When beauty hits a brick wall
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
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