When beauty hits a brick wall

Country Life Every Week - - Letters To The Editor -

THE hous­ing cri­sis is no ex­cuse for the crass ug­li­ness that some coun­cils are al­low­ing to be built in the coun­try­side. Beau­ti­ful scenery is be­ing dis­fig­ured by repet­i­tive, unimag­i­na­tive de­signs, so it was with real de­light that Agromenes came across the home that re­cently won a ma­jor award from the Royal So­ci­ety of Ar­chi­tects in Wales (RSAW).

Not that the pro­ject started aus­pi­ciously. Owner Sue Pea­cock wasn’t much at­tracted by the tum­ble­down chicken shed in Trel­lech, Mon­mouthshire, but what did cap­ture her imag­i­na­tion was the strik­ing view the chick­ens got of the Black Moun­tains. She knew there were few op­por­tu­ni­ties for an in­di­vid­ual to build a house to catch such a vista, but she wanted to do more than that: she wanted to im­prove it.

For £275,000, she trans­formed the di­lap­i­dated, largely aban­doned barn into a four-bed­room house that com­ple­ments its sur­round­ings. In­stead of a rack­ety ruin topped by a gal­vanised roof, there is now a light-filled house, which, in the words of the RSAW, ‘is very sim­ple and el­e­gant… a small pro­ject with a gen­er­ous and up­lift­ing ethos’.

What a good phrase that is. Sadly, it can’t be ap­plied to most of the hous­ing that’s be­ing plonked all over the coun­try­side. Take as an ex­am­ple of th­ese reach-me-down houses a de­vel­op­ment in the an­cient Suf­folk mar­ket town of Fram­ling­ham. Crowned by its Nor­man cas­tle and great me­dieval church, this is a se­ri­ously beau­ti­ful place, yet the de­vel­op­ment is nei­ther gen­er­ous nor up­lift­ing: it’s a se­ries of stan­dard­ised houses that does noth­ing to en­hance the place.

Per­sim­mon’s mar­ket­ing spiel waxes lyri­cal about the beauty of this An­glo-saxon set­tle­ment with more than 70 listed build­ings, but, in­stead of be­ing in­spired by its neigh­bours, the com­pany has con­structed houses that could have been built any­where. The names give it away: The Corfe, The Souter, The Ched­worth, The Lum­ley, none of which have any­thing to do with Suf­folk. A four-bed­room house, priced at £337,995, is a far cry from Miss Pea­cock’s ‘sim­ple and el­e­gant’ cre­ation.

Big cor­po­ra­tions build houses in beau­ti­ful places in or­der to ben­e­fit from that beauty, but, so of­ten, they don’t con­sider they have a duty to add to that beauty or to pay proper dues for the love­li­ness that helps sell their prod­ucts. It doesn’t need to be like that. At the other end of Fram­ling­ham, there’s a de­vel­op­ment of an en­tirely dif­fer­ent kind. It’s not by a gi­ant busi­ness that builds 18,000 houses a year, but by East Anglian-based Hop­kins Homes, which cre­ates fewer than 1,000.

The site al­ready looks as if it’s part of the town; its de­signs are gen­uinely thought­ful and re­flect lo­cal ar­chi­tec­tural styles. This is a com­pany that wants to be thought of as a con­trib­u­tor to the towns and vil­lages in which it builds, which is why there’s an at­mos­phere about its houses and flats. They are al­ready ‘of the place’ and there’s a qual­ity that the nascent sense of com­mu­nity al­ready pro­vides.

In 100 years’ time, peo­ple will still want th­ese homes, just as they will still ad­mire Miss Pea­cock’s per­sonal con­tri­bu­tion to the Welsh hills. They’ll look at the other es­tate— if it’s still there—and won­der how any coun­cil gave it plan­ning per­mis­sion and how any com­pany had the gall to de­mand it.

‘Cor­po­ra­tions ben­e­fit from beauty but, so of­ten, don’t con­sider they have a duty to add to it

Fol­low @agromenes on Twit­ter

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