Housing landscape architecture and planning

Would you rather live in the top row or the bottom row?

Would you rather live in the top row houses or the lower row houses? The top row gives you central heating, indoor toilets and no rising damp, no earwigs and few spiders. The lower row gives you peace, beauty, calm and sustainability.
The obvious thought is ‘Why can’t I have both?’ Well, perhaps you can, and modernising the lower row would probably be easier than de-modernising the top row. I think something went terribly wrong with the system which lays out new housing estates in the UK. The architecture is mundane but liveable. The external landscape is ghastly: too much roadspace, too much wasted land, too much impermeability, too many planning regulations, too much ugliness, too much engineering, too little sustainability, too little landscape architecture, mouldy little strips of ‘garden’. We need a housing revolution. The vested interests which control the system should be treated better than middle eastern dictators, but overthrown. Though not innocent, I do not see the motor car as the villain of the piece.
Images of British housing estates courtesy of : lydiashiningbrightly dkohara jimmy_macdonald

Cabbages, flowers and other vegetables in a cottage garden

24 thoughts on “Housing landscape architecture and planning

  1. Stephen Harmer

    If you take the lower row at face value, yes this row would have my vote. But the bottom row I think are paintings by Helen Allingham and the cottages shown never existed in this form. As Waymark wrote, ‘Allingham helped to promote the acadian image of idealized country life by prettifying some of her scenes, and sentimentalizing the cottagers’. The middle and upper classes had a rosy view of the life of the working class in the countryside, believing the conditions shown in paintings such as in the bottom row, this lead to a feeling that conditions in the country did not need to be improved. In fact life was so tough that in the 19th century many people left the country for the even worse slums of the major cities.
    I do agree with all that you say regarding the top row, and with the amount of housing Kent alone needs, things are only going to get worse with the architecture becoming even blander and the gardens smaller.

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  2. Tom Turner Post author

    The top row are definitely idealised and sentimentalised but, judging from the size of the dwellings, they are more likely to be the homes of ‘middle class’ farmers and tradesmen than of the poor. The houses are surely built of sustainable local materials etc etc my point is about the external environment rather than the architecture. No oil was used in making the roads, no coal was used in making fertilisers or herbicides, the roads are permeable, the gardens are used to grow food as well as flowers, there are no wasteful lawns. I have added another image at the end of the post to show a cottage garden being used to grow vegetables and flowers.

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  3. christine

    I would definitely prefer to live in the lower houses illustrated in the bottom row and would probably set about interior renovations immediately!

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    1. Tom Turner Post author

      Sensible, but what would you do about the thatched roof? Here is a nineteenth century account, to help you decide:
      “15.A thatched cottage is an object of admiration with many persons who have not had much experience of country life; and, accordingly, we find several in the neighbourhood of London. Such cottages have, perhaps, the gable end covered with ivy, the chimney-tops entwined with Virginian creepers, and the windows overshadowed by roses and jasmines. The ivy forms an excellent harbour for sparrows and other small birds, which build there in quantities in spring and early in summer, and roost there during winter. In June, as soon as the young birds are fledged, all the cats in the neighbourhood are attracted by them, and take up their abode on the roof of the house every night for several weeks; the noise and other annoyances occasioned by which we need only allude to. We say nothing of the damp produced by the deciduous creepers and the roses, as we have already mentioned that: but we must here notice another evil, which is not so obvious, though quite as serious, and this is, the numerous insects generated in the decaying thatch; and more especially that generally-disliked creature, the earwig, which in autumn, whenever the windows are open, comes into the house in quantities, and finds its way into every closet, chink, piece of furniture, and even books and papers. All cottages of this kind harbour snails and slugs in the ivy, and spiders under the eaves of the thatched roof; and wherever there are spiders, there are also abundance of flies. As there is always a garden attached to such cottages, it is almost certain, if on a clayey soil, to abound in snails, slugs, worms, and, if the situation is low, perhaps newts. Some of these, from the doors, or at all events the back-door, being generally kept open, are quite sure to find their way not only into the kitchen, but even into the pantry and cellars. Slugs, when very small, will enter a house through a crevice in the window, or a crack in the door; find their way to the moist floor of the pantry or the cellar, and remain there for weeks, till they are of such a size that they cannot retreat. There are few persons indeed who do not experience a feeling of disgust at seeing the slimy traces of a slug in any part of their house, not to speak of finding them on dishes in which food is kept, or even on bread; or at discovering an earwig in their bed, or on their linen. The kitchen, in low damp cottages of every kind, almost always swarms with beetles and cockroaches, and the pantry with flies ; while, from the closeness and want of ventilation in the rooms, it is almost impossible to keep fleas, &c., from the beds. If a large dog be kept in or near the house, as it frequently is, or if a stable or cow-house be near, the fleas from the dog, the horses, or the cows, which are larger than the common kind, will overspread the carpets, and find their way to the sofas and beds. Having lived in cottages of this kind ourselves in the neighbourhood of London, we have not stated a single annoyance that we have not ourselves experienced ; and we have purposely omitted some. Two of these, offensive smells and rats, are the infallible results of the want of proper water-closets and drainage; but these evils, great as they may seem to be, are much easier to remedy than the others already mentioned, which are, in a great measure, inseparable from the kind of house. Two others, the danger of setting fire to a thatched roof, and its liability to be injured by high winds, are sufficiently obvious; but it would hardly occur to any one, who had not lived in a house of this description in the neighbourhood of London, that a thatched roof is, of all roofs, the most expensive, both when first formed, and afterwards to keep in repair. A plumber or a slater, to repair a lead or a slate roof, may be found everywhere in the suburbs of large towns; but a professional thatcher must be sent for from the interior of the country. For example, the nearest cottage thatchers to London are in the Hundreds of Essex on the east, and in Buckinghamshire on the west. We have dwelt more particularly on the evils incident to a thatched cottage, because in it, all cottage annoyances exist in an extreme degree; but the truth is, that all the cottages which have not their groundfloors so much elevated above the surrounding surface as to be perfectly dry, and their rooms lofty and well lighted and ventilated, are subject to the same evils, though not quite to so great an extent. Notwithstanding all that we have stated, we do not recommend our readers never to take a thatched, or other fancy or ornamental cottage; we only wish to point out the inconveniences and extra expense to which their doing so will render them liable* We think we may safely assert that the same family that would want two servants under ordinary circumstances, would require three in a cottage of the kind we have been describing.”

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  4. Tian Yuan

    If I have the top tow housing and try to build green wall for it, if I have the bottom row, then I want it have internet to use. Perhaps, I also need one gardeners maintaining my garden before I am retired. Because young persons who are busy working may have not enough time to do gardening jobs. If I am retired, I must love to live in the bottom row and enjoy the gardening work myself.

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    1. Tom Turner Post author

      There is every reason why the houses in the top row should have green walls and they could produce healthy fruit.
      No problem at all with giving you internet access in the lower row and if you had a ground-source heat pump then you could make money be selling spare electricity to the national grid. But it would be best if you could do some gardening even while your working, because everyone needs relaxing exercise and home-grown food.
      But what would you do about the thatched roof????

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  5. stephen Harmer

    The answer to the ‘what would you do about the thatched roof’question may be limited as I dont think there is much you can do apart from maintain and keep it. Thatched roofs have a degree of protection, for example if you thatch with an incorrect material for the area you are in, you can be forced to replace it and there is no time limit on this, even if you have just bought the property! The team from the ‘protection of ancient roofing traditions’ are watching!!

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    1. Tom Turner Post author

      You must be thinking about modernising the thatch roof, making it a high-cost, high-insurance, luxury aesthetic accessory for people who like their houses to look as though they could decorate chocolate boxes. Not sure if this counts as sustainable living! What about replacing the thatch with highly insulated corrugated steel? It does not have to be blue.

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    1. Tom Turner Post author

      That is admirable and I will look round for a suitable property for you. Thirty years ago the village of Great Tew would have been very suitable (see also) but the houses have now been modernised. The floating floor is a good idea – would you also install sealed double glazing units to keep out the pests mentioned in the above quotation?

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  6. christine

    I would consider inserting a secondary room side double glazed window unit to meet the antipated triple glazing energy standards in the UK, again keeping to the philosophy of reversibility.
    [ http://www.selectaglaze.co.uk/heritage_buildings/introduction.php ]

    Then I would check with the local planning office to see whether my home is in a conservation area with an article 4 direction (requiring an application for planning permission to replace the windows) on the property or whether it is a listed building and additional regulations apply.

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    1. Tom Turner Post author

      I like the principle of reversability (and have not heard of it before) but if you will let me press you further: would you be willing to (1) do without a lawn (2) grow your own vegetables – maybe 30 mins/day would be OK for this (3) do without a sealed road surface – and tolerate winter problems (4) do without fossil fuels?

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  7. Jerry

    i envy the kid with a broom in the bottom photo! if I were a lady, I will enjoy gardening work everyday. In fact, designer always could not always enjoy the benefit of a garden work, but a gardener can. They touch the flowers, the grass and see the growth of them, which is wonderful feeling!!!

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    1. Tom Turner Post author

      I believe the first horticulturalists were women and that they have been involved with growing vegetables since then. But men’s interest in horticulture has been growing steadily and I see no reason why you should not become involved!

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  8. christine

    What would be the worst possible thing you could disclose on a landscape garden blog? To being in possession of a ‘brown’ thumb! [ http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/brown_thumb ] Despite having a brown thumb it is still possible to “touch the flowers, the grass and see the growth of them, which is wonderful feeling!!!” as Jerry says.

    So (1) being partial to lawns perhaps a raised planting terrace to the rear of the cottage would be the best solution to maintaining the cottage garden. Advise accepted. (2) If a neighbor contributed the ‘green’ thumb I would be happy to share the produce. (3) Yes, have lived by and traveled on many unsealed roads [ http://www.portdouglas-australia.com/media/images/gallery-cape-tribulation.jpg ]. Please clarify the winter problems? (4) Is there solar heating and power or other alternatives available?

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    1. Tom Turner Post author

      Unsealed roads, unless they are very well drained, suffer from mud and slush in winter. These should cause no worries after your experience of Australian outback roads. So I was going to start looking out for you, to see who is giving away thatached cottages to sustainable people, but now I have a few concerns (1) I am not sure if driving a 4×4 counts as sustainable living (2) those brown fingers (3) you want a terrace for lounging in the sun instead of remembering what it says in Genesis: ‘In the sweat of your face shall you eat bread, till you return to the ground; for out of it were you taken: for dust you are, and to dust shall you return.’ But these problems could be overcome (1) you could have an electric 4×4 and limit its use to home-generated power (2) I could get you a DIY gardening book and a supply of green gloves (4) you could have the LCHF diet, despite Genesis recommending bread (5) you could do without the terrace and use the land for cabbages, as in the lower photo. How does this sound?

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  9. Christine

    Perhaps too much time was spent in the garden of Eden where the gardening was less demanding so (1) an electric 4 x 4 limited to home-generated power would do fine (2) perhaps beginning with a few citrus trees in pots might be a good idea? Quite looking forward to learning how to shape them into ornament spheres. (4) I could probably manage on the LCHF diet but have a fish allergy….(5) OK, I will compromise and grow cabbages instead of having a terrace…coleslaw is good. Other possibilities…[ http://www.lifestylefood.com.au/recipes/collections/cabbage-recipes.aspx ]…may take some time to learn the diet rules.

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    1. Tom Turner Post author

      Sorry but citrus trees are not suited to topiary and I am beginning to think that there may be quite a lot involved in turning even the tips of your fingers from dark brown to light green. Coleslaw is a possibility – but can you make it without sugar and salt? The residents of thatched cottages probably boiled their cabbage for hours and hours, with beans, and then got their vitamins from herbs.
      Maybe we need new names for alternative approaches to the problem eg Martini Sustainability and Claret Sustainability and and Champagne Sustainability and Luxury Sustainability and Sunlounger Sustainability and Visual Sustainability.

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  10. Christine

    True, I have been dreaming of the garden at Versailles and the details of the various trees in the arrangement eluded me. [ http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-clEufYlLqDQ/Thij0kcdr9I/AAAAAAAAAps/fd9LQ98QQEg/s1600/orange+trees+along+a+building.jpg ] Perhaps if you start me on the artistic tasks progress to the more practical tasks in the garden will be easier.

    Yes, never use salt or sugar in coleslaw. Good idea to clarify the different types of sustainability.

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    1. Tom Turner Post author

      I can see that doing without sugar is a possibility – but what about doing without salt? It is another appetite stimulant and contributor to high-blood pressure, obesity, CHD etc.

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  11. christine

    Sorry. To clarify the answer – it would seem possible to make mayonnaise without salt…without substituting sugar for the salt. So sugar and salt free mayonnaise should be possible for the coleslaw. Chef could do this best.

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