Sunday, January 29, 2012

Speculators and Rutland Terrace

click photo to enlarge
In theory there's nothing wrong with the idea of speculatively built private housing. The notion that someone puts up the money, has houses built, then advertises and sells them to members at the public for a profit has much to commend it, and most new housing does follow this model. However, in practice - and I speak only of the UK here - it can leave much to be desired.

The danger, as I see it, is that the pursuit of profit leads the speculator to produce housing that is sub-standard in materials and design, and aesthetically banal or just downright bad. It's not difficult to find examples that display one or more, and sometimes all, of these features. In fact, the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) last year called much new UK housing "shameful shoebox homes" because they are simply too small for people to live in comfortably, and lack the space to hold both people and the furnishings and possessions that are common today. That's not to say that all housing is bad, there is plenty that is well-built, commodious and looks good. However, too much is none of these things. When you look back at the history of housing you find that speculative building often resulted in this mix of good and bad, with bad being far too common. New, low-cost, privately built housing was so bad in the early years of the twentieth century that in 1919 parliament passed the Housing, Town Planning, &c. Act, a provision of which required local authorities to build housing. This they did, usually to a higher standard than the private sector, showing what could and should be achieved with limited funds.

I was reflecting on this when I was photographing Rutland Terrace in Stamford, Lincolnshire, recently. This row of twenty houses was speculatively built for a relatively wealthy clientele between 1829 and 1831, during the period that architectural historians refer to as the Regency. (In architecture the period extends to the onset of Queen Victoria's reign). What struck me was that the builder(s) started at the east and created a white stucco facade with a balcony at each first floor window, then built a middle section faced in Ancaster stone with a tall, covered balcony, and finally completed the western end also in stone, but with balconies that spanned the first floor windows of each property. In other words within architectural constraints - type and size of doors and windows, overall size etc - they deliberately introduced difference in the long facade. Was it whim or the following of fashion that caused this change? Whatever the reason it makes for a rather odd appearance, and is a departure from the usual co-ordinated, overall design of such terraces. In fact, it reminded me of the way builders today often construct the same house design across a site but differentiate one from the other by the colour of bricks or the shade of roof tile that they use.

photograph and text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Canon
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 60mm
F No: f7.1
Shutter Speed: 1/1250 sec
ISO: 100
Exposure Compensation:  -1.33 EV
Image Stabilisation: On