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Monday, May 19, 2003
One of the only really good things the last Conservative government did for Britain was introduce PPG7. This innocent piece of planning legislation essentially endorsed the construction of new country houses, providing they were of 'outstanding' design quality. Of course, one man's house of outstanding quality is another man's carbuncle, but the wording didn't dictate a particular style of building, implying that support from various official bodies (e.g. the RIBA and CABE) would help you out if you wanted to be vaguely innovative. Many architects (and developers) seized the opportunity to build what is desperately needed (desperate in cultural, rather than social terms) - contemporary architecture on a grand scale, without having to resort to retro style and pastiche. Perhaps the most famous 'new country house' is (or will be) Ushida Findlay's Grafton New Hall, a collection of organic spaces awaiting construction in Chesire.

All this could be about to change (the legislation has already vanished from the official website) and the legislation altered (although whether we should be blaming the Archers is another matter). Perhaps not unfairly, it was deemed strange that so much effort should be put into constructing huge palaces for wealthy individuals when Britain's cities are crying out for quality new homes. It's true, as well, that a fair number of traditionalist designs made the most of PPG7, but even these haven't always found favour (the latter link is especially interesting - the ongoing saga of a refused and revised planning application, showing the myriad hoops one has to jump through to get anything done in this country). Architects like Robert Adam and Quinlan Terry make a very nice living out of fulfilling the rural fantasies of a select group of very wealthy people, but their buildings do at least exude a quality of construction and proportion that is sadly lacking from mass-market homes. Ultimately, it's just depressing that, a) legislation is needed to justify high quality modern design, and b), we'll never get a contemporary equivalent of Farnsworth House in this country, let alone individual houses of the quality you see in countries like Switzerland and Austria (which have both got way more dramatic landscapes to 'spoil' than here in the UK).

Elsewhere: the iconic Shell Guides - a Britain that no longer is // Lola, an art magazine from Toronto // some photographic collages at the 800 x 600 Project especially: ice, Minneapolis by night, tulips // Bauhaus architecture in Tel Aviv (via iconomy). Compare and contrast the site's original 30s photos with the contemporary shots in Nahoum Cohen's new book // freshly painted houses (via scrubbles) // the geometric sculptures of George Hart // art, illustration and more at the Neasden Control Centre, from where you can leap to all sorts of visual wonders: photos, Wevie Stonder, Basefield, North Manc Beds.