Requiem or Renaissance
This was an evening dedicated to exploring the essential place of design of building- whether new or adaptation of old- in the protection of the heritage of the town. We had a presentation from Paul Burley whose theme was the failure of the authorities and the StratfordSociety in safeguarding our delicate historic heritage within the town- hence the “requiem”; and from Ollie Spicer- architect practising in the town with number of landmark modern buildings within his portfolio. Peter Burgess presented the society’s current experience.
This is not a detailed note of all the contributions which pleasingly were informed and wide ranging; the debate certainly did not resolve into a volleying of the traditional against the modernistic approach.
There was general recognition of the importance of design and many supported Paul’s rallying cry that we should not as a community be prepared to stand by and let inferior quality through for want of caring and for want of effort to protest our views. This “watchdog” role was part of the essential purpose of the Society which he felt we had neglected in recent times.
Ollie set minds working in setting out his views on the overall planning of the new communities given that Stratford like so many other towns was destined to have significant increases to its population. His vision was the Copenhagen model turning the British approach to planning on its head. Instead of following the usual pattern of agreeing swathes of new housing- as we have recently been doing here in agreeing the core strategy-and then somehow expecting the necessary infrastructure to come along afterwards, we should start off by identifying the essential needs of the Society we wish to welcome in the given location- transport networks and principles, social provision -and make sure that this is or will be put in place before or as the housing comes along. Ollie’s plea to lay alongside Paul’s is that we are now attempting to plan for generations to come whose needs and preferences we must make some real attempts to anticipate in a society changing so rapidly. There has been much discussion of the Danish model of the contented society which overturns many of our tried assumptions and which is the starting point for this planning concept.
Discussion ranged around these views. Some cited the experiments in Britain for new towns here in the West Midlands some of which had failed. There was recognition that new population was a given and that we must make sure that it is not allowed to impair what is there and what is valued. There is opportunity as well as threat. New population should bring with it new resources and with it a chance to create infrastructure to serve the new communities whilst protecting the town’s heritage. The key is effective strategic planning.
There were questions about the design of some of the new buildings- particularly on finish and scale. There were views about the iconic buildings and their place, as well about the aesthetically pleasing nature of architecture that is traditional and that blends. The two can be brought together but it takes care.
There was a sense that this is a continuing debate for the Society to stimulate and engage in as it fulfils its role to offer views and advice on design and development in the town.