World’s most extraordinary builds shed light on home truths
I RECENTLY watched an episode of The World’s Most Extraordinary Homes currently being shown on BBC2. It features the actress Caroline Quentin and architect Piers Taylor. It made compelling viewing and I was particularly attracted to the dynamism between the two presenters. Clearly, both are passionate about homes and it was great to see down to earth views being expressed by Caroline Quentin, offset by the architectural enthusiasm of Piers Taylor. There are innumerable house projects being shown on TV, but this particular programme seems to have discovered a magical ingredient often lacking on house centered programmes. It is a joy to watch the two presenters complimenting one another. A case of yin and yang.
This particular programme highlights buildings located in beautiful wooded settings across the globe from North America to New Zealand. The houses shown portray imagination and panache, with each of them sitting comfortably in their exotic locations. It is difficult to compare houses in such locations to those found in the UK, but each has a story to tell about their setting and the way clients have interacted with their architects. It is fascinating for me to hear how much clients enjoyed the working relationships.
A good relationship is key to producing an imaginative bespoke solution.
The climate of their settings has a significant impact on the design of the homes. I have recently been able to visit Australia and witness first hand the design of new homes in hot sunny climates. Here the emphasis is on shade and keeping cool, which creates some fascinating properties.
Older colonial style properties have covered verandahs and corrugated tin roofs. Modern properties exhibit an exuberance of styles, from the gaudy and bizarre to the sleek and modern. They all sit side by side to give a jumbled visual landscape. In Australia it is the norm for people to have their own houses designed, rather than bought off the shelf – so no two buildings are the same. New homes are frequently constructed in concrete or timber frame, with a range of cladding materials such as render or pre finished sheet materials.
I found this approach almost a visual assault on the senses. While I could appreciate the care taken in many of the buildings, overall, they lacked cohesion and a sense of place, which informs much of our traditional architecture. Yet, the use of such forms and materials is a by-product of differing constructions. If we are to pursue forms of construction using off site manufacture, then it is clearly a challenge for the designer to try and create buildings, which have relevance to place. For me it is important that buildings do exhibit a sense of place and belonging, which continues the historical tradition of vernacular architecture. It is not to say that differing forms and materials are wrong, but care should be taken to design and construct buildings to continue the sense of permanence and community, which form the backbone of our towns and villages.
While individuality is important, so too, is the notion that homes built with respect to place, enable a sense of community to be formed. The spaces between buildings, the careful choice of material and scale all create this sense of place which add permanence to our surroundings. As technology advances and new materials are used, we must be aware of the challenges to the visual environment we cherish.
Embrace technology and new forms of construction, but do so with respect to our important heritage.