On my way back home from Dorset I stopped to take a few pictures of Poundbury, Prince Charles’s statement on domestic and civic architecture, which is set out in a flagship village on the outskirts of the historic town of Dorchester.
Twenty five years ago the Prince incurred the wrath of a great many architects by his pronouncements (“monstrous carbuncle” and so forth) on the state of modern British architecture, so when Poundbury’s face was revealed to the waiting world there were groans of dismay.
Walking round the streets of the pseudo Georgian conurbation, I had the spooky feeling of being an extra in a film set made of plywood and hardboard. Not a living soul crossed my path. Completely absent was the hustle and bustle which brings life and colour (and a certain amount of mess) to any urban landscape. A few up-market shops offering haircuts and wedding gowns stood out as forlorn examples of trade and commerce. The architecture itself, a mix of grand Georgian and humbler country cottage, has houses priced from the mid £350000 to nearly £600,000. If I lived there I’d probably stick my head in the oven.
Here are a couple of comments from Guardian readers.
I lived on Poundbury when I first moved to Dorchester – no TV aerials allowed so you have to hook into a communal Sky dish, no washing lines allowed so tumble dryer or clothes horse only, stupid gravel on all the roads and pavements and the one road that links the old council estate next to the ‘village’ store in Poundbury is blocked off – a message in itself – awful place.
Poundbury is hell on earth. Packed with snobs. Very expensive. The most boring, tedious, soul-less architecture imaginable. Buildings crammed cheek by jowl, minimal gardens. The residents association are a local mafia. Solar-panels, ice-cream vans, children in the street – all are banned.
This Saturday’s Guardian has a piece headed “Trouble in Truro as Prince Charles is lambasted over plans for new Poundbury”
As a champion of eco-development, the Prince wishes to keep traffic out of Truro city centre, but his new housing estate is centred round a Waitrose food store, which will have provision for local produce to be labelled “A Taste of Cornwall”. Waitrose, of course, is the main retailer for the Prince’s Duchy Biscuits and other provisions. His new scheme has enraged locals who think it will divert commerce from their Farmer’s Market and other food shops, and some commentators are highly critical of Prince Charles’s ambitions for what they call his property empire.
Sometimes it’s too easy to forget our incredible good fortune in living in a city like Oxford, with its beautifully proportioned buildings, set in spaces that grant harmony to the eyes, mind and the heart. The light on a winter’s afternoon glancing off the honey coloured stone in Radcliffe Square (sometimes against a blue sky) is incomparably lovely and the traffic of tourists, students and bicycles is all part of the alchemy.