Innovation or pain?  Inside the curious city built by our new king

Innovation or pain? Inside the curious city built by our new king

Queen's Mother Square, poundbury duchy of Cornwall travel day trips visit poundbury king charles towns uk dorset holidays - Alamy

Queen’s Mother Square, poundbury duchy of Cornwall travel day trips visit poundbury king charles towns uk dorset holidays – Alamy

“When I embarked on this venture, I was determined that Poundbury would break the mold of conventional housing development in this country, creating an attractive place for people to live, work and play. Many said it could never succeed, but I am pleased to say that the skeptics were wrong and there is now a thriving urban settlement next to Dorchester.”

I ponder this statement, in the triumphant tone you’d expect from a future king, as I push a pram through one of the country’s most talked-about experimental towns in rural west Dorset. After reaching a certain speed, all the novelty melts into a Bloomsbury-style haze of perfect proportions and symmetry, but the moment I step on the brakes, the youthful glow of the brick, the unusually clean windows and distinct lack of real the hit of antiquity. I’m stumped, unable to place the absence of disheveled splendor with this era of architecture – like most Brits, I’m used to a degree of grime and decay in cities built centuries ago.

House in Poundbury, Dorset, England UK king charles III holiday travel - Alamy

House in Poundbury, Dorset, England UK king charles III holiday travel – Alamy

But Poundbury is as new as Georgian gets. The ground-breaking 400-acre project, which combines sustainable philosophy with architectural conviction, was conceived in 1989 by the then Prince of Wales and was led by renowned urban planner Leon Krier. Krier and his team were tasked with the not-so-easy job of creating an autonomous (and not incongruous) extension of Dorchester on a section of Duchy of Cornwall land that adhered to the historic county aesthetic as well as the future King’s unofficial plan. for this venture, ‘A Vision of Britain.’

It is in this 1989 book that King Charles first ruffled the feathers of modernists, arguing for the preservation of distinct character and tradition, and the practical as well as psychological impact of reverent (and beautiful) architecture. Like Poundbury, the book sheds light on the monarch’s key values.

King Charles Poundbury - Alamy

King Charles Poundbury – Alamy

The first, and perhaps most important, is the look, all of which, according to HRH, should honor Dorchester’s historic aesthetic. Beyond the main Georgian tone, Poundbury draws inspiration from other great architectural eras. The huge Corinthian pilasters along the yellow neoclassical facade of Strathmore House feel more Catherine the Great than Hardy’s Wessex, while to its right, the equally fierce Duchess of Cornwall Inn, with its tiers of intricately arched windows, riffs on Palladio’s Convento della Carita in Venice. Then there is the impressive Royal Pavilion, the jewel in Poundbury’s polished crown, whose sumptuous blend of Greek Revival and Roman arcade architecture references the styles of John Nash and Sir John Soane.

poundbury architecture duchy of cornwall - Getty

poundbury architecture duchy of cornwall – Getty

Among locals there is a feeling that Poundbury began life more in harmony with its rural surroundings, but that the arrival of palatial buildings in subsequent building phases took people by surprise. “Some say the estates around the fire station and Queen’s Mother Square are a bit over the top,” confided one resident. There are other musings, with clauses in the covenant barring residents from visual missteps like painting their doors the wrong color or, God forbid, using unwanted flowers in their gardens.

The second principle is integrated social housing. Instead of pushing social housing to the fringes of the city (a la Paris), Poundbury absorbs them into pockets of private housing, until they are indistinguishable from each other. Despite occasional reports of petty crime and vandalism, there is an overwhelming sense that this resulting mosaic has been a success. Nevertheless, a ‘them-and-us’ mentality is at play in other ways, with the old town of Dorchester – linked to Poundbury by the car body-like Bridport Road – often perceived as complacent and superior in its authenticity.

There is also a distinct lack of youthful residents. Apart from the odd family that piles into Waitrose or Great Fields’ elaborate play park, everyone seems to have a silver top. “It’s great for retirees looking for a nice area or those who have already bought a house, but not so good for young people trying to climb the property ladder, who are being priced out,” another local told me.

poundbury village dorset former prince of wales - Getty

poundbury village dorset former prince of wales – Getty

The third principle is a pedestrian-friendly layout, and roads go around the main public areas rather than cutting them apart. It makes life difficult for drivers and Poundbury’s crazy roundabout system tends to swallow you up for a few funny minutes before spitting you out onto the wrong street. The ubiquitous gravel paths – of the Capability Brown type that King Charles is no doubt used to – are another bugbear, if only for those pushing prams.

The last principle is the mix of retail, offices and public areas. There are advantages to this. Car use is reduced, for example by allowing residents to walk to work or the supermarket, while even the smallest craft workshops can do business in the city’s most attractive faux-Georgian blocks. But without a clearly defined high street and cafes tucked away among offices, it can be discombobulating, and Poundbury lacks the beating heart that most towns coalesce around.

“It’s all very grand,” said one local who is mostly happy with the experimental village, “but the center has kind of ended up being Waitrose and a car park.” Considering the Duchy of Cornwall’s partnership with the high-end supermarket, this may not be a coincidence, but it is certainly a paradox for its core car-free philosophy to contend with.

What struck me most about Poundbury is its ability to evoke strong opinions. For every negative sentiment – ​​author Stephen Bayley was particularly scathing, calling it a “sterile, suffocating dormitory town that we are told is the prototype for all our tomorrows … an affront to modern possibilities” – you’ll find someone effusive in their praise.

Queen Elizabeth II Duchess of Cornwall Inn Royal visits Poundbury days out - JUSTIN TALLIS

Queen Elizabeth II Duchess of Cornwall Inn Royal visits Poundbury days out – JUSTIN TALLIS

“In general, I think [the King] has done a brilliant job and he has rattled the cages of modernists responsible for the serious developments in other parts of Britain, such as Milton Keynes [in Buckinghamshire] and Bracknell in Berkshire,” said one Dorchester resident.

Their comment touches on a contradiction at the heart of the Poundbury project. Its road and building names speak the language of a feudal age, of Coach Houses and Buttermarkets, while its social philosophy feels remarkably progressive and utopian, where digital agencies share workspaces with lawyers, and the environmentalism for which our King is known remains at the centre. . Such a mixture of traditionalism and progressive thinking endures as the village enters its final phase of development. It remains to be seen whether the King will continue to show the same enthusiasm towards this urban experiment with its completion in 2025.

I was initially skeptical and making Truman Show comparisons, but after relentlessly teasing my husband to spend Saturday morning there with my daughter, having his West Country oysters, enjoying the wonderful new playground and the trendy Pavilion in the Park cafe, now a convert. It’s easier to do a grocery shop in Dorchester, which is closer to our village, but I still find myself in Poundbury, participating in the pastiche I had scoffed at. Why? Because in a strange way, it’s actually quite nice.

Poundbury days out - Jay Williams

Poundbury days out – Jay Williams

Where to stay when you visit

The Kings Arms, Dorchester (thekingsarmsdorchester.com). With a good bar and rich Thomas Hardy heritage, this newly renovated 18th century inn is on the main drag of Dorchester’s Old Town.

The Duchess of Cornwall Inn, Poundbury (duchessofcornwall.co.uk). Soaking up Poundbury’s faux-Georgian trappings of roll top baths and wood-panelled rooms, with a sprawling boozer right below.

The Acorn Inn, Evershot (acorn-inn.co.uk). A red-faced pub in the nearby village of Evershot in a time warp – a 16th-century throwback after a safari-style tour of Poundbury.

Do you think Poundbury is a sign of innovation – or just an eyesore? Tell us in the comments below

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