An insult to the vernacular and a travesty of Modernism
I am not a young architect but, as yet, I am mercifully not afflicted by any major ailment.
I therefore support the sponsored cycle ride from Land's End to John o'Groats undertaken by Peter Murray of Wordsearch. His ride was in aid of the Sarah Matheson trust for Multiple System Astrophy (MSA, a little-known disease where symptoms are often confused with Parkinson's disease). Peter, who is no spring chicken, completed this 1,000-mile journey in 12 days - the journey is important.
I am in Padstow and, while working, looking out of a window towards the harbour. I do not know whether Peter cycled past here, as his route - printed on the sponsor form - is simply a dotted line on a map of the UK, denoting only Land's End and John o'Groats. This modern knight might have done well to reflect on the Arthurian legends as he pedalled his trusty steed northwards, enjoying the south-west prevailing wind which pressed him on to his destination. On a more prosaic note, if he did stop in Padstow, he would have observed the dire effects of new buildings being erected to 'fit in' with a perception of what ought to be there. It is almost impossible to achieve this objective unless you build in exactly the same materials as the dominant local style, using the same building techniques. In most situations, clients would not be prepared to pay. Even if they were, the chances are that their proposals would not meet the building codes.
The view reveals a brick building with an assortment of pitched roofs. These new structures are an insult to the vernacular and a travesty of Modernism. All they succeed in doing is satisfying a moribund local planning committee, whose opinions are coloured by a misinformed view of the picturesque and a xenophobic attitude towards whether the applicant is Cornish or not. This is bad for the architect and bad for the town. There is no debate, no public consultation, no architecture.
Peter proceeded north and emerged perhaps somewhere near Telford. If this was the case, he would have discovered a town built in the image of what developers and mass housebuilders imagine people want. The first evidence of this place to the lone cyclist is the dastardly deed of the traffic engineer - who seems to have imagined a town where everyone would leave at the crack of dawn and return in the late afternoon to enjoy their suburban idyll. Peter, if he did not break the law and cycle the wrong way down one-way streets, travelled further than he needed along boulevards of boredom. He might have seen the empty leisure centre and even, if he needed provisions, have been tempted into the labyrinths of the shopping centre. The problem is that no one had any ambition for the place. They did not start off by even considering the idea of the extraordinary. How can we make a town that a long-distance cyclist would like to come to?
I suspect Peter avoided this place altogether.
Telford is not alone. Further north, he would have been forced to skirt around the edges of many towns - which often have five centres - and he probably felt mentally lost as he observed the degrading conformity Eventually he arrived in Scotland, where the quality of public housing makes the former eastern-bloc look positively homely, and he looked forward to the relative remoteness and scarcity of people as he strove towards his goal.
Thank God for the landscape. Having completed his trip, he caught a train back to London, possibly reflecting on an exhibition about UK landscape.
I did not sponsor you Peter, but I will give you 25p a mile if call me. Well done.
WA, from a bay window overlooking Padstow Harbour, Cornwall