Wednesday 28 November 2012

Any Excuse for a Picture of Venice...

'The built environment can be more beautiful than nature,' declares Planning Minister Nick Boles, calling for more open land to be built over as a means of 'solving a housing problem'. He envisages 'beautiful' building that is sensitive to its locality - at which point one is tempted to suggest that he really ought to get out more. Are the developers currently blighting the land with what even Boles can see is 'ugly rubbish' suddenly going to be converted into enlightened and sensitive builders, creating houses that fit their setting and are pleasing to the eye? Even if they could - and most of them are architecturally illiterate - they would have to price such houses very high, which is hardly going to solve any housing problem.
 The built environment can indeed be more beautiful than nature - the city of Venice, for example, is surely one of the most beautiful things on the surface of the Earth. But a large part of that beauty is down to its setting in the lagoon, to sky and light and water (i.e. Nature), to buildings consciously created for beauty and grandeur - and built to last - and to centuries of history and human activity.
 Houses that live up to Nick Boles's ideal already exist, in choice parts of the country, solidly built with local materials, bedded into the landscape, each with its little plot of land - and these models of commodity, firmness and delight cost a fortune, because everyone wants them and they can't be reproduced. The likely future for the British landscape, if Boles gets his way, is that much more of it will disappear under the familiar extrasuburban sprawl of standardised Noddy Vernacular houses, poorly built, poky, clumsily detailed, placeless, historyless, owing nothing and contributing nothing to their setting. This might help to ease the housing shortage, but it will certainly do nothing to beautify the land.


  1. I agree with you wholeheartedly on the Noddy Vernaculars. In addition to your adjectives, the rooms are insultingly small, useless for anything.

    But I like the cut of Nick Boles' jib - everything he said on Newsnight last night seemed sensible.

  2. Quite so Brit - lots of tiny rooms, despite the trend toward one-person households - and Boles's aspirations seem fine. It's just that the reality will surely be yet more 'ugly rubbish'.

  3. The MP, Rory Stewart, reports on a pleasing alternative in Cumbria to the Noddy Vernacular sprawl:

  4. That sounds like a brilliant scheme Mary - once again co-operation, mutuality, self-help, the way forward!