One of the difficulties in understanding what Garden Suburb principles are, is that everyone has a different idea of what a Garden Suburb actually is. For some it is the characterful architecture, for some it is the parks and gardens, for some the wide avenues and key buildings. In my experience it makes sense for the developer and local authority to AGREE the principles, and call them RULES, at the start of the project.
How do we reconcile a nostalgic desire to have our new residential developments designed to look as though they were built hundreds of years ago, even though they don’t ever actually look as though they were, with the current requirement to create Garden Suburbs for the 21st century? The design rules have become confused and contradictory.
I have recently returned from a trip to the USA where nostalgia is interpreted in quite a different way, through a formal pattern, rather than the organic arrangements that we continue to long for in the UK.
Towns are built on grids, unless topography dictates otherwise. Los Angeles is a great example of this. The road network is a formal grid with loose edges. It could be described as a section of woven cloth that has been distorted and pulled about at the edges. Downtown (high density) LA is laid out as an orderly grid, whereas (low density) Beverly Hills is loose and organic – because of the hills.
Could this be the answer to our Garden Suburb/ Vernacular Village dilemma? Garden Suburb in the middle and Vernacular Village at the edges! Well I think it could be. I am not saying that this is the perfect solution for every situation but it certainly achieves consensus among all parties. We can create the Garden Suburb and all the good characteristics we value, plus we can create a place that looks as though it is meant to be there and is appropriate for its location, drawing details and material references from the surrounding historic settlements. If we now recall Unwin’s plan for Hampstead Garden Suburb we will see that he had the same brilliant idea! – ‘A dense centre, diversified residential areas, ……morphologically differentiated districts …..’