Oxford Brookes Study: “Learning from Poundbury” conclusion

Poundbury, then, offers manifold productive lessons across the range of physical scales. Inevitably, however, some within established professional cultures will resist these lessons, if only because Poundbury challenges established ways of doing things. A re-spatialised town planning culture is now moving in a direction which is receptive to Poundbury’s lessons, but these are evident blocks from highway engineers and to some extent from developers, who are both inclined to associate change with increased risk. We hope that practical objections of this kind will be challenged by what we have found out in this research.

More difficult to challenge, because they are ideological rather than practical, are objections from influential voices within architectural culture, claiming that Poundbury’s lessons should be rejected because the place’s design is “stuck in the past”. These objections have serious practical implications because, post-PPG3, developers are increasingly involving architects in the design of their housing layouts: potentially a most positive move, provided that negative reactions to Poundbury’s visual image do not blind architects to the positive lessons which the place offers at other levels.

In this connection, it is important to stress that our research clearly demonstrates that the spatial types which underlie Poundbury’s design are not valued by users because they see the place as ”traditional”: to our own surprise, we discovered that Poundbury is specifically not so seen. Rather, these types are valued because they are simply experienced as better than previous norms in terms of major current values, concerned with such fundamental issues as choice and identity.

This is not to say, of course, that appearances do not matter, nor that Poundbury is not seen as traditional looking: it is, by residents as much as by architects. The benefits of the underlying spatial types, however, are independent of surface appearances; and it remains to be proven whether or not some other vocabulary of detailed design can be developed to work as well as Poundbury’s in terms of such qualities as richness and resource efficiency, and in place-identity terms. We hope that in spelling out some of the key issues involved, our research will help architects to rise to the challenge.

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