Thursday, 2 September 2010

Duanyising Britain

A view of the future?

The Expo I have more to write about; for today, a slight diversion, and it's linked.  I point in the direction of two thought-provoking articles in Scottish Review on Andres Duany, DPZ, and his  work for the Scottish Government.

The articles focus particularly on the Design Charette at Lochgelly, which was attended by the writer, Andrew Gray. Here's a video on the STV website and a report from last March

'Lochgelly? perhaps a kind of Scottish Truman Show'  quote from Duany

'Truman show' town planner turns sights on Lochgelly

VIDEO: Andres Duany, who designed the idyllic Florida film set, is aiming to transform a former Fife mining town.

As it states in Scottish Review:  In March this year the Scottish Government supported an American urban design firm Duany Plater-Zyberk to promote its brand of ‘New Urbanism’ in Scotland – as part of the government’s aspiration for the re-invention in Scotland of ‘traditional qualities of place’ and ‘traditional architecture’. Following Duany Plater-Zyberk to one of its three destinations in Scotland, the Fife town of Lochgelly, Andrew Guest asks what was learnt from this expensive exercise, why it was necessary for Americans to teach us how we should be developing our towns, and what are the implications of government support for ‘traditional architecture’ in 21st century Scotland.

Part 1:

Re-inventing Scotland

Part 2:

Welcome to the past

Concluding paragraphs:

Most places already own a wealth of cultural, social and creative skills which could contribute to this process – especially if supported by local and national authority. We don't need a team of outside experts to do this for us. We already have our own immense knowledge of historical and traditional architectural traditions if we want to draw on these to inform new design solutions for new communities – we don't need to rely on an outsider's sentimental view of what Scottish architecture was or could be. Past experience and tradition is important but so is interpreting this with new ideas and new experience today, and Scotland has a substantial reservoir of its own design talents and plenty recent design experience with which to do this. If it is invidious for the Scottish Government to back this expertise to lead a programme to promote better design, then perhaps that was not the right programme, or the government should not be taking this particular lead.

But above all a superficial nostalgia for a past ideal of community should not prevent us from facing up to the multi-sided challenges of urbanisation and sustainability in Scotland in the 21st century and from engaging creatively and openly in a process that asks 'What kind of places do we want?' and 'Who will they be for?' One of the accusations against modernism is that it relied on aesthetic solutions to deal with the social problems it encountered – one result of which was that everywhere ending up looking the same, and mostly pretty dull. Scotland is in danger of planning the next 50 years pursuing another false aesthetic ideal – an un-debated ideal of the traditional – the result of which will be another form of destructive monotony.

Andrew Guest lives in Edinburgh and writes on culture and the environment.
And hooray.

Urban Realm comments are interesting here:

and another video.

Link to the official charette site:

I gather Urban Realm has invited Duany to speak at a debate in October in Glasgow.  I expect that there will several architects with passionate views on 'Prince Charles urbanism' or 'shortbread tin Scotland'  willing to tackle him on the subject of 'traditional Scottish architecture' and its place in a 21st century Scotland.
My view is that Duany's views on urban planning may be the greatest thing to hit Scotland since Irn Bru; I cannot comment on that.  His views on architecture, however,  may not. My view is that possibly they are not.

Lochgelly, a proposal, from the Duany charette.

It's not only Scotland of course. For example, Duany and his brand of 'New Urbanism' is being imported to Norfolk:

Thorpe residents slammed for lack of vision




An American planner has set out his vision for a new village on the outskirts of Norwich - and it incorporates ideas from north Norfolk, Norwich city centre and even colonial America.

Architect and urban planner Andres Duany, of urban planning firm DPZ, is best-known for creating the feted Sea-side town in Florida, which featured as the backdrop to the film The Truman Show.

His plans to build 631 new homes at a woodland site off Plumstead Road, Pound Lane and near Salhouse Road in Thorpe St Andrew are equally revolutionary.

His vision is to keep many of the trees on the site with more than 50pc open spaces, but also to add urban living based on Burnham Market's Green, The Crescent, off Chapel Field Road, and housing developments in South Carolina.

Last night's public meeting in central Norwich was part of the innovative design process called a 'charrette' or sometimes enquiry by design, which is aimed at involving the community in the planning process from the start.

It was the final presentation after an intensive eight days of consultation in the area, which included a stormy meeting at Thorpe Village Hall where residents gave a resounding 'NO' to the plans...

and I note a group of  residents is fighting back:

The website also features Lochgelly. Interesting read.  I also note Duany spoke for one and  half hours, but didn't take questions.

Throughout the Charrette, Duany and his team said they were interested in the views of the people who live in Thorpe, and those who neighbour the woods. However earlier this year, in front of an audience of journalists at the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy in Cambridge Massachusetts, Duany put forward the case that the planning process needed to be reformed as it has been usurped by the public, and especially by those people who neighbour the site of the proposed development. He argued consultation should not be with the public in general and especially the locals, instead it should consist of a controlled consultation with a selected group of local citizens, he stated that if this isn’t done the process is taken over by "a bunch of little mobs, invited in by idiot public planners."

Duany has been criticised by members of his own profession.

The April edition of the Architects Journal published an article entitled “Scottish architects fry new urbanist Duany” it stated that “American new urbanist Andres Duany has sparked protests from Scottish architects after alleging the country had not built any housing to be proud of since 1945”.

In the article Duany’s position is criticised by fellow architects as being “ill informed”, Peter Wilson, director of Edinburgh Napier University’s Wood Studio, said Duany’s ‘twee way of viewing Scotland’ was to blame. ‘He does all these charrettes at a great expense and then expects everything to look like small Scottish town Dunkeld’ In Thorpe’s case for Dunkeld read Burnham Market.

The above shows that the Charrette process is being cynically used by developers as a means to convince local people that opposing a development would be futile, that the proposal is a ‘done deal’ and that if the local people don’t work with the developer they may end up with something far worse...

Our local councillors have opposed these plans and our local MP Chloe Smith has written to Broadland District Council’s planning department to draw their attention to the strong local opposition to these proposals.

...The destruction of these woods is not a done deal, the local people of Thorpe, who Andres Duany may view as a ‘little mob’, can stop this development and save the woods and its rich wildlife for today and for future generations...

And here is part of my worry; that Duany and his 'design team' is now being hired by developers to give the gloss (and perhaps glitz) of respectability and 'consultation' to schemes which otherwise could prove contentious.

Is this the 'urban planning' version of hiring an 'internationally known  architect' (or his/her practice) to build an 'iconic building', a sure way to override all manner of planning policies and objections?

Is he the Messiah, or simply someone hired to do a job, and making a tidy sum out of it?

Linked past post:

Glancey in the Guardian, Dec 2008

Thou shalt not follow Duany's architectural gospel

British postwar architects have nothing to repent - it is Andres Duany's bland new urbanism that we must be saved from...



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Anonymous said...

Very good article and I would just like to add that most people in Lochgelly have aptly named the Charrette, the Lochgelly Charade.

Most residents have had concerns over the proposals as they were based on existing council plans that have already been formally objected to by the local community, and many people feel the process was a way for the local council to steam roller through their existing plans.

The charrette certainly helped the council tick the "public consultation" box.

And as a sidenote, if anyone is interested in how much the Lochgelly Charade cost, you can learn at:

Nemesis said...

Yes, it's my view Duany and his team is possibly being used as 'the acceptable face' in order to push though schemes; his announcements regarding building on greenfield sites must bring joy to every landowner who wants to cash in, and a council (or government) which wants to prevent local opposition.

I can't help also feeling that all part of his 'method' is to state loudly that most post-war planning/ building in Scotland (or wherever he happens to be hired) is terrible - and therefore anything he proposes is bound to be superior. Of course there have been many mistakes from which we can learn. His bland, twee and pseudo-traditional is not something, however, I think should be rolled out across the land as the answer. I am not saying his masterplanning isn't good, but I can't see how anyone can fly in and produce something in a few days, and I note that Lochgelly isn't the only place where a small amount of delving seems to show that that there is already a scheme lurking, ready to be rolled out.

Interesting article and discussion here

There are good architects in Scotland who can design far better buildings, suited to the 21st century, than the Duany team I think.

The Highland Housing Expo was an interesting, even if flawed, experiment. I note the public vote for 'favourite' houses was won by Malcolm Fraser Architects' House NS, plot 27, second was the PassivHaus by HLM Architects, third Rural Designs 'Secret Garden'. Sustainability meets attractive contemporary design, nothing overtly retro, not a crow stepped gable or pediment in sight, even if informed by the past.

Then there is the government's strange competition for a 'new vernacular' architecture

Elder & Cannon Architects Ltd
Gareth Hoskins Architects Ltd
HTA Architects Ltd
Malcolm Fraser Architects Ltd
RMJM Scotland Ltd

made the shortlist. Mixed messages really at government level, which makes me wonder how much wider influence Duany will have in the end, especially if the controversies carry on.

Jonathan Clarke said...

While I'm no fan of Duany's "Trumpton" architecture, I can't help feeling that some of recent the criticism aimed at him is rather unfair. I think Jonathan Glancey (in your link) probably summed up Duany's limitations in a UK setting best.

Could the Lochgelly work have been carried out by a local firm? Probably. Should it have been? I'd say so, but those who make decisions on such things seem to gravitate towards big names from the big smoke. This is hardly DPZ's fault.

Duany's starting point of walkable neighbourhoods, quality public space and mixed-uses is all good stuff, if not quite as radical in the UK as it is in the States .

I also find the criticism of charettes a little depressing, if not particularly surprising. Say what you like about the results, but the charette process is driven by and centred around getting local input. Unless you want to just do away with professional input altogether...

Incidentally, checking the link on how much it cost, I'm afraid my initial reaction was that 20 grand didn't sound unreasonable. In fact, it actually makes me wonder whether UK firms would have charged more for this work.

If there is a moral to this story, I'd suggest that it highlights the absence of planning in the UK. Perhaps, if we had a more positive planning system (as opposed to just enforcing building heights and window locations), then maybe we wouldn't need to bus in high profile, planning guru's.

Nemesis said...

I think Duany and his team are being paid considerably more than twenty grand, and I also believe that the price quoted here is an underestimate

Jonathan Clarke said...

Oh, I'm sure they are costing more than £20k, but I'm interested that 'look they cost 20 grand' is seen as a suitable stick to beat them with! While I don't necessarily agree with all of their philosophies, I do think that Duany and his ilk are sincere.

For what it's worth, I'm also a suspicious of 'traditional design', as defined by both the New Urbanists and the Princes Foundation. However, where I do agree with them, is their resistance to urban sprawl. It's intersting that the Conservatives have been making noises about 'letting people and housebuilders do what they want in England and Wales'. This seems to mean lots more new sprawling suburbs of detatched houses on green field land, ever further from jobs and facilities.

If I had to choose which of the two I'd prefer to see, I'd go for Duany's Trumpton every time.

Nemesis said...

The sums I gather for the charettes, paid for by the taxpayer, are eyewatering, which is part of the controversy.

Duany is advocating building on greenfield sites too. He reckons Scotland has plenty of undeveloped land, so it's OK. It's all very controversial in Scotland. His ideas of 'sustainabilty' are at times markedly different from those of others.

His ideas re masterplanning may be fine, but I can't see why they need always to be linked with his (let's be honest, odd) ideas on 'traditional' architecture and 'design codes'. We have Duany and HRH on the one hand in Scotland (and parts of England) and the government making other noises about architecture at the same time.

Jonathan Clarke said...

I'll be interested to see how this story develops, Nem.

I'm particularly interested by the percieved 'cost', because I can see the other side of the coin here. If people want greater consultation on developments, then someone's going to have to pay for it. The bottom line is that giving a bunch of consultants the time to talk to other people, and possibly take on board their comments, is very expensive.

Sure, you can ask private developers to foot the bill (which is pretty much what happens now), but you can guarantee that they will pay for the minimum possible, they probably won't want to pay for additional design work and they will want to recoup the costs through additional profit.

You could argue that the taxpayer directly appointing consultants to act on their behalf is a step in the right direction.

I think we need to be realistic about what these things cost. If we want good planning and development, then we have to be prepared to pay for it.

Anonymous said...

The main problem with the Charrette in Lochgelly, was that it was portrayed as a public consultation, but it was anything of the sort.

Fife Council already had a masterplan, and stated on their site that if Andres Duanny suggests anything different from the existing masterplan, Fife Council can reject his suggestions.

The existing masterplan was already heavily objected, but the same masterplan proposed by Andres is now approved. Is this a public consultation?

One local group which is very active on local planning issues was removed from a meeting as they dared oppose the official view set out by Fife Council and Andres.

Also, we can take the example that in Lochgelly, plans were put forward for a supermarket with petrol station which would provide 180 jobs, and also be the closest petrol station available for residents in Lochgelly, Ballingry, Lochore, Cardenden and Bowhill.

Fife Council have been putting up barriers to this application so the local residents arranged a petition and had over 700 signatories in all the towns in support of the Supermarket with Petrol Station.

It was ideally located at the edge of town, next to a major road, so was ideally situated not to affect local shops and not bring in heavy traffic into the towm.

However, all this public feedback was rejected in favour of a small store to be located on a very narrow street next to a school which will only provide 20 jobs. The store is rumoured to be a Lidlls which will certainly have an impact on other local stores.

So regardless of public feedback, the public was ignored and the council and Andres went on the attack to get their plans approved.

The Charrette in Lochgelly was merely an expensive excercise in making sure Fife Council got all their "public consultation" boxes ticked to push through their already heavily contested plans.

If you can find anyone in Lochgelly that supports the Charrette, I will donate money to the charity of your choice.