The Principles of New Urbanism in the Design of Poundbury

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This essay tries to explore the design principles of new urbanism that Poundbury applied to create a new community and how the Prince of Wales himself had a direct influence on the architectural style. Additionally, this essay touches on the effect of new urban town extensions and the Prince’s general influence on architecture throughout the UK.

Prince Charles, renowned for his outspoken opinions and criticism on modernism, has made his views on architecture very public. Some call this ‘unconstitutional’. HRH has caused uproar within the architecture community by ‘intervening’ with modern architectural ideals/proposals resulting in world-leading architects, such as Richard Rogers, saying to the media that Charles uses his “privileged position” to advance his own ideals on modern architecture, and that it is “an abuse of power” to force his views and opinions into practice to disrupt the planning process by “always going round the back to wield his influence, using phone calls or in the case of the Chelsea barracks, a private letter.”. The Prince has no professional education in architecture but despite this he’s led the construction of the new urban town extension Poundbury.

Poundbury was built under the instruction of Charles according to his 10 principles of architecture, that he states in his 1989 book ‘A Vision of Britain: A Personal View of Architecture’. Planning Poundbury began in the late 1980s and is now known as the UK’s best-known sample of a new urbanist community. Charles regards Poundbury as one of his greatest achievements as being Prince of Wales. Though intervened by Charles it was designed by the ‘godfather’ of new urbanism, Leon Krier who is known globally in the architecture community for his approach on the ‘new urbanism style’. The new urbanism style sees physical design, regional design, urban design, architecture, landscape design and environmental design as critical to the future of our communities. The ‘new’ in new urbanism has several aspects.

It is an attempt not only to apply the old principles of urbanism, diversity, street life, and human scale to the suburb in the twenty-first century but also to resolve the conflict between the fine grain of traditional urban environments and the large-scale realities of contemporary institutions and technologies. It is also an attempt to update traditional urbanism to fit our modern lifestyles and increasingly complex economies. Throughout this essay I will discuss in further detail about Charles’s views on architecture and how he has influenced not only the development of Poundbury but other modern architecture developments too.

HRH Prince Charles, Prince of Wales, Duke of Cornwall and Duke of Rothesay (D.O.B 1948) is the heir apparent to the British throne and the eldest child of Queen Elizabeth II. He became heir apparent in 1952 when his mother ascended the throne, and is the oldest and longest-serving heir apparent/Prince of Wales in British history. As Prince of Wales, Charles inherited the private estate, The Duchy of Cornwall. The estate was set up by Edward III in 1337 to provide financial independence to the eldest son and heir to the throne. Land owned by The Duchy of Cornwall was used to build Poundbury. As Prince of Wales Charles is head of many charities and organisations including the princes trust.

However years of being in his mother’s shadow, the prince has taken interest in many areas no other prince of wales has before, such as politics, climate change, religion and architecture, due to it being ‘unconstitutional’. This has resulted in him being branded as the ‘most outspoken prince of wales in British history’. However with taking an interest into architecture, it hasn’t come quietly or subtly due to the princes high profile status. Charles in the 1980’s felt that the post-war architecture of the 1950/60’s was a “wanton destruction which has taken place in this country in the name of progress” and that “this frenzied attack on long established principles… have spawned deformed monsters”.

Leon Krier states that Charles’s interest stems on “the thought that Queen Elizabeth II will be chiefly remembered by the worst kind of architecture and urbanism which this country has produced is deeply alarming for the future king”. The prince, throughout the past 35 years, has been extremely vocal by publicly expressing his opinions on modern architecture to the media and press and most famously during the 1984 150th anniversary of the Royal Institute of British Architects at Hampton Court Palace. He was invited to present the Royal Gold Medal for Architecture to the Indian architect Charles Correa. However as the guardian reports “He was expected to do little more than raise a glass of champagne and ask the winner how far he had come… Instead, he seized the opportunity to denounce just about every aspect, facade, plan and section of the world the RIBA represented”. He also seized the opportunity to “trash the proposed extension of the National Gallery designed by Ahrends Burton Koralek.”

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That became the first “carbuncle…never allowed to deface the London skyline”. This was the beginning of Charles’s architectural influence and voice. Having voiced his opinions of architecture to the RIBA he then wished to express his views to the rest of his subjects so he presented a television programme in 1988 ‘A Vision of Britain’ produced by the BBC. Here he expressed his criticism of modern urban planning and architecture. The following year in 1989 he wrote a book ‘A Vision of Britain: A Personal View of Architecture’ discussing precedents what he felt was good architecture. He felt “many planners and architects ignore both the past and the feelings and desires of ordinary people”.

Therefore he presents ideas for further improvement therefore introducing his 10 principles of architecture, “his rules for better design”. Charles’s ten principles of architecture include place, hierarchy, scale, harmony, enclosure, materials, decoration, art, signs & lights, and community. Charles, in 2014, stated that these 10 principles are key to facing “the terrifying prospect by 2050 of another three billion people on this planet needing to be housed… architects and urban designers have an enormous role to play in responding to this challenge.” Charles says the principles are also critical to prevent the UK, especially London from developing the “international style of architecture which is found everywhere” These principles have been the key basis in which Poundbury revolves around.

In Charles’s book he goes about explaining how before designing Poundbury he took a liking into the “imaginative plans for Upper Donnington in Berkshire”. He liked the fact that they were “concerned with building a community rather than merely building a housing estate, and they try to make use of the lie of the land”. This can be seen with what Charles set out to achieve with Poundbury. He wished to create a community rather than just a new residential area. Charles also travelled to the USA where he was ‘intrigued’ by a place called ‘Seaside’ based upon the Gulf of Mexico, Florida in America. Seaside is master-planned community where the first plan was drafted in 1985.

It was one of the first communities in America to be designed using the principles of ‘new urbanism’. And is built on 80 acres of land owned by Robert. S. Davis, who inherited it off his grandfather. Davis wished to use transform the land along the shore of northwest Florida into an old fashioned beach town containing traditional wood framed cottages. Therefore he, his wife and architects went and travelled the south studying small traditional towns along there way. Using analysis they drafted Seasides first plan in 1985. Due to the fact Seasides land was privately owned, Davis was able to set his own zoning codes. Seasides streets are designed in a pattern that prioritises public paths as well as creating open spaces throughout the whole town. “Seaside’s houses are different from one another, but by using similar building forms and materials they speak a common language. Adherence to indigenous materials and to the region’s building tradition gives the town coherence and a strong sense of place.”

This meant that there are a variety of architectural styles which can be found including Victorian, Neo-classical, Modern and Post Modern as well as deconstructivism. This is due to the fact each building is designed by a different architect. Leon Krier, who Charles later commissioned to draw Poundbury’s masterplan designed a house their, which Charles visited whilst studying seaside. All front lawns at Seaside are communal, just like that of Poundbury and only native plants can be used within them. This gives seaside a sense of place, giving it an identity just like Charles states in his 10 principles of architecture. Overall seaside has 300 homes with a variety of shops, restaurants and attractions creating its very own little community. This is what Charles set to achieve with Poundbury. He described it as a “fantastic new development”. He goes on to say that “Its an extraordinary place – with a modern, classical look. Seaside is planned.”. At Seaside the architects went about to create a “community with the traditional virtues of the America small town and suburb.” He claims that the presence from the “influence of the planned English garden city movement is strong”.

“Seaside’s houses are different from one another, but by using similar building forms and materials they speak a common language. Adherence to indigenous materials and to the region’s building tradition gives the town coherence and a strong sense of place.”

Poundbury’s construction started in 1993 and is a new urban town extension based upon the outskirts of Dorchester. Currently only two thirds complete with the expected finish date being 2025, it was built on 400 acres of land, with 250 acres of mixed-use buildings and 150 acres of landscaping space. Poundbury is the brainstorm of Prince Charles, which he set out to design using his 10 principles of architecture. Charles’s aspiration/vision of Poundbury was too innovate urban planning by taking a look at the past, in the form of higher densities than standard suburbia; a mix of housing tenures; less traffic-friendly roads; the aspiration to integrate employment in walking distance of houses in turn creating a ‘walking community’. This is supposed to add up to community, a more elusive goal, to allow people to feel part of the community and feel safe. Overall Charles’s goal was more than just form and architectural style, but a new way of life.

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