On holiday in Dorset last month, I happened to drive past Poundbury in Dorset, UK. Poundbury 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.
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.
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.
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.