Britain's 'good practice' string threatens to tie us all in knots
I did not know I would be going to a beach party - I was driven to a beach to swim.A typical Mykonos beach: a sandy bay, the most vibrant azure water, so bright it looked as if there were blue strip-lights on the sea bed.
On the other shore was a brown mass of rock and scree - a geological afterbirth that sucks in the sun.
As the sun sinks, this ovenbrick changes colour, from sepia to umber to green-black, and I sit in a restaurant observing this chameleon process. I call it a restaurant but it is actually an area of sand defined by a series of stretched camouflage nets and two parachutes, all of which pulsate in the ever-present north wind.Beneath this rudimentary shelter lies an assortment of tables at varying heights.Some are low, with cushions round them that you might expect to find in an Arabic eating establishment.Others, normal height, are of extremely solid timber and the type that often grace the centre of a farmhouse kitchen.
No two tables are the same, but all give a different ambience to the act of eating.
This place is full of architecture. It exists for only five months of the year, but offers some of the best food on the island for almost no money.More importantly, the mix of people under this Swiss Family Robinson construction is extraordinary - the range of age goes from 3 to 83. Large tables are occupied by extended families and friends and, as the sun goes down, the noise goes up.By the last hour of the day most people are dancing; at midnight, some go home to bed, others shower in readiness for the nightlife.
This is obviously not Barnsley or Bradford or Bolton.This is a place for all ages to coexist. In many of our northern towns, the centre is taken over by 15 to 25 year olds after 7.30pm, which is then seen as a no-go area for the middle-aged or families or the elderly.Their perception is of a place that is unsafe; in reality it is lively, but not dangerous.
Can architecture and urban design help to change this perception? Are there any rules as to how to do it? The answer to the first question is 'maybe'- although the physical aspects of the (obtained) result might not be so certain. It could be that an ongoing debate about a place is as good or better than building anything.The second question, sadly, has an answer, because there should be no rules or procedures, but we seem yet again to be in the process of tying ourselves up with so-called 'good practice' string.
This island seems to have no policies about planning. Its arid, rocky terrain is covered in an increasing confetti of white houses, all built in the same style. It is an urban designer's, planner's or architect's nightmare and yet it works.There is no fear about covering the whole rock with buildings, if that is what people want. If it does not happen this way, then they are still happy.The temporary place, the lack of personal design expression, the non-plan and the laissez-faire attitude towards nature are all examples of supposed bad practice, but here there is no crime, no social problems and no separation between ages or sexual preference.
We must make no assumptions as to how things should be done - every case is different and requires us to treat people as individuals.For people to realise their full potential, individuality must be allowed to flourish.Without it we only have inappropriate rules, oppression, an unholy interest in property, and urban designers.
WA, from my friends'garden table in Mykonos