[Brussat excerpts an article by Robert Adams, “The Institutionalization of Modernism” in Building]
Planners in Britain must adhere to national planning policy summed up in official documents since passage of the Town and Country Planning Act of 1947. The latest version of the document, which he describes as “quite good,” states: “Planning policies and decisions should not attempt to impose architectural styles.” Maybe so, but a lot of official policy in prior years had similar language yet nevertheless favored or even mandated modernist styles, whether the wording of the rule stated so expressly or hinted it. (In bureaucracies, hints are often hazardous for lower-level officials to ignore.)
One example comes from planning regulations in two historic towns, Winchester and Chester. In Winchester, planners must abide by language that reads: “New development should complement but not seek to mimic existing development and should be of its time.” The first part sounds sensible to the average citizen, but the code words of “mimic” and “of its time” suggest very straightforwardly to planners that modernism is to be favored. Regulations in Chester beat even less around the bush: “The boldest and most successful designs are those which clearly express the ethos to which they relate, and do not refer to the language of earlier periods.”
In his piece, Adam describes planning language widespread in planning documents that may seem unobjectionable to many but is interpreted with great specificity as pooh-poohing new traditional designs by those charged with carrying out the law.
Adam concludes: “This is all part of the creeping institutionalisation of Modernism. For half a century it has been the style of the architectural establishment. It is now becoming the style of the bureaucrats.” That’s bad news, but Adam hopes that Britons who want to rescue their built environment from modernism will send him examples from their jurisdictions that can be used to illustrate today’s reality and thereby encourage top planning authorities to even the playing field.