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Piers Gough's drive-thru view of Georgian housing

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Nicely coinciding with the fuel protests, Piers Gough's latest programme in his continuing TV series was as much a celebration of the car as it was a paeon to Georgian architecture. The programme was structured around an analogy between car manufacturing and Georgian housing production which, Gough argues, provided for the first time - just as Henry Ford did in the twentieth century- a basic structural model capable of being easily adapted and customised to meet the different needs and requirements of different clients and classes.

The blueprints that made this possible came from Palladio, but it was Inigo Jones who first brought 'the classical kit' to Britain. Curiously, Jones' influence was eclipsed over the next 100 years by the 'flamboyant Baroque style', but then Chiswick House appeared, 'like no building seen before in Britain'. Burlington's 'refined compilation of ancient styles' was, in 1730, 'ruthlessly modern', says Gough. In fact, its impact was 'similar to the impact of Modernism-both styles were imported, intellectual and austere'. He went on to suggest that Lasdun's Modernist Royal College of Physicians of 1964 - 'very simple, very elegant', with a 'calm grandeur' - has 'a lot in common with the Palladian villa: its stark impact must be just like that of Chiswick 300 years ago'.

Like Modernism, which itself celebrated the automobile industry, although Gough did not make this point, Georgian Classical architecture took its life as much from technical innovation as from a new aesthetic credo. 'The best technical invention, ' argued Gough, was the sash window, which allowed timbers to be thinned down so rooms became lighter and also provided ventilation without draughts - 'air con thrown in for free'. Unlike Modernism, Georgian housing design provided the basis for the growth of the city as we know it, generating the terraces and streets that Modernism sought to replace by traffic highways and open spaces.

Such was the rate of construction in the eighteenthcentury cities of Britain that soon 'Georgian houses started to be parked on every street'. Facades began to 'grow their own grandeur', and London 'became a cool place to live'; but Bath, 'so uncompromisingly modern that it was the talk of Europe . . . shook Britain like an atom bomb', stated Gough, surpassing even his own superlatives. Meanwhile Edinburgh, 'like the Oriental car manufacturers' of today, took the established forms and technologies and developed them 'to a new level of quality'.

Gough's accounts of British architecture are not particularly original, but they do aim to grab today's popular imagination by making comparisons and analogies between the achievements of the past and those of the present. The programme ended with the demise of Georgian architecture at John Nash's Regent's Park terraces, described by Gough as 'more the Cadillac Eldorado compared with the standard Ford' - conventional wisdom re-presented through popular culture.

Built to Order was the fourth programme in Piers Gough's Channel 4 series The Shock of the Old, which continues on Sundays at 8pm

vital statistics

Outreach workers are continuing to target London's long-term rough sleepers effectively, according to figures from the homelessness charity CRASH.

A total of 1,178 people used London's cold-weather shelters this year, 74 per cent of whom had continuously slept rough for 30 or more nights before using the shelters.

The Department of Environment, Transport and the Regions has recorded a 3 per cent rise in the total volume of construction output in the second quarter of 2000, compared with the same period in 1999. But figures have fallen by 2 per cent compared with the previous quarter of 2000.

This was attributed to poor weather.

This year's house building figures are up on last year's.

The DETR estimates building work began on 15,800 dwellings in July 2000 compared with 13,500 in July 1999.

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