The latest TV series to home in on the fascinating subject of domestic design, BBC2's Space, started last night with an episode of rural case studies which contained the seeds of a serious investigation into changing cultural values, safely packaged in the personal and subjective.
'Modern Country' opened with the premise that 'the notion of the forwardlooking city and the backward-looking country has been one of the great divisions of our age, but times it seems are changing'. It presented two new-built 'modern' houses, one self-built 'tribal' dwelling, and a conversion of a priest's house and church to house a collection of modern art, all located in the country - side, to support its theme that some of the most inspiring reformulations of the home may be found outside urban culture.
For Gill and Bob Marshall-Andrews, occupants of a house designed by Future Systems by the sea in South Wales, the project was determined by the desire to frame fabulous views of the sea and sky, to escape the trap of pastiche and achieve a living-space free of clutter, 'radical and beautiful'. The architects speak of 'a unique language of curvaceous forms', and an ambition to push 'to the aesthetic and technical limits'.
Tony Wrench, a former civil servant who has constructed a mud and log dwelling for himself in Wales without planning permission, has also discovered a language of curvaceous forms - suggesting that 'in 50 years' time all the square houses from the twentieth century will look really old-fashioned'.
Wrench and his family 'are trying to live in a natural tribal way', driven by concerns for personal freedom and the ecological future of Earth, and believe that '150 years in the future, councils will be encouraging people to live like this'.
By contrast, Greville Worthington has turned his house into a shrine to modern art, intent on showing it 'doesn't have to be an urban phenomenon'. He maintains that 'living in the countryside and modern art go very well together'. The Hemingway couple, in West Sussex, have built a house which, in a sense, is a shrine to their four children, with whom they spend 'all their spare time'. The spacious concrete structure is designed to accommodate 'a household that's free and vocal', in which children are encouraged to express themselves.
What the programme didn't dwell on was the fact that most of the inhabitants had been or were still essentially urbanites, with, it appeared, fairly shallow roots in the rural localities where they lived. But historically, much of the most interesting and innovative architecture was built in the countryside by landowners with strong ties to urban culture. As Raymond Williams pointed out many years ago, the concept of a clear distinction between country and city is largely a historical myth and perhaps not a very useful tool in cultural analysis.
'Modern Country' was the first episode in BBC2's series Space, directed and produced by Rebecca Frayn. It is followed by 'Urban Dreams' and 'Architects at Home' on Wednesdays at 21.50