Residential Property: Responding to Local Architecture

The Birmingham Post (England), November 5, 2004 | Go to article overview

Residential Property: Responding to Local Architecture


Byline: Marsya Lennox

Housebuilders across the UK have been smarting at the wounding criticism of their 'mediocre' products, made in the recent report by CABE, the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment.

The developers and designers behind the 22 per cent of new houses deemed 'poor' may be putting on a brave face.

And the barbs have been countered by claims that the industry must be getting it right as people are buying the houses.

It has been a good moment, however, for the niche developers to look a little smug. While the volume builders have been churning out dismal boxes to cheap, off-the-peg designs, the independents will claim that they have a clear conscience.

Particular criticism was made of the abysmal lack of effort by housebuilders to match their new homes with a locality.

Anyone groaning at the sight of bright red brick estates in stone country or big plastic-edged windows on 'exec' housing close to timbered street scenes will wonder what happened to vernacular architecture.

The only vernacular understood by some of today's least educated developers is the colourful native language employed by the traditionalists, as they watch, in horror, the emerging new schemes.

Those, however, who have taken special pains to match new homes with a location can now stand up to be counted - and crow a bit about their superiority.

Among them is Neil Grinnall whose Neil Grinnall Homes has won some brownie points at Hadzor Hall, Droitwich.

His newly-built Georgian-style houses and converted stables are 30 per cent larger than industry average and built to replicate the local estate style, to sit easily with the existing 18th century architecture.

They are anything but 'mediocre', believes a proud Mr Grinnall, who has only eight properties left to sell of the 36 new homes.

'Whilst many volume houseguilders only work with a selection of set house types and are unable to respond to local variations in architecture and materials, we cannot risk our reputation by building a substandard development that won't provide a long term legacy for the future.

'I have no doubt that because of its outstanding historical setting Hadzor Hall is almost unique for the UK market. However, I would have deep reservations had a volume housebuilder acquired the site, whether it would have been developed with the same painstaking time and financial commitment that we have chosen to invest to make this development what it is today.'

Construction costs had been 20 per cent over average for new homes - but the investment had paid off. …

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