By continuing to use the site you agree to our Privacy & Cookies policy

Your browser seems to have cookies disabled. For the best experience of this website, please enable cookies in your browser.


Your browser is no longer supported

For the best possible experience using our website we recommend you upgrade to a newer version or another browser.


Beware the housebuilders' new terms of endearment

I wrote last week about how almost every village, town and city is littered with a disastrous series of fringe estates that do nothing but consume vast tracts of land at low densities. They do not offer the benefits of a Letchworth or a Welwyn, of which they purport to be the successors. Indeed, they are not even distant relatives of that great-invented tradition. Instead they inspire another five great inventions of the housebuilders.

The first is the 'link road', the thread that connects these non-places to the existing village or town on which they depend like parasites.Acre upon acre disappears under tarmac, poured like some life-giving elixir.

The second is 'the estate'. To suggest that design is involved in these schemes is nonsense. A series of houses - ideally detached - are squeezed together, yet just apart, around the new road, which acts as a poor memory of a street. Ideally, this road is then twisted around a traffic engineer's muddy splodge, euphemistically entitled a 'green', but instantly recognisable as a roundabout. These dead-end clusters, known in agent speak as culs-de-sac, are then crammed together like some malfunctioning cell system.

The third is 'the forecourt'. If the pavement is not struggling enough, crossovers cut across endlessly with further areas of blacktop or, if you are lucky, cheap interlocking paving, to ensure that the cars can get to the previously mentioned forecourt, and from there into the garage (that most vital of selling tools).

The fourth is 'strip development'. Some kind of new idea about land use and place-making? Not likely. These strips are those useless pieces of land, of varying dimension but no utility, which are cut in half along their axis, if such a word can be used, by a fence. The role they perform is twofold. The first is to ensure that the term detached, or semi-detached, can be used. The second is the tragic outcome of the stupidity of the first. These strips ensure appalling wall-to-floor ratios and result in windows so small that they can barely ventilate (let alone illuminate) the rooms behind. This desperate condition is only marginally offset by the fact that the rooms are so mean they need little illumination in the first place.

Once inside these dwellings, you begin to understand the idea behind the new community that is being created. People will, of necessity, have to be out a lot, and when they are, it is to be hoped they hone their social skills because these acoustically disastrous cramped boxes demand new levels of tolerance for both family and neighbours. And how are they assisted in developing this skill? By the provision of the fifth invention, 'en suite bathroom at any cost'. Parker Morris space standards - in your dreams.

And where did I see the latest incarnation of depressing non-places, frontier towns all dressed up in an eclectic yet supposedly palatable modern veneer? These non-places, where the ring road becomes the catwalk for the architectural show, and the show itself is a competition for the disguise of the uniformity of tunnel-form construction techniques. I am talking about? Holland!

If the polders are the new model for UK housing provision (and their location in floodplains and government's bland pronouncements suggest they are), we are in real danger of meeting the same dreary wolf, which prowls the same dreary peripheral non-place, in new, only slightly improved clothing.

Have your say

You must sign in to make a comment.

The searchable digital buildings archive with drawings from more than 1,500 projects

AJ newsletters