Wednesday, 10 October 2007

Real landscapes, real townscapes

Two interesting themes this week.

One of them  got a lot of press coverage. The Work Foundation published a paper looking at 'clonetown England' and local distinctiveness, arguing that cities which have established distinctive patterns of living and trading (Silicon Fen in Cambridge, gay-friendly Canal Street in Manchester) have benefited economically from doing so.

The Breckland Society didn't  get nearly as much attention. But it has published an interesting survey of the vernacular architecture of Breckland - a strong component of the region's distinctivness.

Knapped flintwork, 'galleting' (inserting little chips of flint  into the mortar joints between courses), the use of brick and clunch in combination, are all strong elements of local architecture. They're every bit as much as part of the Breckland 'feel' as the Scots pines and open heathland that characterise the landscape - but have had, if anything, even less protection.

What's particularly good to see is that the Breckland Society hasn't just surveyed  traditional architecture as a part of the past. By running workshops on relevant skills such as flint knapping and flint walling, they are helping to ensure that local building firms have the expertise needed to restore old houses, and build new works in keeping with the tradition.

Local distinctiveness is worth fighting for. And  it needs to be real local distinctiveness - not pastiche, not stereotypes and 'heritage' in the country house tradition, not tourist traps and the 'this is Scotland so let's have some tartan and a haggis' attitude. What's good is that more and more people are beginning to appreciate the small things that make up that local appeal - and seeing ways to bring it into the twenty first century.

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