Planning Permission UK - Articles and Opinions

Sunday, November 06, 2005

IS THE POPULAR QUEST FOR CONTEMPORARY DESIGN THE NEW BAD TASTE FOR 2015?

Can you remember when people used to install slatted louvre windows as replacement units in their Victorian semis or the stone cladding revolution of the 1980's.
We look back and 'tut tut' at these blunders with a comfortable glow of self satisfaction that we would never make such obvious design and development errors in our own projects - we have a far greater sense of good taste haven't we?

Trends in the residential development world seem to go in huge swings of about 7 to 10 year cycles and it is often not until the end of one cycle we realise what the mistakes were which is usually triggered by the complete abandonment of the previous trend or methodology for another system.

We surge from brass to chrome light fittings, UPVC to aluminium and then back to real wood again for the windows. Carpets to laminates back to real wood block flooring back to laminates again when the real stuff shrinks, warps or splits.

The same is happening in the overall design and refurbishment of whole homes inside and out. We used to be conservation mad but now its total revamp of properties to something akin that we used to aspire to in the 70's with simple glazed panels, uncomplicated detail and simple finishes.

The quest for the elusive and theoretically unique contemporary look for the monied home owner is now the new bandwagon for most property owners and developers trying to be that little bit different and wanting to make a statement about their lifestyles.

Teenagers tend do the same thing but they have piercings or a tattoos instead and it is only the more experienced in years amongst us that realise they are acting more like sheep rather than the individualists they are so desperate to attain.

Trying to define contemporary design is actually very hard and even harder to achieve. One definition that I like is a look that is clean, minimalist and unable to define as a year in which it was constructed - in other words free of all obvious identifiers and trends that would define its era. A design that would still retain its 'contemporary' badge in 40 years time - this is why I think obtaining a true contemporary design is so hard. The Oxford English dictionary defines contemporary as something belonging to the same age which I think is not too dissimilar from my definition of having a timeless feel.

So, am I against this new 'heard' mentality of trying to achieve a contemporary design or lifestyle for a dwelling house? Absolutely not! BUT there are qualifications. Firstly, nearly all aspects of contemporary design and lifestyle is attainable through internal design and alteration only. Those wishing to stamp their lifestyle choices to the wider majority through the external envelope of a dwelling should only consider this through either new build or carefully selected conversion projects (eg a 1950's pumping station for example).

Regretfully, there is a 'bandwagon' mentality out their at present that is also set on externally converting superb period properties in sensitive areas into simplistic, boring and bland looking so called 'contemporary' properties that have been stripped of their unique softness, character and warmth that is totally out of place within their unique setting - all for the sake of of gratifying the 'monied' ego's of people pursuing the latest design trend in urban living.
Some of the design treatments these ill-informed people are completing to their newly acquired homes consist of:-

1. Rendering over all the previous beautiful clay facing bricks.

2. Removing 18th century plain clay tile hanging for the dreaded 'smooth render' look.

3. Adjusting window and door openings to inappropriate scale apertures with out of place joinery.

4. Adding galvanized steel or stainless steel features for canopies or porches that jar with the very character of the buildings heritage and stature.

The list goes on even to the point of them rendering over beautiful feature brick dental coursings or projections that form an intrinsic part of the local character all to attain that elusive 'contemporary' rendered characterless design icon of so called modern living that the occupiers wish to stamp upon the world to satisfy their own egos.

The damage they are creating to some of the most beautiful parts of the UK heritage housing is criminal in my view and they should be brought to book. Regretfully, the type of people who are doing these odious external 'contemporary' conversions are the usual 'IT' brigade with the usual 'more money than sense' attitude and the 'see it - want it now' mentality - all because they can!
So the conclusion to my little rant on what is going on to some of our more important suburbs is this:-

1. If you are seeking a 'contemporary' style of living and dwelling, DO NOT materially alter the external envelope of an existing dwelling - Most contemporary design living is achievable through internal alterations ONLY.

2. If you are insistent on pleasing your greater ego and require a design statement for the whole external world to see then PLEASE only do this though new build projects where the contemporary design is not compromised by an existing period property and you are not 'murdering' a previously beautiful building that added value to the local character and to the residents.

Two very simple rules that will ensure that your latest residential development WILL NOT become a bad taste mistake in 2015 - You have been warned!
Our 'Maximum Build Planning Guide' explains further the issues involved when developing a property.

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