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The Design Debate - TrustNews Jun 2004

styles of architecture in towns like Winchester

The debate, which was announced in the last TrustNews, took place at the Guildhall on the 29th April. The object of the evening was to air personal opinions about the design of new buildings in existing streets. It has always been the Trust's policy that we should not resist slow continuing change, however, we have also maintained that although new buildings need not be traditional, they must be in character. This begs the question of what 'in character' means, and this is what we wished to be discussed.

To start the debate we therefore asked two speakers to give us their opinions from their very different standpoints. The first was Richard Feilden, who lives near Bath and is the senior partner of the architects Feilden and Clegg, and the second was Adam Wilkinson, the Secretary of SAVE Britain's Heritage, and a medieval historian. It is impossible to describe their illustrated talks in detail here, but both appeared to share the Trust's views, giving a wide variety of examples of success and failure. Both showed how departure from the scale, pattern and texture of a street, most particularly in terms of the way in which the linear space is defined, could completely destroy its character, but how, on the other hand, skilful and considerate design could perpetuate and enliven the character without resorting to pastiche.

If they differed, it would be in the extent to which new materials and forms are acceptable, though there would have been little difference between them over any of the examples they showed us. Adam used more mundane examples, which was very useful because so much of what gets built is mundane, and he was able to show that even at this level, it is an eye for relationships that is critical, rather than the use of particular materials or details. Richard would be more adventurous, but he also stressed the importance of integrity and literacy in design, and the huge importance of respect for site and context.

Our chairman for the evening, Christopher Clark QC (Chancellor for the Diocese), astutely questioned the speakers and provoked the audience to express their thoughts on the subject. It was a pity that more Trust members were not present to share in the process, but very interesting contributions came from all sides, including the City's Chairman of Planning, the Chief Executive and the Chief Planning Officer. In summing up, Christopher noted the need for a balance between harmony and innovation, and said it was clear that more dialogue was necessary between all those involved. The Trust will try to follow this up.

A three-page synopsis of the contributions and questions is available from the Heritage Centre in return for a stamped addressed envelope.