It’s funny how these coincidences work. Last week I talked about the endurance of the American streetscape, of their front yards divided (if at all) by “living” fences, of the value they place on mature trees. All of this positivity of course was countered, I remind myself, by a healthy slice of cynicism towards the old fashioned and stodgy nature of their design choices in general.
So during the week I went to meet a customer in a brand spanking new development in west Dublin and was shocked and encouraged by what I saw there. It seems that some architects have not been sitting on their hands during their enforced hibernation for the past eight years. Evidently some have not been content to simply bide their time waiting for the chance to start churning out more of the same garbage as before. The designers of this place at any rate have been using their downtime to devise ways of putting a new spin on the much maligned housing estate.
First of all we had the perfectly preserved cluster of mature maple trees through which was woven the entrance road and piers. This was quickly followed by a repeating band of granite cobbles, real granite cobbles I hasten to add, at bends and crosswalks in the road. The roads themselves have none of this dreadfully contrived, seemingly endless serpentine shape that we normally see but rather are laid out in short runs in parallel formation. The short runs presumably provide the traffic calming that the typical meandering set up is also supposed to provide but rarely does without the aid of speed bumps every seventy five feet.
The houses themselves incorporate a nice blend of materials and finishes in a design that at least seeks to do things a little bit differently. There are granite lintels and sills, zinc on the flat roof of the front porch, galvanized rounded rainwater accessories, alu- clad windows and most impressively from my perspective; vertical ‘v’ grooved timber fence panels in the back garden, not the wafer thin bevilled rubbish that we usually have to deal with (i.e. remove and chop up for kindling). These are big improvements that do not, or should not, add significant construction costs.
The front lamentably retains the driveway coming all the way to the hall door effect of old but also displays a few welcome new departures. There is a significant bed underneath the living room window filled with a nice assortment of herbaceous planting. The hideous three foot high concrete block dividing wall is happily nowhere to be seen and has been usurped in this case by a Prunus lusitanica hedge. The streets boast rows of semi mature Sorbus aria lutescens that look great and have evidently been planted and staked correctly. I repeat; they have been planted and staked correctly. Halelluia. Not forgetting the five year old Betula jacquemonti to get things started in each of the back gardens.
As far as I am concerned this is serious progress. It seems that some lessons might have been learned. Lessons pertaining to trying to provide a bit of value for money and not trying to cod people with bog standard fare for gold plated prices. Baby steps though, I’m sure the dreaded “builder’s finish” is alive and well and the obsession with being able to step straight into the hallway from either of the two cars parked in the front driveway endures. Notwithstanding the fact that I consider the whole notion of development like this to be fatally flawed to begin with I am not sufficiently churlish to be incapable of acknowledging progress on this front. The military terminology is not inappropriate as the war rages on.
Still, I am prepared to hail any development which just might mark the cusp of a worthwhile trend. The shift may yet be barely perceptible but believe me, this is serious progress.