Rural British Architecture – The Crisis

Posted on June 15, 2010


In my opinion there is a national (at the least) crisis in rural and sub-rural architecture. At some point in time we must have completely lost our way to reach our current, bleak, standpoint. The problem that I am referring to is encapsulated and realised in new housing developments just outside of towns all over the country. Little soulless gatherings of what I can best describe as non-descript, sub-urban style houses, all wearing their cost driven status like a bad Hawaiian shirt.

For me the most striking and desperate issue here is the complete lack of both identity and apparent genius loci.  If we must swallow up the countryside why do it with such reckless abandon and blind thoughtlessness. If you wake to find yourself suffering from short-term amnesia on any one of a huge number of estates you will have absolutely no idea where in the country you are or what kind of countryside you are occupying or what nature has been displaced. One will often see, in these cases, some offering of green space full of alien shrubbery, the one bit of land allocated to nature is as unrecognisable as the buildings.

Ecological sustainability may not seem a related problem in itself as these buildings could be made to be carbon neutral without changing them aesthetically. But sustainable building needs to be brought in as an influence to the design process (not to drive design, I hasten to add). An area that I think needs more attention is how to spark sustainable communities, socially sustainable living. This is interrelated (not completely integrated) to the problems of place and identity.

Much of this ridiculous building goes under the title ‘affordable homes’, a phrase that could now be used as an aesthetical adjective. Whether it’s for the money-munching developers or housing societies one thing is clear; to appeal to either an alternative solution must be equally cheap to produce. What is also obvious is that there is no time to lose, there are continuously projects of the kind going up everywhere.

Posted in: Architecture, Britain