Country living is destined to stay within the pages of Country Life
It is always riveting to leaf through the pages of Country Life in a doctor's waiting room, so much so that one often dreads the summons to see the doctor will come before one has finished the pages of houses for sale, let alone read the leader or rifled through the features.
Last week, had it not been for good old NHS lateness, I would have missed out on knowing that the unlucky Modernist Minoru Yamasaki - not only Pruitt Igoe destroyed but the WTC as well - was once in line to design Henbury Hall in Cheshire, the celebrated country house commission that went instead to Classical revivalist Julian Bicknell.
But if that switch shows you how drastically fashions can change in architecture it does not pack half the punch of Country Life , most of which is loaded into its double-barrelled advertising pages, which can soar to telephone book thickness with houses of a type that anyone can recognise as being neither of the Yamasaki nor the Bicknell school, but rather of the Alan Titchmarsh tendency: more an extension of their gardens than the other way around. In any case, the chief point about them is that they are immensely desirable dwellings - so desirable that their average price has shot from about £90,000 to just under a £1 million in the past 10 years, and is still rising at a rate that puts the puny 150 per cent increase in the price of central London houses to shame.
There is no mystery about the attraction of these houses. It is a function of the most elementary laws of economics. They are sought-after not only because they are comparatively rare detached houses in the countryside, but more importantly because they don't make them any more. On the contrary, with an obtuseness that is hard to credit, the government has decreed that more than half of all new houses shall be built on urban land, not in the vacant countryside.The intention here, as we all know, is that London and other already congested cities should become Fritz Lang Metropolis-style human ant hills, while the countryside reverts to a primeval state ruled over by wild animals.
That was the 'vision' of 1999, but now, like the drastic change in the architectural style of Henbury Hall, there has been a change in the housing situation. Nothing so fruitful as a U-turn to low-density, low-cost settlements on greenfield land of course, but something just as subversive as the Pol-Pot-in-reverse politics of 'densification'. It came to light with the discovery that most of the brownfield land earmarked for new urbanites was uneconomic to develop without a liberal sprinkling of taxpayers' money - permission to print which was unaccountably being withheld by the spoilsports of Brussels. Meanwhile, most of the brownfield land that was economic to build on was turning out to be what used to be the mature back gardens of existing houses in older suburbs, which were busily being converted into sites for new duplex or triplex apartments.
Not only is this high-density low-rise outcome a far cry from the Buck Rogers metropolis that was the original 'vision', but the absence of resources to turn this misunderstanding around is becoming more evident with each passing day. Permission to disburse the fabled inducements may be won from Brussels in the end, but in finance everything is connected to everything else and the government's urgent need for funds to pay for new railways, new doctors, new teachers and everything else, is bound to outweigh the needs of a mad metropolis schemed by architects.
And so we shall be permitted to go on leafing enviously through the pages of Country Life a little longer.