I live in the Cotswolds, don’t get me wrong it’s lovely round here and visiting Americans say that this is how they all imagine England to look. We’ve got a mill pond and a market square and lots of buildings in that honey coloured stone dating back decades if not centuries. It’s lovely.
But does that mean we can only have buildings like that? Cotswold stone buildings look how they do because they’re made of cotswold stone, you know, the stuff they mine all round here. Real rocks, dug out of real geological seams and used to build real houses because for centuries that was the easiest building material if you wanted something more substantial than wood, straw and cow poo. Now all the buildings are made out of reconstituted block which in my more generous moments I think are made of cement and cotswold stone dust and in my more realistic ones are made of cement and some colouring. Not only that but all the new building is designed to look like older building, to blend in because that’s how the buildings of the cotswolds are supposed to look, because it’s the look of the thing. But actually it’s just making the place look a bit like a model village with hundreds of pastiche buildings. They look okay, but as yet another development goes up in the same colour and with the same mock georgianesque porch and mock dry stone wall round the garden I rather long for something which makes me go ‘holy shit that’s breathtaking’.
There’s no need for ‘vernacular’ building now, we can source a whole range of materials pretty much anywhere, we don’t have to opt for local stone any more…let alone something from a block factory somewhere shipped here by lorry in the right colour. I’m not saying that we need a huge and looming example of 60s brutalism, or a tube-covered hi-tech edifice, or a soaring bit of homage to the International style – but could we have something original and interesting? There’s a lovely estate of luxury second homes (designed by Phillipe Starcke no less) nearby which are non-intrusive but not remotely pastiche cotswolds. Okay they’re really expensive and not at all ‘affordable’ housing, but why can’t we have this sort of imagination and design in all the new building in the district? Why can’t we have a combination of glass and steel and some stonework in the cotswold colour to provide some context?
Why can’t we have something new?