A New-Old English Village With Sociability Built In
Based on old Dorset town plans, Poundbury offers socially mixed housing in a traditional style, as prescribed by Prince Charles
DORCHESTER, ENGLAND — 'We will shortly arrive at the historic village of Poundbury..." you can imagine the tour guide crackling over the intercom.
"Poundbury, adjoining the ancient Roman country town of Dorchester (which Thomas Hardy called "Casterbridge" in his Wessex novels), is a haunt of Prince Charles's.
"Now Charles is Prince of Wales, but also the 24th Duke of Cornwall. And Poundbury is in the Duchy of Cornwall, the source of the prince's income.
"But his great interest in Poundbury is not only financial. He is an outspoken campaigner for the traditional architectural values epitomized by Poundbury.
"To the left of the coach, you can glimpse one of Poundbury's fine terraces with its creamy-white rendered walls, typical of Dorset.
"Notice the traditional lampposts. The pitched roofs. The well-constructed chimneys. The sensitively pointed brickwork of some houses. The attractive locally quarried stone of others.
"Enjoy Poundbury's human scale and its social mix of rented and purchased housing: rich and poor living cheek-by-jowl. Observe the traditional proportions of windows and doors. The old roof tiles. Don't miss the Purbeck granite curbstones. No 20th-century concrete here!
"We are dropping you outside because the narrow streets of picturesque Poundbury are not compatible with today's traffic and are best explored on foot.
"Oh, and please remember that real people live in these houses. Do not stare.
"Finally, I should mention that Pounbury's earliest houses go as far back in time as ... 1993.
"The coach will depart at 11 o'clock."
The preceding description may have a few fictitious touches. But Poundbury - or at least its initial Phase I, Section A of 69 dwellings on 4 acres - is fact. Phase I, Section B is under way.
In 20-to-25-years' time, Poundbury will consist of 2,000 to 3,000 dwellings covering 250 acres of its 400-acre site. This extension to Dorchester was designated by the local government authority. Enthusiastically espoused by Prince Charles, it is being built in accordance with the 1989 master plan by Leon Krier, an architect-theorist the prince admires.
Poundbury's small beginnings have the slightly theatrical air of a new - if traditionally featured - model village. It needs time to mature.
Doreen Clarke and her husband have keenly followed the plans for Poundbury from the outset, and now they have moved here. She likes the fact that the houses are all different. That inside the houses are modern, "and yet the style is traditional." She has even pinpointed the old house in Dorchester she believes was the model for her own.
Pat Eames, in her new-old house on Flintcombe Square, likes the fact that the houses "are built in local materials in a vernacular style." She thinks the narrow roads in Poundbury mean that "you are close to people, as it was in the old days."
Mrs. Clarke feels she and her neighbors can "almost shake hands."
The Clarkes have settled for one car instead of two as more appropriate to their Poundbury life. Both women are obviously enjoying the considerable stir of outside interest in the place. "Makes you feel like a pioneer," Mrs. Eames says.
Poundbury is deliberately planned, as Andrew Hamilton, development director, points out, "to be an urban development, with urban density.... It is not ... a development where you have each house sitting in the middle of its plot.... It's very different from that concept." The mostly small, private gardens are behind the houses, as intentionally hidden as other less-than-picturesque services. Front doors open straight onto the street. American-style grass out front is absent. Garages, usually so prominent, are secreted round the back.
Mr. Krier's plan is based on old Dorset towns. Each of its four unequally sized quarters will be a small town - "self-sufficient in education, employment, shopping, and leisure" as an article in Architectural Design put it. This polycentric plan is in deliberate contrast to recent suburbs of Dorchester, which are without their own urban functions or places of work and depend on shops in Dorchester's center.
The prince recently fulminated (as he does periodically) against the awful "uglification" of urban expansion in Britain, which he says gobbles up the countryside. Britain needs some 4 million new houses in the next quarter century, and he is not alone in dreading that much of this sprawl will be all-too-familiar speculative house building driven largely by profit-minded developers.
In contrast, Poundbury is meant to "be an example to others," Mr. Hamilton says. Its persnickety design code aims to outlaw many of the traditionalists' betes noires: specifically forbidden are such things as bubble skylights, prefabricated out-buildings, plastic awnings, plastic commercial signboards and lettering, and internally illuminated signs, not to mention TV aerials.
Architectural author Charles Knevitt says that Poundbury is being built to a particularly high standard and is "concerned with ... 'beautification' rather than 'uglification.' " He is largely in favor of what is being attempted here. But as an advocate of community architecture, Mr. Knevitt does voice certain doubts about a plan that imposes such rigorous constraints not only on architects (four so far) and builders (one so far) but also on inhabitants. Pat Eames's answer to such doubts is that if you don't like the Poundbury concept, then don't buy.
One newcomer to the area, who prefers to remain anonymous, briefly considered buying a Poundbury house, but concluded it might be like living in a National Trust property, with a Beatrix Potter (a conservationist as fierce as Mr. McGregor) around every corner. She opted for a genuinely old house she could alter and make her own. The instant-museum atmosphere of Poundbury allows no such freedom. Even Eames is not quite happy about the potentially large sorbus tree in her tiny garden: She is not allowed to remove it.
And Knevitt comments: "One of the problems with a code of this type is that it almost denies the human desire for spontaneity and, over a period of time, for adding and subtracting, occasionally, parts of buildings to satisfy individual needs."
It is not easy in 25 years to make a place that is meant to have the character of communities that have grown over five or six centuries. But Poundbury looks set to try.
*This is the second in a two-part series on trends in urban housing development. The first ran Monday, March 11.