Poundbury: Architectural shame with a worthy aim

© Andy Spain

On holiday in Dorset last month, I happened to drive past Poundbury in Dorset, . Poundbury is ’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 24 Sep 2014. <http://www.archdaily.com/?p=75106>


  1. Thumb up Thumb down -3

    Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

  2. Thumb up Thumb down +10

    “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…

  3. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    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.

  4. Thumb up Thumb down +2

    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.

  5. Thumb up Thumb down +4

    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.

  6. Thumb up Thumb down +2

    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.

    • Thumb up Thumb down +1

      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.

  7. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    “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)

    • Thumb up Thumb down 0

      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.”

    • Thumb up Thumb down +1

      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.

  8. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    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?

  9. Thumb up Thumb down +1

    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.

  10. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    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…

  11. Thumb up Thumb down +1

    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.

  12. Thumb up Thumb down -1

    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.

  13. Thumb up Thumb down +4

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

  14. Thumb up Thumb down +2

    And what is the future for architecture? The ghost town of poundbury or the tranformers of mr.Morphosis, Tom Mayne.
    Architecture lost their values in the moment that it forgot to “talk” with people. Today architecture is a way to show how architects seem like gods. Buildings fall in cities with no link between people and them.
    that´s the reason that everybody in the world trips to Veneza,Paris, Rome and Rio. New cities? they exist just in books,in pictures or in the heads of our modern architects.

  15. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    Well, at least this is IN England… This beatiful english-like town is right in the middle o nowhere nearby Shanghai. It has a nice downtown with a bakery and a pub, single family houses nicely built in red bricks and… a church!!! Because, apparently, whatever your religion is, wedding pictures look more beutiul with a catholich church behind, een i you’re sintoist, buddhist or nothing at all.

    Enjoy http://www.thamestown.com/english/default.htm

  16. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    zombies. lifeless shells.
    clones that have lost the vitality gene?

    the new urbanism does a good thing with planning questioning the nature of yard and 2x garage face ideas so popular in the sub-urban usa, but the architecture is so referential that the present is given away to the past. just another 19th c. battle of the styles.

    I guess if you’re a king to be like chuck, better to look way back anyway…his era of royals looks a bit pale [more than the usual brit] when compared to the old queen mum thumbing her nose at V1′s or even vic and al.

    but if you are looking backward, at least go druid.

    • Thumb up Thumb down -2

      Hehe, pretty much my thoughts. No surprise Prince Charles is clinging to the past when monarchies bellyflopped into the modern era.

      The overall effect of the project reminds me of the quote; “I feel thin… Like butter scraped over too much bread.” New age, time to switch to pasteurized dairy.

  17. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    The funny thing is, AFAIK, Poundbury is a popular place for people to live. Again, there is the risk of architects imposing wills on people who have different aspirations to our own. I personally would not want to live there but I would defend the right of others to want such property mercilessly. The problem, to my mind of empty squares and streets (other than the 7AM issue) is not one of architecture, its one of society. We have been programmed to be atomised consumers, to ruthlessly view our self gain as the be all and end all. Inevitably when you get into this mindset, Melvin Webber’s ‘non-place’ is the inevitable conclusion – people lock themselves away on the web and go from house to car to work and back again in the self-interest of wealth and material accumulation. The fact that Poundbury hasn’t managed to reverse 70+ years of the “American Dream” should really come as no surprise.

  18. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    Some thoughts:
    1) There indeed is no way to replicate the way a town evolves over time. But at the same time Poundbury has grown at a slower and more gradual pace than most developments. It is no instant development. Poundbury will probably get better over time, aided by the use of materials that age well. Architects the world over really should be more concerned with how a building ages than they are.

    2) The bones of Poundbury are the most important aspect of the development, and mostly they are pretty good: Small streets and blocks, priority given to the pedestrian but in a way that accommodates the car, buildings pushed to the property line. What is most worrisome, and probably the reason for the deserted feel to the place may be the mix of residential, retail and business. Probably too much residential and not enough of the other two. Who really knows though, if it was 7am.

    3) Yes, a few buildings in styles from this century might be good for Poundbury.

    4) It is a bit odd that andyspain says about P Charles, “too many people that back up his opinions on architecture in some kind of subservient manner” when lots of people indeed are questioning Prince Charles’s views. He has provoked some good debate on this. There are just as many people who dismiss him simply because he is the Prince (whether he has used his influence in unseemly ways at Chelsea Barracks is another matter). The modernists are against him, while much of the public agrees with his views.

  19. Thumb up Thumb down +2

    Sweet english country houses respectful of local vernacular. Maybe looking a tiny bit ‘stepford-like’, but what do you expect at 7 in the morning with not a soul in the street. At least they don’t have that fake appearance and actually sit where they belong. Cute.

  20. Thumb up Thumb down +2

    I’ve been really impressed by this for some time. Would much rather live here than the ORDOS suburb, for example.

  21. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    It seems sad that the best we feel we can do now is regurgitate the past. This is the direction consumers desire to go, for now. At some point this will shift when it becomes clear to all that it is a stage set designed for a life we do not lead. I regret we have become so backward that we have to remake old movies, tv shows, politics, cars and buildings.

  22. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    Poundbury reminds me of Seaside, FL in the States. Another hyped up “designed community”. Poundbury looks like a movie set and so does Seaside, FL. It would be far more elightening to see Poundbury in action; at say 9:00 am or in the evening when supposedly people are on the street.

    Seaside is plopped on the FL panhandle between other highrise gulf coast communities. What Seaside has really done is make a fortune for the original landowner. By developing and codifying what all the building must be and what elements they must have,(porches, white pickets fences, standing seam metal roofs, Seaside has become the antithesis of typical waterfront FL development. And that has made it unique and desirable in an area of dull, drab, life sapping architecture.

    Seaside has no industry, and thus no reason to exist except as a tourist destination (trap). If Poundbury is a extension of a existing town than it will succceed further into the future as a viable place to live 24/7, 365 a year.

    Seaside is only a get away, vacation destination. An exception to the usual method waterfront development.

  23. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    although its def not my cuppa tea, the buildings actually look quite high quality in terms of build and materials.
    if this is what some ppl want – give it to them.

  24. Thumb up Thumb down -1

    Lucas P, LOL, that is pretty bad and andyspain would have had a better case showing this building, instead of the super nice ones he photographed.

  25. Thumb up Thumb down +2

    Good on you Charles. It’s not everyone’s taste but it’s right for the area and quality materials always age well and build character. We need to see how this develops in 20 years time and compare it to the trendy but cheaply made modern developments.

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