Friday, October 28, 2016

Correspondence: City planning & tipping point

Edited by Moristotle

Poundbury , the Prince of Wales’s traditionalist village in Dorset, has long been mocked as a feudal Disneyland. But a growing and diverse community suggests it’s getting a lot of things right: “A royal revolution: is Prince Charles’s model village having the last laugh?” [Oliver Wainwright, Guardian, October 27]. Excerpt:
“It’s not quite what most people expect,” says Ben Pentreath, one of the architects who have been engaged in producing replica Georgian terraces and quaint country cottages here over the last two decades. In jeans and New Balance trainers, the designer isn’t quite what you would expect from a classical architect, either. “For 20 years, this place has been treated as a joke, a whim of HRH,” he says. “But something quietly radical has been going on – and it’s got nothing to do with architecture.”
    It is easy to get distracted by the buildings. From flint-clad cottages and Scottish baronial villas to Palladian mansions and miniature pink gothic castles, Poundbury is a merry riot of porticoes and pilasters, mansards and mouldings, sampling from the rich history of architectural pattern books with promiscuous glee. On the outside of its breeze-block walls, Pentreath’s Butter Cross bakery is dressed as an early 19th-century brick gazebo, crowned with a gilded fibreglass orb. It looks on to a little market square, where cast-iron verandahs face off against a creamy rendered terrace, watched over by a neoclassical office block that is raised on an arcaded plinth. It might seem grand for a village square, but it’s nothing compared with the latest set-piece tableau a few streets away, unveiled by the Queen today....
    Now two-thirds complete, this “urban extension” is home to a community of more than 3,000 residents, with around 1,500 homes (35% of which are let at affordable rent, pepper-potted throughout the development) and 2,000 jobs in 185 businesses. It has industry, shops and small workshop units mixed in among terraced streets, apartment blocks, mews houses and squares, arranged in such a way that the layout of buildings defines the street pattern, rather than being straitjacketed into a car-dominated grid. The streets are winding and deliberately chaotic to calm traffic, with blind bends and no stop signs or any other signage, while each neighbourhood is planned to be no more than a five-minute walk to its centre....
    But the chief success has been achieving the holy grail of genuine mixed use. As well as the medical clinics and vets, offices of lawyers and accountants, travel agents and a funeral home, there is a thriving chocolate and cereal factory, a tech company making components for plane wings, along with 80 small units for startup businesses scattered among the porticoes. “We sort of reinvented medieval workshops by mistake,” says Poundbury’s estate director, Simon Conibear, listing the enterprises, ranging from those making cakes and wedding dresses to curtains and electric bikes, two-thirds of which are run by women.
    A primary school is also under construction, reflecting the increasing number of young families moving to Poundbury. “I thought it was a retirement village,” says Aaron Watkins, who opened menswear shop Clath here last month, stocking Red Wing and YMC, rather than Hunter and Barbour. “But it’s a really mixed demographic with loads of younger people moving down from London.”
    Despite the leaded windows, the place has impressive energy credentials, too. An anaerobic digester nearby uses local farm waste to create enough fuel to power up to 56,000 homes on the Dorset grid, as well as charging the electric blue bus that trundles between Poundbury and Dorchester (bridging the “us and them” divide, which has softened over the years). So does this quaint experiment deserve all the derision?....
    As for aesthetics, there has been much hand-wringing in the architectural community over the “honesty” of Poundbury, questioning how faithful it is to both the local vernacular (it’s not) and natural materials (ditto), two of the prince’s primary tenets. Most of the stone is reconstituted, the traditional facades hide steel frames and blockwork walls, and much of the “metalwork” is painted fibreglass. Krier professes truth to materials, but Pentreath is frank. “We are engaged in creating a convincing fake,” he says. “All architecture is essentially wallpaper: underneath, it’s all the same stuff.” [read more]

[From a friend in the State of North Carolina, where Governor Pat McCrory is running for re-election:]
How opposed is my wife to the current governor? When WUNC Public Radio aired an interview with him today, she turned the dial to WCPE The Classical Station, which wasn’t even playing music, but was having a pledge drive. Rather than hear the governor’s voice, she would prefer to listen to requests for donations and repetitions of the number to call to make a pledge.

[The following story may or may not be true. But I thank the person who sent me such a touching story of human consideration and appreciation:]
In the days when an ice cream sundae cost much less than it does today, a 10-year-old boy entered a hotel coffee shop and sat down at a table. A waitress put a glass of water in front of him. “How much is an ice cream sundae?” he asked.
    “Fifty cents,” replied the waitress.
    The little boy pulled is hand out of his pocket and studied the coins in it. “Well, how much is a plain dish of ice cream?” he inquired.
    By now more people were waiting for a table and the waitress was growing impatient. “Thirty-five cents,” she brusquely replied.
    The little boy again counted his coins. “I’ll have the plain ice cream,” he said.
    The waitress brought the ice cream, put the bill on the table and walked away. The boy finished the ice cream, paid the cashier, and left.
    When the waitress came back, she saw, placed neatly beside the empty dish, two nickels and five pennies. She began to cry as she wiped down the table, realizing that the boy hadn’t had a sundae because he wanted to have enough left to leave her a tip.
Grateful for correspondence, Moristotle

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