AM
I love those shots of Poundbury. Well tailored ...and beautifully bleak.
(globalism is a bore)