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2 posts from April 2013

26 April 2013

They Could be Heroes: Architects and the Housing Crisis

The planning minister has bugged my studio: Nick Boles exhorted developers this week to build beautiful places. You heard it here first. Well maybe not, but that's my story. While the "housing crisis" is complex at least aesthetics have finally become part of the debate.

Here's quite an interesting article about the commercialisation of the architecture profession - watch out Portland Place - and the commodification of architecture itself:


Quite exciting stuff, especially in the week that Zaha Hadid won Business Woman of the Year (is there a Business Man of the Year???). The housing crisis presents a once in a lifetime opportunity for architects to be the heroes of the piece and quite literally save the country.

The Case Study programme of the post WW2 period in California is surely an inspiring template when it comes to revolutionising the way we think about the buildings we live in (and their location). At the same time we would do well to study the causes of this "crisis": population growth and social mores.

The more people, and the more people living singularly or in smaller "units", the more homes that need to be created, along with all the associated infrastructure.

As we are not the only creatures on this planet is it really acceptable to address the "housing crisis' from one end only, that of building more homes, and not to also think of creative, positive ways to manage what has created a pressure on housing in the first place?

Sadly it feels like discussion of the drivers behind population growth, and even the benefits of the family, though inextricably connected to the issue of housing, is mean spirited, smacking of xenophobia and social engineering. And yet a problem can only be throughly solved if it is thoroughly understood, as any designer or architect will tell you.

12 April 2013

buildings that break your heart

When I was 14 years old I spent what-feels-like-a-whole summer now, but was probably only 3 maybe 2 weeks, in a place called Abbotsbury in West Dorset with my Grandmother.


Those few weeks were amongst the most joyful of my "growing-up" and, on reflection, a kind of going-away party for my childhood. 


Abbotsbury is on the coast, in fact on the famous geological phenomenon that is Chesil Beach, and by any estimation is chocolate-box pretty. Back in 1981 it was still very much an agricultural village.

My grandmother had gone to Abbotsbury to live with her brother, my Great Uncle Charlie, a year or so previously. Both widowed it made sense for these two siblings, who clearly loved each other's company, to keep each other company. And they did, with much fun had on whist drives at The Swan and gardening in their allotment. 


Charlie had long past retired from his post as stationmaster at Abbotsbury Station, lost to Beeching back in 1952, and lived in a cottage in the village belonging to the Estate, that is the Ilchester Estates, owners of Abbotsbury, plus quite a bit more of Dorset, not to mention West London, namely Holland Park.


When Charlie died in the Spring of '81 it seemed like  a good idea that I visit that Summer: my Mother was doubtless glad of some respite from a teenager and my Grandmother ceased to be alone. At least for a while.

So the cottage I stayed in with my Grandmother was in fact Charlie's. Though in reality it belonged to "the Estate", whose rent was paid at the Estate Office in the village every month.

Living in East Devon now it's a short distance to Abbotsbury, and one of my favourite haunts, the Sub-Tropical Gardens, where even on a Winter's day you can imagine yourself in the Caribbean, at least if you're inside the plantation style restaurant. And maybe have a glass of wine or three.

Turning up in Abbotsbury recently my love and I made the usual pilgrimage to Rosemary Lane, the site of my Grandmother's cottage, and as we stood there the owners returned from a trip out. We explained why we were staring at their home and in turn they told us that the cottage had that day gone on the market for sale and would we like a tour. We of course accepted (lovely, lovely owners).

What followed was, well, I fumble for the words to explain that dreamy visit.

Arranged over two floors my Grandmother's home consisted of no more than 350 sq ft, 219 square feet on the ground floor with the rest upstairs. (This is but a third of the cottage now for sale, the adjacent and larger property having been connected to make one dwelling.)

With the bathroom - well loo and a basin outside - the kitchen was then confined to a section of the ground floor of mainly dining/living room, with massive fireplace. Upstairs were two bedrooms.

From the back garden you can see St Catherine's Chapel, far away on the hill, and to the right I could see in my mind's eye my Uncle Charlie's ridiculous, fabulous gladioli.

Tears inevitably flowed. 

Though my business is buildings it's amazing to me how powerfully buildings - even the simplest - grab our hearts....even for a lifetime. 

For a sneak peak at this piece of heaven go to http://www.primelocation.com/for-sale/details/28142711?search_identifier=d25cfcea0c446695b801d5a1f6a6578c

And do visit Abbotsbury for everything above plus The Swannery and a breathtaking Tithe Barn.