Ladies and Gentlemen,
I’m so glad to have this brief opportunity to join you all this morning and I’m only sorry I’ve missed, probably the most interesting bits at the beginning.
I’m enormously grateful to George Clarke for having invigilated this session so brilliantly and having brought out, I think, so many fascinating points. It was riveting to hear the comments from those who have had experience of the system as it were and of trying the Foundation’s approach. But what I don’t think people always realise is just what an effort it’s always been for a long time to reach this point as far as establishing this Foundation is concerned.
What I can never get over is, I don’t think people understand how much you have to invest in training and educating people to be able to understand how to deliver the kind of process you’ve all been talking about. It doesn’t just happen by chance or by accident. People talk glibly all the time about sustainable this and sustainable that. Half the time I actually think it means business as usual with a few sustainable bits on, which might just satisfy a few people around the bazaars. Well actually it requires an awful lot of effort and an awful lot of application and an awful lot of study to achieve the kind of holistic integrated understanding of how you look at the environment, the natural environment as well as the human environment.
The challenge is how to integrate the two it seems to me, in a way that is timeless and durable. So I’m enormously proud of what my Foundation has done. What Hank Dittmar manages to achieve is remarkable I think. But also, I’m incredibly proud of all those people who started with my old Institute of Architecture, who we actually trained on our Foundation course. We’re lucky enough to have Ben Bolgar who is one of the first students, who for some unknown reason has returned, and who is an absolutely crucial aspect of the whole operation. So this business of training leading on to be able to be a practitioner is crucial and takes much longer than you think to be able to understand the whole process of making places. That is a real art.
I also want to say that I think sometimes people think that the only reason I set up the Foundation and bother about all these issues is that I have an absolute obsession about classical architecture, which drives me insane because it’s very easy to accuse somebody of that. In fact at the end of the day I think the architecture matters. If you go to somewhere like Poundbury, I defy anybody who goes round to be able to tell me where the people with lower incomes are living. The secret being that you should be able to design a place, a mixed use place whereby the architecture doesn’t necessarily mean that you are confined to an affordable housing area. Funnily enough why I think that so many of these issues matter is very well demonstrated in one the developments in Somerset that the Duchy of Cornwall was involved in some years ago. In that instance the Duchy only owned a small part of land, the rest of it was owned by a local farmer who wanted to work with the Duchy.
They brought in a volume house builder. The aim was to achieve a mixed-use community. But the local authority, at that time, insisted that all the affordable housing was put in one area, as per the usual commercial approach. Guess what, that particular area has been a problem ever since. There’s been vandalism and goodness knows what else. They’ve now built a Somerset version of the Berlin wall. I remember taking some builders down to have a look. It is an example of one aspect of what we’re trying to achieve by this approach- the Enquiry by Design.
I also wanted to say that one of the main reasons why I embarked on all this so long ago was that I felt that we have been carrying out for a very long time, I suspect a hundred years or more probably, a gigantic experiment. Not only with Nature, but also I think, with ourselves and with human society.
One particular example of how we’ve been carrying out an experiment with Nature is we’ve suddenly managed to cut ourselves off completely from the fact that Nature is actually part of us. But if you persist in adopting that approach, you can but only end up in a situation where Nature will kick you in the teeth. I think that happens all the time. I had a meeting yesterday where I brought together a lot of forestry experts and others to look at this issue which could well cause untold damage. There is more tree diseases than you’d ever believe possible now affecting many of our iconic species. I mean if we’re not very careful we will lose the oak tree, which is now subject to two sorts of diseases. We are having to cut down huge stands of wonderful Japanese Larch. Scots pine is threatened as is Caledonian pine. Corsican pine is already affected. You’ve seen the effect on Chestnut trees.
We are now subjecting ourselves, I think, increasingly to an ongoing disaster and one of the reasons is because we have thought only in compartments. We’ve created monocultures. Particularly with trees and plants we’ve forgotten about the need for biodiversity, the essential interrelatedness and interconnectedness of all these species, bacteria and insects and goodness knows what else together. We’re losing all these species at a rapid rate.
The point I’m trying to make is that we’re doing exactly the same thing with our own human societies. We have created monocultures and look at the result. We’ve also gone against the natural human intuitive aspect, our own nature, which is related to the wider picture. That was illustrated to me very well when visiting a large slum on the outskirts of Mumbai some years ago. I remember approaching this place and it look like a landfill site. It was covered in plastic sheets and goodness knows what. You went in a little whole at the side and to my astonishment inside was an entire miniature, almost like a Lilliputian town.
A traditional town with little tiny passages, streets and shops. The whole thing mimicked what a traditional town actually is. It struck me then that in a strange way we operate like bees making a hive and ants making a nest or whatever. The universal pattern is within us. I think that if you look at the way we’ve developed our approach over the last hundred years, we have gone against that intuitive process. So when my Foundation goes around with all these Enquiry by Designs we do actually find that if you provide people with an alternative prospect, actually they are voting with their feet for something that reminds them of what intuitively they feel to make comfortable in a living environment and before you realise it they have actually created a more traditional type of community. People I feel also want to see a sense of identity. They want to know that they’re in Warwickshire or India or in the Middle East. They don’t necessarily always want a monocultural approach where you could be anywhere in the world in, very often, buildings that aren’t suited to the climatic conditions or aren’t using the kind of materials that might be closer to hand and more renewable.
It seems to me that in the way in which we are destroying Nature’s ecosystems as we speak whether they are marine ecosystems, which are under huge threat, or terrestrial ecosystems, we are doing the same thing to our own and if we think more carefully about these issues then I feel we need to insure the maintenance and enhancement of natural ecosystems and put them at the heart of our approach to economics. Without the resilience and durability of those natural ecosystems we simply cannot have our own economic system at the end of the day, because we rely absolutely fundamentally on the function of those ecosystems. So resilience is crucial. That is why I refer to Natural Capital because you cannot have Capitalism without Nature’s Capital. At the moment we’re drawing the capital out and not living on the income. I think the same thing is true in terms of Community Capital. We have huge challenges unless we think about Community Capital, how to enhance it, how to make it resilient and how to form the kind of surroundings that will help that resilience in the future.
Billions of people as you know are living in urban areas. Many of them around the world in dysfunctional, unmanageable, increasingly degraded environments that are unplanned. I go around the world a lot and you cannot believe how many of these places are just built by people who have given it no planning and no thought. That is terrifying. They’re actually thinking of building a ribbon development corridor between Delhi and Mumbai without any planning.
So all I’m saying is unless we try and encourage people to see that these issues are of enormous importance because communities are actually at the heart of everything, not huge monocultural masses where nobody has any real identity or sense of belonging. So it seems to me we have to give that sense of belonging. Equally, to me, the approach the Foundation is adopting through Community Capital, which looks towards enhancing and adding value to the social, environmental and financial aspect of any development is again crucial because it actually starts to look at the natural ecosystem and the environment at the very start. It thinks about how you will manage that stream or that river if it floods. Some may call it sustainable urban drainage, which again is a feature of which I’m very proud the Foundation manages to propose. It doesn’t go in and just cut all the trees down.
In Scotland, a place I know very well, they suddenly cut all the birch trees down in this small town in a particular area and it just has been left abandoned. So they’ve gone in, cut all the trees down, run out of money for the development and gone away. But why cut all the trees down? Why not look, for a start, at the way in which that particular place is relating to the rest of the place? Why not sit down with local people? This is why again the approach we’ve been trying to pursue by sitting down with local people is so important. I keep saying that local people frequently have the wisdom and the knowledge about their area that is never brought out. So when you go through the process of these EBDs, extensive as they may be, you are actually attaining that vital piece of knowledge without which you’ll make a mess probably. So that sense of local understanding is crucial.
I imagine some think our approach is too expensive. At the end of the day, there’ll be all sorts of people who will appear now because of the way things are changing who will claim to be doing exactly the same thing as my Foundation. So just beware because they’ll be trying to give you a cheapo version of what we’ve been trying to propose for the last twenty years to a chorus of abuse. So it is a difficult thing to do.
It’s been fun seeing things develop over the years. The numbers of rooms like this I’ve talked to. Endless people looking furiously at me and I think why am I doing this? Then you find one or two go away and start talking much to my amazement. It’s all the most furious that actually turn out to be the most interested. I think it’s true because listening now to people who’ve been through very sceptically probably at the start, have now been describing what a difference it’s made. I’m only doing this, not for my health, I can assure you, but actually because I would like to see greater resilience put into the system for the future and as I say to turn around this gigantic mad experiment into realigning ourselves with Nature in a way where we work in harmony with her and our own inner pattern because the two are intimately linked. Through that way I do believe we have a better chance of first of all not wrecking this small island for the future and for your grandchildren and mine and great grandchildren. We can enhance it and leave it behind in a way that does reflect where we come from but also where we’re going because the two are interlinked. We can’t have a future without the past. There has to be a sense of timelessness, a living tradition that helps to maintain that sense of identity and belonging. The same is true all around the rest of the world where I hope the Foundation can be of increasing assistance.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I hope today we’ve been of some use to you and given you some food for thought and I hope before I finally shuffle off this mortal coil I may catch a glimpse of one or two places that have been built as a result of these principles.