Poundbury: Architectural shame with a worthy aim

© Andy Spain

On holiday in Dorset last month, I happened to drive past in Dorset, . is Prince Charles’s attempt to create his architectural and planning masterpiece next to Dorchester. I used the excuse of being up with my new baby at 7am to go and take some photos of it to show you here.

What can I say, it’s not great (I’ve changed that sentence so many times to try and balance the architectural lack of ambition versus the worthy aims of such a project). It’s a mish mash of styles from different centuries, all added together. It’s a toy town, a museum of a mythical past. There is no soul, no heart, a perfect example of the need for difference, for organic spaces created over time.

© Andy Spain

Constructed squares and public spaces lay empty, devoid of the community spirit that was planned. Residents live in quaint chocolate box ideas of beauty but nothing to do with design and need. Cars are hidden away, gravel paths replace tarmac. I was waiting to see the film crew around the corner come out and pull away the facade from this dispiriting space. It’s an over sanitised middle class ghetto that has a whiff of resignation that there is nothing positive to live for so we must retreat to the past. It’s a sad simulacra.

© Andy Spain

However, there is no hiding from the value of the idea that we should care about space as a whole rather than a series of individual units to live in. Public squares, local shops and communities that look out for each other are all worthy aims, it just appears that in this case it hasn’t worked (the feeling of emptiness wasn’t just from it’s partial completion but from something much deeper inside me). I can’t pretend to know the answers but then I wouldn’t expect anyone to think that I would. The problem is that a future King, the Duchy of Cornwall, Prince Charles has too many people that back up his opinions on architecture in some kind of subservient manner rather than question why his opinions should count over the majority of those who spend their life investigating architecture, planning and the question of creating future spaces for society to live in.

© Andy Spain

Nostalgia can be a comfort as people age and die and life changes but to choose to live in a space that seeks to comfort you that the country hasn’t changed, that we all hang out at the local baker and butchers, is to totally disregard any understanding of what it is really like to live in modern society. Of which, of course, Charlie has completely no idea.

You can also read what a group of “Starchitects” wrote about Prince Charles about a year ago.

© Andy Spain
© Andy Spain
© Andy Spain
© Andy Spain
© Andy Spain
© Andy Spain
Cite: Spain, Andy. "Poundbury: Architectural shame with a worthy aim" 29 Aug 2010. ArchDaily. Accessed 20 Dec 2014. <http://www.archdaily.com/?p=75106>
  • King

    Charles is just an ordinary person. I wonder when England will dump the stupid idea of “royal” family.

  • Sar Castic

    “Constructed squares and public spaces lay empty, devoid of the community spirit that was planned.”

    Wait… didn’t you say you were there at 7am? No bands playing, no hundreds of people dining out at that time? That Prince Charles…

  • g dehls

    The only redeeming feature is the use of quality materials where I live people keep building horrible fake old mixed up houses and use fake stone cladding and plastic mullion windows.

  • sara

    Why is this more provocative than a “modern” subburb with boxes stacked in various ways? This imitates the past but so do alot of “modern” designs, can you really tell the difference between a new box and a bauhaus box from 1930? It´s all about identity anyways, and the author´s identity is obviously white male in black clothes in a white box.

  • Sar Castic

    btw, it doesn’t matter what star architects say about it since they are the problem PC is trying to counter. Star architect have hi-jacked architecture, putting up crappy WOW buildings all over the world. The buildings in your photos are beautiful. The main drawback of a Poundbury is that it is more expensive and takes up more land than a modern alternative. There is a place for modern design, but not everywhere as modernists had us believe.

  • Filip

    You’re missing the point of the article… communities are not instantaneous and architects can’t force something like that whether they design something that is contemporary or pre 20th century. The best spaces seem to evolve slowly overtime and are not crash land master-planning.

    • http://kristinacorre.ca/ kristina

      Right on. Perhaps HRH should have read The Seduction of Place by Ryckwert- about how and why urban projects have failed, or sometimes succeeded, in the past and the lessons we can learn from them.

    • windbag

      “The best spaces seem to evolve slowly overtime”

      wrong, read Camillo Sitte.

  • JOHN RUSKIN 1849

    “Don’t let us deceive ourselves in this important matter; it is impossible, as impossible as to raise the dead, to restore anything that has ever been great or beautiful in architecture.”

    (From OMA homepage)

    • Stacey Hunter

      Just to say that the quote is from Ruskin rather than OMA (from The Lamp of Memory (1849). “Do not let us deceive ourselves…it is impossible, as impossible as to raise the dead, to restore anything that has ever been great or beautiful in architecture… That spirit which is given only by the hand and eye of the workman can never be recalled… And as for direct and simple copying, it is palpably impossible. What copying can there be of surfaces that have been worn half an inch down? The whole finish of the work was in the half inch that is gone.”

    • R. Bono

      B.S. Architecture’s very essence is interpretation and reinterpretation; taking what’s useful from the past and building upon it…and the modernist academy do it as well….from their sainted files of insipid and sterile buildings.

  • Fudge

    For a project such as this to achieve a ‘natural’ feel it has to have imperfections. The character and organic feel of the city is drawn from the story of every building, every brick, every pothole, every piece of graffiti embodied in an architecture. There has clearly been an attempt to invoke this multiplicity here, but the use of standardised components such as windows and wall lights ruin the illusion. The walls are too well finished, the roads too smooth. Faults are intrinsic to the feel of the city, but can one intentionally create mistakes?

  • Sean

    Earlier planned communities like Columbia, MD, Reston VA, Seaside FL, Celebration,FL all have the same fake Disneyesque feel to them. Even when they use quality materials like Poundbury it still has a fake feel. A little to clean and tidy.

  • mihai

    HRH is not the designer, he had the idea (I speak about the speech at the RIBA anniversary). The design is by Leon Krier.
    The idea was that the “white males in back suits” should also think about the others and it was based on the failure of modern “grandes ansembles”. You should watch Gataca (I saw a similar film about criminality in a modern neighborhood in the UK but i can’t remember the name).
    As the imitation of the Bauhaus, this area tries to replicate something that works. (I don’t know the extent in witch the idea of the project was successful in this case but i believe it is something to think about…

  • George C. Fields

    This is 2010, where are the solar panels? rain water reuse? Or is that a bad modern thing too?
    I do not agree with most of what starchitects do, sometimes its almost criminal. But going back a century is not the answer. If Prince Charles was trying to push for a more sustainable, greener architecture and incentives for the use of these technologies.
    Thats my 50 cents.

  • bLogHouse

    That’s the best New Urbanism has to offer. Remember A. Duany and E.Plater-Zyberk’s Seaside? If you watch “The Truman Show”, you’d notice how this movie points to New Urbanism’s greatest weakness – being fake.

  • goran

    what is so shameful about this place? that it’s boring? white cubes with flat roofs and urban sprawl is much worse..