'There is a way of telling the Poundbury story that makes it sound progressive, ' says Isabel Allen (AJ 26.05.05), as if such a thing was incredible. She goes on to acknowledge many of Poundbury's notable urban design achievements. 'But aesthetics cannot be cast aside so easily? you cannot make a town look like a Christmas card and expect its residents to be receptive to change.' Hold on a minute, half of London looks like a Christmas card, yet is receptive to all sorts of changes. By contrast, the NIMBYism Allen describes is hardly unique to Poundbury but is the usual sort seen in small communities all over the globe.
The popular architectural dogma of the moment dismisses Poundbury's aesthetics as 'reactionary' and 'pastiche'. But were Morris or Lutyens 'reactionary' or 'pastiche' when they revived traditional designs? Were Wren or Nash when they revived Classical ones? How about the Romans, who copied Greek designs, who copied Egyptians? History is full of readaptations, regenerations, modified copies; and so is nature. It is starting to look like a sustainable future will have to update a creaky old Modernist design culture stuck on reinvention of the wheel.
Maybe it is time to recognise the more 'modern' view of the intelligence embodied in adaptive patterns through time, instead of dismissing them as 'old-fashioned-looking'. Today's cutting-edge 'modernity' can only too easily look like tomorrow's spiky '80s hairdo or '50s tailfins. Nor is this a very promising way to employ many architects. On the other hand, Poundbury's achievements in sustainable urbanism engaged many more architects than most developments, and did not have to sacrifice economic vitality to do so.
That, we suggest, is the path to greater relevance for our professions in an age that demands sustainability. We need to find again a place for the 'good ordinary' made from robust, enduring, adaptable designs - the sort offered by the 'collective intelligence' of our own rich architectural traditions.
Michael Mehaffy, director of education, The Prince's Foundation