Robert Campbell in Boston Globe on Prince Charles and new Scottish project
Robert Campbell of the Boston Globe writes about Knockroon, the planned new project of Prince Charles and the Prince's Foundation, in southwest Scotland's economically depressed region of East Ayrshire.
"The prince is closely aligned with an American group, the Congress for the New Urbanism. (Dittmar chairs that organization, too.) The New Urbanists are the planners and architects who created the village of Seaside in Florida and dozens of other developments around the country. Like the prince, the New Urbanists prefer the walkable town of the past to the car-dominated sprawl of today. As in Knockroon, they try to pack buildings a little closer together and to mix many different uses - living, working, shopping, recreating - in a small area, so you can get to everything by foot."
Full text below:
Prince's crowning achievement
His second planned community is designed to encourage residents to exercise
By Robert Campbell, Globe Correspondent | March 30, 2008
Prince Charles of Britain, whatever his other confusions may be, has no doubt how he feels about architecture.
The prince believes that modern architecture has spoiled the looks and the livability of British villages, town, and cities - and sometimes the countryside, too.
Agree with him or not, you can't help admiring the fact that the prince, unlike other architecture critics, puts his money where his mouth is. He's about to do that again. He's sponsoring a new town to be built in rural Scotland.
The twist this time is health. My source is a report in "Scotland on Sunday." That publication says the new town "will be the first in the UK to be specifically designed with the health of its future residents in mind."
Like Americans, the Brits are worried about people, especially young people, getting too fat. But is architecture the solution to the weight problem? Well, maybe. People get fat from eating too much and exercising too little. In the prince's new town, everything will be planned to encourage the residents to walk and climb stairs.
The new town will be called Knockroon, after a nearby farm. In Knockroon, we're told, every home will be within a five-minute walk of places to shop and work. Streets will be designed and lighted to favor pedestrians over cars. "Traditional Scottish tenements without lifts" - that is, with no elevators - will encourage exercise.
The principal developer is the prince's own Foundation for the Built Environment. This group, which undertakes projects to improve conditions in older British towns that often are economically depressed, is headed by an American with the very American name of Hank Dittmar. I get Dittmar on the phone.
"Well," he says, "the Scottish press has highlighted the health aspects of Knockroon. It's true Scotland participates in the global obesity crisis. Deep-fried Mars bars are a delicacy. The site will be laced with hiking and biking trails and riverside walking trails. And it lies next to a 1,000-acre estate that will be open to the public.
"But there's more to it than health," he adds. "This is an area, near Glasgow, that was badly hurt when Maggie Thatcher closed down the coal mines. The prince has asked us to look into a comprehensive program for the whole region. We don't want Knockroon to be the one and only feature. We'll look at food, at sustainable energy, at training local people for job skills to help in the regeneration of the area. And we've asked local architects to help us respond to the vernacular architecture of the region."
This will be Prince Charles's second new town. Since 1993, he's been building another called Poundbury in Dorset, southwest of London. I've visited Poundbury twice. It looks like an old English village, with twisting streets and squares lined by modest houses made of traditional materials like brick. The line between town and country is sharp. The buildings of the town do not sprawl loosely out onto the agricultural land. Streets are too narrow and irregular for cars to develop much speed, so they're naturally safe. Parked cars are tucked away in hidden courtyards. Walking around Poundbury, you sometimes feel like a character on a film set. But that's not an unpleasant feeling.
Poundbury was built on land the prince owned in his capacity as Duke of Cornwall. Things do come more easily if you happen to be royalty. But you need more than money and property to accomplish what the prince does. It takes nerve to turn your ideas into bricks and mortar for everyone to see and judge. The prince literally tries to build the world he would like to see, as an example for others. Poundbury has been a major economic success. Home buyers are lined up.
The prince is closely aligned with an American group, the Congress for the New Urbanism. (Dittmar chairs that organization, too.) The New Urbanists are the planners and architects who created the village of Seaside in Florida and dozens of other developments around the country. Like the prince, the New Urbanists prefer the walkable town of the past to the car-dominated sprawl of today. As in Knockroon, they try to pack buildings a little closer together and to mix many different uses - living, working, shopping, recreating - in a small area, so you can get to everything by foot.
New Urbanist architecture sometimes looks silly, like a too-pretty, too-nostalgic scene you'd find in a snow globe. But the push for traditional town planning principles has been enormously influential.
Early modernist architects were famous for being concerned with health, too. But they thought of it in a very different way. Health for them was all about clean white surfaces and indoor-outdoor living. But the houses they built, with their sunny terraces and germ-free surfaces, were usually sited on suburban or even rural roads. You had to drive to everything, burning petroleum, polluting the air, and contributing to global warming, all while comfortably seated. The hope at Knockroon is that health will be part of daily life - not only the health of the populace, but health of the planet.
What should Americans think of Prince Charles and all this do-good activity? I suspect most of us think of him as an empty suit with marital problems and big ears. But that's the work of the famously nasty British press. I've met the prince a couple of times and heard him speak informally with a small group, and found him to be bright, funny, articulate, and certainly deeply committed to the cause of what he thinks is a better environment and a more human kind of architecture.
Architectural modernists, like religious figures, can sometimes be fundamentalists. And fundamentalist modernists tend to hate everything the prince says and does. He's an outspoken critic of modernist buildings, especially big ones when he thinks they overwhelm historic sites. What's wrong with that?
More power to the prince, say I. So what if he's a little nostalgic? There's plenty of room in the world for more than one kind of architecture.
Globe architecture critic Robert Campbell can be reached at email@example.com.
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