The Cork Rural Design Guide

In a recent post I talked about the impact that local ‘design guides’ might have on how developers approach the design of new housing, and previously I’d talked a bit about the Norfolk Residential Design Guide. I noted that aside from David Summers’ rather lovely but stylistically indefinite sketches, it is illustrated primarily with pictures of either old buildings or modern buildings in a pastiche/reproduction style. The text briefly claims that ‘it is not the intention of this Guide to specify how buildings look…It is not intended to stifle creative design or just to create a pastiche of the traditional village street’…but the illustrations and photos do seem to pull in a different direction. The Cork Rural Design Guide is not so cagey…

The Cork guide (compiled by Colin Buchanan and Partners) has a very clear aesthetic agenda, promoting contemporary reinterpretations of the county’s rural vernacular, spelling out in great detail the underlying ‘grammar’ of the typical rural house – roof pitch, plan depth, window proportion, scale of dormers, general absence of ‘architectural detail’. Each of these themes is spelled out in great detail with clear diagrams (by Mike Shanahan + Associates) and photographs of contemporary buildings carefully chosen to illustrate them.

To be fair to the Norfolk guide, it was drafted in 1998, a full five years earlier than its Irish counterpart, and it does grapple with slightly different issues – in particular the likelihood of new homes in Norfolk being built in groups, often rather large groups. Much of the Norfolk guide is concerned with explaining the difference between traffic dominated road-layouts and attractive residential streetscapes. Interestingly, the Cork guide has one section on ‘choosing a site’; anyone who harbours a desire to build a one-off house in rural England, and has found out how close to impossible it is to do so, will read this chapter with some envy!

I’m guessing the days when the ‘Celtic tiger’ created the opportunity for many in Ireland to build their own house in a rural setting may seem like a distant memory in the country today, but perhaps things are about to get easier in England. The Community Right to Build seems to offer a new opportunity for small scale development in rural areas; perhaps the Norfolk Design Residential Guide is due for an update, with this in mind.

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