Monday, 17 February 2014

What do we want? When do we want it? Never…

Playing devil’s advocate, if – and I stress (again), if… – Gladman were to be successful, what sort of development would we want (or need) to appear on Mr White’s field: given that we would have no choice in whether building took place; but we might have one when it comes to what building took place, courtesy of our nascent Neighbourhood Plan?

Watching the first half of Jonathan Meades’ Bunkers, Brutalism and Bloodymindedness: Concrete Poetry, last night, on BBC Four, it struck me that we could use the opportunity (should it arise – and I, for one, sincerely hope it does not) to build something out of the ordinary.

What do I mean by that? Well, firstly, I have to concur with Mr Meades, and admit to being a lifelong fan of what was misnamed ‘New Brutalism’ (a misunderstanding of ‘béton brut’: meaning, simply, raw concrete – which would make the Pantheon ‘brutal’…): my personal favourite being the Barbican, in London (which I know at least as well as Arthur Scargill…). Secondly, I am not proposing that we build a mini Unité d’Habitation – however stunning – on the outskirts of Tysoe. (That would be stretching the elastic band of suitability beyond breaking-point.) Thirdly, nor am I in favour of a Poundbury-pastiche-style of housing estate (again, a place I know well – and hate – principally because of its Legoist ‘New Urbanism’ so-called architecture; but also because of the ruined views from, and contexts of, Poundbury Hill and Maiden Castle).

There is, of course, a final proviso – which was also pointed out by Meades – that whatever art is now popular (and, believe me, architecture is art), it was frequently misunderstood, derided, even hated, by the majority, at the time of its creation. This goes for music – e.g. Beethoven’s fifth symphony – and literature – Ulysses – as well as the obvious examples of Picasso or my beloved Henry Moore. It takes a long time for people to move beyond inherited opinion; for progress in any of the arts to reveal the splendour that was there all along; for it to be understood and appreciated. (This is not to say, of course, that all of what passes for modern art – e.g. chainsawed sharks; coloured dots; jingly-jangly, non-tonal ‘music’ – will be seen as classical, or works of genius, in the future. Some of it will undoubtedly be seen as crass and talentless; and will fall into the Room 101 of already-discarded, faded-from-memory, trash.)

Parallel with this is the fact that we don’t expect art, film, literature, or music (just) to be beautiful (depending on your definition of beauty…). Emotional: yes. Engaging: I would hope so. Effective and expressive: of course. Elegant (or pretty): why…?

So we come back to the subjective subject of suitability. Tysoe is surrounded by beautiful countryside; rolling hills; the Cotswolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB); the fertile flood plain of the Stour – and is therefore not deserving either of little urban boxes “all made out of ticky tacky”, and which “all look just the same” (think Trinity Mead: a cloned nightmare of thoughtless, lack-of-designed, front-garden-less, enclosed misery); nor of a “concrete monstrosity” (as some would have it…).

According to Meades: “something that is universally tolerated is likely to be pretty boring. Anything that’s any good, and original, is going to incite hatred as much as it does adoration – because of the very fact that it’s so unfamiliar.” And, as you’ll have guessed by now, I agree.

It would be easy – and obvious – to just copy the style of some imagined Olde Tysoe; learn it by rote; and then reproduce eighty examples of it all mindlessly over the field (not that we are a village of uniform styles: having evolved over centuries). But should we be so led down the path of least resistance by “universal toleration” and sameness? Our victory at the planning hearing was led by a full-frontal charge of sustainability – and this could be our sole chance (until, perhaps, legislation catches up), as a group, to develop something with this as its lead objective. Couple this with a power-generating wind-turbine, or two, on Tysoe Hill, and Tysoe would become a shining, green beacon: generating profit for its residents, as well as power; and publicity (of the good kind) for a community that actually practises what it preaches.

There are many such examples already out there… – not that we should repeat them by rote, either. We should be leaders; not followers.

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