Monday, 19 May 2014

Poundbury

On 3 April last, while on holiday in Dorset, I visited Dorchester. On the way in from the west I parked Fiona in Poundbury, and had a look around.

Poundbury is an architectural experiment, an urban development associated with the Prince of Wales. It's been under construction since 1993 on his land - originally the open fields of Poundbury Farm. So at least 'Poundbury' is a real name, and not something invented to sound all rural and Thomas-Hardy. Prince Charles has well-known views on what constitutes 'good' architecture. To my mind these can be summarised by words such as:

# human
# vernacular
# proportion
# variety
# medium density
# pleasant for pedestrians

But not words such as

# shocking
# exciting
# metropolitan
# concrete
# sprawling
# geared primarily for the car

There is of course a lot of concrete! But there is even more brick, and stone, and a host of features that though eclectic - some would even say that Poundbury is bricolage at its worst and most contrived - do, to my own mind, come together to create something well worth a visit. Poundbury is not like other new towns. It has old-fashioned wynds and squares and perspectives. It's like a traditional country town, and yet like no English town that ever was before. It's an urban ideal come to life, for you can live there and enjoy the ambience. Poundbury is about this:


And not this:


This:


And not this:


And they are still building it. By 2025 it should be rivalling the size of Dorchester itself. I think it's very appealing, excellent for the house or flat dweller who is comfortably-off and likes surroundings of a certain sort. I like it better than I used to. In a post titled Jolly happenings in Shaftesbury on 21 June 2012, I said this of the Poundbury style of building:

On the eastern approach [of Shaftesbury], off the A30, a rash of Poundbury-style town houses has recently appeared. Poundbury is the semi-posh western suburb of Dorchester, the county town - developed with the express approval of Prince Charles the Architect - that has allowed only 'houses of character' to be erected, some of them faintly bizarre, a contrived, idealised urban vision that seems a bit out of place so far from the Metropolis. I'm not mocking Poundbury, nor this imitation at Shaftesbury. The houses are individually all different, they do have character of a sort, and are built to high standards. And all are naturally very green and eco-friendly. They just seem an odd sight, and really have nothing in common with the genuinely old buildings in the town proper [referring to Shaftesbury, but you can say 'Dorchester' if you like]. This said, if I ever wanted to live in Shaftesbury, I would have to consider a town house like this. Which means that I would probably instead live a mile or two out of town, in a nice bungalow with a view of sorts. Lucy Melford of Melbury Abbas, perhaps. Sounds good.

I've changed my mind. Thatched cottages deep in the countryside are now out. I need to be near shops and hospitals and stations and good restaurants and handy places of culture. If ever I become a townie, Poundbury will do fine - except for two things: there are no bungalows in Poundbury, and nowhere to park a caravan. But then, I wouldn't consider becoming a townie unless I'd given up caravan ownership! I don't want a place with stairs in it, though.

So I had parked Fiona, and was starting in the newer part. I was last in Poundbury in September 2004 - almost ten years ago - when M--- and I came in to attend a property auction at Brownsword Hall in the older part, as reported in my post on 22 April 2013 titled Property auctions. I thought that in more recent years the developers had been building to an even better standard. Here's some views that exemplify what the newer parts of Poundbury look like:


An incredible mix of 'traditional' building styles, drawing on a range of Traditional British vernacular styles. Some of it is Italianate, reminding one of builds like Clough Williams-Ellis's Portmeirion in North Wales (which I intend to see for myself soon) - only in a Dorset setting, with ancient earthworks like Maiden Castle on the near horizon; and not set on a wooded bluff next to the wide-open sands of a river estuary. In Poundbury the person on foot is continually treated to fresh and enticing glimpses of rooftops, chimneys, doorways, archways, passages, porticos, and sundry street furniture. Nowhere is there uniformity.

As you can see, street parking is allowed, and there is plenty of it. Note the yellow-gravelled walkways: no slipping here when it's frosty! There are no obstacles for the pedestrian. Indeed, the attractive streets and alleyways encourage walking.

The older parts, closer in to Dorchester itself, are now weathering and mellowing, and gaining a certain patina, although I stress that none of this building work is older than twenty-one years. The way that 'age' has been built into the very fabric of each house and office and shop is fascinating. It's also nice to see maturing front gardens and other planting.


I noticed that the impression of age was being enhanced by special renderings that have leached coloured oxide streaks and other blotches. Clever, and not too contrived:


These touches extended to gutters. The ironwork may have been modern, but the stonework looked nineteenth-century:


Could it in fact have been original? As Thomas Hardy himself might have seen it? But no, this had been farmland not so long ago. And this black-painted Victorian postbox wasn't there before 1993, nor the 'old brick barn' behind it:


You know it's all an illusion; but my goodness, it looks so very much like a planned town built a hundred years ago, and simply maintained in an immaculate state ever since. There's no litter, no graffiti, no dog poo, no noisy children. No flash cars, no tatty vans, no stray cats and dogs. I have to say that I met only adults, and they were clearly educated and affluent. The sort you meet in Waitrose! (Even though for their 'Village Stores' residents have to make do with a Budgens like any other - except for its colonnaded exterior) And yet this is a real place to live in, and not a film set.

The heart of 'old' Poundbury was approaching.


The somewhat French-looking building on substantial arched columns is the previously-mentioned Brownsword Hall. It's supposed to resemble the Market Hall at Tetbury, in Gloucestershire. Tetbury is of course just down the road from Prince Charles's country home at Highgrove. I do not know how much input the Prince has had in the creation of Poundbury, but I am happy to agree that his principles for reasonable, civilised, human and visually-pleasing architecture have been realised here. I also see how certain academics and those inclined to restrain the Prince and his influence might pick up plenty of ammunition on a stroll around the place.

In the end though, the test is whether the residents like it, value it, and are passionate about its defence. Well, provided the interiors of their houses and flats are warm and well-designed, with fittings that work, why shouldn't they like Poundbury? And drink to the Prince's good health - with a toast wishing confusion to his opponents - in the Village Pub?

It's called the Poet Laureate, by the way. Say no more, squire!

6 comments:

  1. By the time it is all finished it will be outdated. I quite like architecture of all types, classical, modern, avant garde, I am fascinated with it all. You have shown a wide selection here. At this rate Lucy you will use up your on-line allocated space in no time.

    Shirley Anne x

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  2. Well, dear me. I visit the place specially. I take dozens of my own photographs. I make a careful selection to illustrate a serious post. And all you say is that Google will blow the whistle on me if I go on inserting pictures in my posts. Makes a girl annoyed, that kind of comment.

    In any case, you're well behind the game. I upped my Blogger picture storage allowance to 20GB way back in November 2011, for a very reasonable $5.75, about £3.

    Lucy

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  3. It is called sarcasm my dear, not a dig at the number of pictures you post though I do think there are rather a lot of them. Did I say that Google will blow the whistle? I think you'll find I didn't.
    Shirley Anne x

    ReplyDelete
  4. Well, I see no call for sarcasm. And, in any case, who ever likes to read it? Whose enjoyment or understanding is ever increased by it? Mine wasn't.

    I've no reason to doubt that you find pleasure in architecture, but as it is concerned with shapes, spaces and materials, a lot of photographs seem necessary, to put across the total effect of the designer's and builder's work.

    Lucy

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  5. Prince Charles is to be applauded for his very public stand against bad architecture. Poundbury isn't to everyone's taste but it's a bold experiment and shows how several architectural styles can be combined to good effect. And no, I don't believe it will become 'dated'.

    One thing does puzzle me, though; where are the people? The streets seem deserted. Perhaps they're all in the Poet Lauriate!

    ReplyDelete
  6. Yes, it was oddly depopulated for midday! Perhaps everyone was working somewhere else, and later on it would seem much busier.

    Lucy

    ReplyDelete

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