Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Living in glass houses…

I notice that the new homes, in the centre of Middle Tysoe, currently being erected at typical modern-building-method Benny Hill speed, are advertised as being constructed (meaning ‘faced’, if the large number of breeze-blocks being used is any indication…) in “stone”: and yet am unsure as to why this is such an important factor in their ‘saleability’; or their suitability for a locale that features many examples of (what could be called) ‘mixed media’ construction. Surely design is much more important?

As is proven by more than a few more recent village dwellings, simply being faced with ironstone – not even strictly that local, anymore: since the Hornton Masonry Company went into liquidation at the end of 2008; the shortest distance it can have travelled is the eleven miles from Great Tew (which is twice as far…) – does not mean that a structure will not end up presenting an architecturally malproportioned, aesthetically displeasing face to its neighbours. The converse is also true: there are several quite lovely brick buildings here that cannot be said to detract from their surroundings in any way. In fact, they add to them.

And, when we say “stone”, what do we mean anyway? Does it have to be ironstone, rock- or pitch-faced, with a large amount of pointing on display – as seems to be de rigueur…? Or will smoothed ashlar masonry (as featured on a select number of Tysoe’s relatively recent dwellings) suffice? Can we use cast, or reconstituted, stone: which, supposedly, “evokes a sense of timelessness which fits in with any type of massive construction, from domestic housing to cathedrals”? Or should we stick with the technology of our main church’s “Squared, coursed ironstone”; and pretend that we have not moved on since its “Late C11 origins, with late C12, C13, C14 and C15 alterations”; or maybe the nearer-present 1854 restoration by George Gilbert Scott? (I actually think it would be fun to have a few English Gothic revival houses scattered around the place! At least they’d have character – if done properly… – something that appears to be unacceptable to established/establishment predilections, nowadays.)

If all Tysoe’s new/additional dwellings – and we are supposed to have between fifty and seventy-five, by 2031, according to the latest version of the Core Strategy; although Gladman obviously wish us to have a great deal more than this (welcome to Tysoe City…) – were built from the same material, and to similar designs (continuing the current thematic trend), would we not be as guilty as the planners who plonked Trinity Mead, Poppy Meadow, St Peter’s Way, etc. around Stratford-upon-Avon – simply manufacturing our boxes from a (possibly) higher grade of “Poundbury-pastiche” ticky-tacky?

Why should we pretend that our vibrant village stopped evolving (i.e. died) at some arbitrary fixed – but almost certainly indefinable – point in time? What is wrong with what I previously called “Architecture with heart and brains” – designs that are led jointly by their environmental as well as visual impact; that use modern materials, or ancient materials in a modern way? If we build, say, eighteenth-century style homes; will they have eighteenth-century facilities (and eighteenth-century draughts) – hiding our non-eighteenth-century horseless carriages bolted behind faux stable-doors?

As I wrote a few days ago, “we live in… a beautiful place… – the random conglomeration of different building styles bringing variety and harmony, rather than discord”. Our village’s beauty is intensified, not diminished, by the assortment of different building materials, as well… – “Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale Her infinite variety.”

But, perhaps, other residents in the village feel differently about this? In the recent Neighbourhood Plan survey, I noticed that one of the questions mentioned that “Tysoe has developed over many hundreds of years. Today, the character of the Parish reflects many different building styles and materials”; and asked for respondents’ opinions – from Strongly Agree to Strongly Disagree – on the following:
  • Plan should encourage uniform design and consistent use of materials in all future development.
  • Plan should encourage a continuation of the eclectic mix of existing design and materials.
  • Plan should encourage new housing built in a traditional local style using local stone.
  • Plan should encourage new housing built to reflect local style, but using reconstituted stone or modern brick.
  • Plan should encourage modern housing, reflecting style of housing in other areas.
  • It is important to get new houses built, and the exact style is of secondary importance.

Having spent half a lifetime writing and designing questionnaires, I know how difficult it is not to “reflect” your own loves and hates in ordering such multiple-choice responses: in their phraseology, and in their sequencing – especially if you are not aware of your own innate biases; and these are not caught in the review process. It is also easy to fall headlong into the trap of ordering options (synonymous with choices, alternatives, preferences, possibilities, selections) in line with those you foresee being returned.

I’m sure you can quite easily predict my responses to the above; but I look forward to finding out if I am truly the nonconformist I feel myself to be.

However, if the majority believes that all Cotswold villages – as well as those in proximity – are only successful (whatever that means) if they are suitable subjects for identikit postcards; the tops of mass-produced chocolate boxes; or for the habitation of Stepford Wives, then it is a sad day indeed. Homes should be designed to live in; as well as to look at – and, therefore, what may suit one person will not suit another. As General Patton said: “If everyone is thinking alike, then somebody isn’t thinking.”

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