Sunday, July 15, 2007

Basildon knows all about Modern vs. Traditional

It appears that traditional buildings, you know brick walls, modest windows and tiled roofs, are actually more sustainable. In terms of energy-saving, brick and tiles beat glass and aluminium hands down, and the only surprising thing is that anyone is surprised. It has been the continual conceit of generations of architects that all that went before was useless and that modern materials and design methods mean that we can radically improve on basics of building construction, especially for housing. In Basildon that gave us concrete warrens that fell apart in two decades and estates that designed in deterioration and crime. I am sure that architects of that generation were as keen and sure of themselves as the current crop, but the problem is that no-one can really be sure of a building's viability until it has been up for few years. Look at the old Paternoster Square next to St. Paul's or the Bluehouse estate in Laindon, both considered exemplars of modern design when built, both demolished a few short decades after construction because the passage of time has shown them up to be awful.

In Basildon we are doing a lot of regeneration, so I see a lot of designs. Some are very good, but a depressingly large number are effectively taking a punt with the lives of the people who will have to live with them. Housing in particular is not a good area for experimentation, because of the concentrated misery that can result when you get it wrong. To be blunt, architecture awards are not a priority Basildon District. If you want to do something build something radically different then, please, go do it somewhere else.

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