Today we’ll cover chapter 10 of Raymond Unwin’s ‘ Town planning in practice; an introduction to the art of designing cities and suburbs‘ of 1909.
Unwin commences this chapter by remarking how only in the Modrn Age is there no longer a single dominant style that changes only slowly.
At any of these earlier periods a site planner, laying out his site, would have some fair idea as to what was likely to be erected upon it, and would know that whatever buildings were erected on the different plots would be in the main harmonious in style. No such harmony can be counted on to-day. Buildings are being erected in all conceivable styles, the majority, alas ! with little or none ; and except where some form of guidance or regulation can be introduced, no harmony or consistency can be counted on by the town planner…
In former days a general harmony of building in any district was secured by the economic necessity of using mainly local materials. From this fact there resulted, first, a great harmony of colour and style in each village or town ; and, second, a great variety of colour and style between the different towns and different districts.
Unwin was a critic of the architecture of ‘blatant shouting’
the first thing required is that both architects and the public should consider their buildings more from the point of view of their effect on the whole town. So long as each architect and each client thinks only of his own building, how individual and how noticeable he can make it, little progress in the total effect can be expected. Architects should first be trained to think first of how their building will take its place in the picture already existing. The harmony, the unity which binds the buildings together and welds the whole into a picture, is so much the most important consideration that it should take precedence. Within the limits of this enclosing unity there is plenty of scope for variety, without resorting to that type which destroys all harmony by its blatant shouting….if we are to have beauty of surroundings — and for what does the profession of architecture exist if it is not to produce beautiful surroundings? — we must set our faces against the development of such incongruities in our buildings as completely.
Unwin was one of the very first writers on design control
there would seem to be clear justification for the exercise of some public supervision of the designs of buildings… Difficult as it is for any form of artistic expression to be put under arbitrary regulations without its being seriously checked or even destroyed, nevertheless, it is possible by means of suggestion and supervision to obtain a certain minimum standard of design, to secure a certain degree of harmony, and at any rate to avoid the perpetration of such monstrous examples of ugliness as too often disfigure the country to-day….although it is not possible to secure by criticism really good designs from those who have not the power to make them, still it is possible to improve the designs of such people up to a point where they will at any rate form a harmless background for better buildings, and will not clash with the general scheme.
Simple design control Unwin suggested included defining materials, rooflines and fascia heights.
Unwin was even a crique of the monotony of sprawl
In the more suburban areas especially it becomes of great importance to group the buildings. Hardly anything is more monotonous than the repetition of detached or semi-detached houses, and this monotony is little relieved by variety in the individual houses
Unwin was also a critic of the typical bleak playground surrounded by roads Victorian board school
one sees in towns school sites with expensive paved and macadamised roads running on two or three sides of the playground. The money wasted in useless road frontage in such a case would have been far better devoted to a larger site on which some grass and trees could have been planted. It is, of course, important in a school site that there should be sufficient points of access for the scholars, but it is an advantage rather than otherwise that the access should not open out too directly on to the high-roads. There should, indeed, be some space for the children to disperse without going into conflict with the ordinary road traffic.
Just to finish the chapter with a modern photos of Astbury Church (in Cheshire) , which Unwin used an example of how carefully placed public buildings, rather than isolated public buildings, could enhabce the beauty of surrounding housing, and ‘complete the street picture’ in his lovely terminology.