This week, Housing Minister Grant Shapp’s wrote to the Design Council, which has taken over the charred remains of the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (CABE), torched in the Coalition’s ‘bonfire of the quangos’. He urged them to support local communities in demanding high quality, locally distinctive architecture from the developers and (fingers crossed) architects involved in their Neighbourhood Plan and Community Right to Build projects. Shapps writes:
We all recognise the bog standard, identikit Legoland homes that typify some new developments – all looking exactly the same on streets that could be anywhere in the country. Whilst we are seeing good examples emerging, too often new developments are dominated by the same, identikit designs that bear no resemblance to the character of the local area.
I want more developers to think outside these Legoland designs and consider how the expertise, knowledge and materials that are locally available could be best used to reflect the identity of their surrounding neighbourhood.
But power also rests in the hands of the residents. Neighbourhood plans, designed and voted on by communities themselves, could offer vital support to those architects and developers who are more sensitive to the look and feel of the place in which they are building.
Hear, hear! So was Shapps about to beat a path to our door here at Ruralise? Well, not quite. It is reported that a development called The Russells in Worcestershire was the sort of thing he had in mind. To be fair, the project has won a CABE/Building for Life ‘Gold Standard’, but the Building for Life Standards actually test rather generic qualities of developments (albeit very important qualities) and I’m afraid I’m still getting more than a whiff of Lego from the Russells. Maybe it’s better in the flesh, but the photos seem to show us fake old buildings. Well-built perhaps, and in its own terms (I would contend), well-designed…but plundering the past, not representing the present or imagining the future.