THOUGHTS ON THE BUILDING BETTER, BUILDING BEAUTIFUL COMMISSION
by MALCOLM BIRKS
Commissioning clients, Architects, Landscape Architects and Planners should focus on the beauty and aesthetics of development whilst still delivering facility.
Not a quote that I simply picked out of some design book but one highlighted in the government’s recently published ‘Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission’.
The Commission is a government initiative designed to tackle the challenge of poor-quality design across the country to ensure that development becomes more consensual. The job of the Commission is to gather evidence from both the public and private sectors to develop practical policy solutions to ensure the design and style of new development promotes a sense of community and place rather than undermine it.
Building ‘ugly’ is not the prerogative of this generation. Long before Pete Seeger had his hit with ‘Little Boxes’ in 1962 (incidentally the only NIMBY driven pop song ever written) human nature, profit and idleness has meant that development has often, and justifiably, been condemned as invasive and inappropriate.
The landowners and developers are generally assumed to be the guilty parties but I would actually propose that the lazy application of planning policy must take a fair share of the blame.
Our response to the Commission’s enquiries is to suggest that the standard ‘approach in planning which leans towards the vernacular is culpable in the consistent building of mediocrity, particularly in our rural areas. Developers and their designers are encouraged to take a lead from the style of the surrounding buildings which in many cases may be varied and range from Georgian to Victorian to Edwardian. What invariably comes out of the design process is a lesser version of the original, built with materials that are not appropriate to that style. In many cases the ‘vernacular’ is actually not that special and it is only the old stone work and the slated roof that makes it charming. Take away those elements and you are left with an underwhelming and deceitful design.
The Commission must deliver policy that encourages development which responds to the existing landscape and built environment, and rather than trying to duplicate it in the cause of ‘impact mitigation’ creates something new and beautiful that brings new life and new perspectives.
The increasingly successful application of what started as the ’Gummer Clause’, now Paragraph 79 in the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), has demonstrated how policy really can enhance landscapes and add to our appreciation of living within them through the delivery of new houses of exceptional or innovative design. Measured against the excitement this offers it seems strange that the mundane is generally preferred to the exceptional in the standard approach to planning for new homes in our rural towns and villages.
Fundamental to great design is landscape and the relationship between what is already there and what is to come. Here are some examples of how the fusion of design across the natural and the built environment has produced outcomes that are not only exceptional in terms of utility and practicality but more importantly are Built better and Built beautiful.