THEME: A Thriving Village: Vision for 2035

Electric Edens studio at UCA, Canterbury: Selected Projects

BY Electric Edens | September 2013

What Will A Thriving Village Look Like in 2035?

In this think piece series, leading architectural thinkers critically explore the future of rural settlements against the backdrop of rapid urbanisation, technological advances and calls for sustainable development. With globalisation opening up the countryside to new opportunities and threats while issues of subsidiarity promote local distinctiveness, how can villages come to terms with modern life without losing the past?

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The lure of the bucolic is a recurring theme within architecture, a form of anti-modernity that runs from the Arts and Crafts through the garden city movement and onto the work of Archigram and beyond. Whilst a beatific rural life is seen as an antidote to the problems of urbanisation, it also raises highly problematic questions about ecology, land use and infrastructure. Are new villages a plausible, desirable and valid way to build in the 21st century?

Over the last year the Electric Edens studio at UCA, Canterbury, has focused on the design of new villages. In doing so the studio has addressed a number of pressing concerns to do with the economic basis of rural life, the current housing crisis, the ecological implications of building in the countryside and the political frameworks that might allow such developments to take place.

We began the year by looking at the village as a form of utopia and at the history of idealised rural settlements. These became the starting-point for new village proposals predicated on emerging demographic and socio-cultural trends, new digital industries, future energy and food production and planning reform. Projects also addressed the legacy of modernist utopian planning, the role of DIY, self-build and co-operative developments, gender politics and healthcare.

The following images and project descriptions illustrate some of the results of these speculations:

Some New Villages

Samantha Brewer – R:Evolution Whiteley

Whiteley was built in Surrey in 1907 as a retirement community. Its remarkable octagonal plan contains over 300 listed arts and crafts buildings.


Whiteley Village aerial view, The Whiteley Homes Trust

Samantha Brewer’s project speculates on the expansion of the village to include a rapid prototyping and 3D printing research centre. Implicitly, the proposal explores a 21st century version of the existing arts and crafts architecture.


Whiteley R-Evolution Model, Samantha Brewer

Intervening in a context that is heavily protected by conservation and seemingly complete in its geometrical perfection raises a number of provocative questions. The resulting buildings both mimic and differ from their host, forming a distorted mirror image that operates on both a stylistic and a programmatic level. New functions feed off existing ones. The knowledge, skills and experience of the existing residents relates to those of the incoming population. The patterns and forms of a hand-made, craft based architecture are reflected in a new, digital counterpart.

Jason Le Mare – Plotlands Revisited

Jason Le Mare’s project identifies the current housing crisis as the starting point for a speculation on mass self-build as a potential answer. The project involves revisiting the ‘Plotland’ self-build communities of the inter-war years, described extensively by Colin Ward and Dennis Harvey in their book “Arcadia For All”.


Neo-Plotlands Landscape, Jason Le Mare

The project poses a number of important and vital questions: how much beaurocratic and political control should we accept over how and where we live? What would an entirely self-built village look like? Does it matter if this doesn’t conform to accepted ideas about good design or urban planning? How would existing planning and building control laws have to change to allow such developments to happen?

Dana Mahmoud – Bata Town

The philanthropic ambitions of Bata’s East Tilbury are turned into a re-write of the village as care home for autism. Alterations and DIY amendments to the existing 1920’s housing serve as a template for ways in which they can be adapted into autonomous homes for people suffering from extreme autism.


Bata-ville views, Dana Mahmoud

Spaces both inside and outside the houses negotiate levels of communal and shared living and a balance between care and independence.

Zerrin Kabaoglu – New New Ash Green

A proposal for the refurbishment of the existing SPAN village of New Ash Green in Kent, intended to accommodate divergent lifestyles and co-operative modes of living. Existing house types are analysed for the way that they reinforce conventional living arrangements and assumed work/life patterns before being subjected to modifications and radical spatial remodelling.


New Ash Green at present, Jason Le Mare

The project employs the principles of DIY and owner adaption applied at the level of the masterplan. Internal and external spaces are adapted, added to and rearranged to allow different patterns of living resulting in a thoroughly refurbished masterplan.


New New Ash Green – Adaptations, Zerrin Kabaoglu

Maria Mantikou – Learning Amongst The Ruins

East Tilbury was built on the banks of the River Thames in 1926 by the Czech shoe company Bata. It was one of sixty-one Bata villages worldwide; almost all constructed in a proto-modern functionalist style and planned on the industrial garden suburb model. East Tilbury thus speaks of the ambitions of the International Style and the certainties of the industrial era. Equally, its current status speaks of the obsolescence of these ideas.


East Tilbury at present, Charles Holland

Maria Mantikou’s project speculates on a wider loss of utopian ambition and confidence in modernism. Her proposal aims to complete Bata’s original masterplan but using fragments of historical modernist projects. These fragments are re-imagined in different materials and at different scales and re-used as part of an architectural school and study centre. They serve as pedagogical tools in a research into urban models.


The ruin of modernism, axonometric, Maria Mantikou

Amada Dantes – Electric Farms and Digital Hamlets

Following research into growth employment activities in Essex, this project proposes a series of micro-settlements based around new cultural and digital industries. In doing so, it reverse-engineers current commuter belt lifestyles by locating new jobs close to existing housing.


Digital Village Masterplan, Amanda Dantes

The new micro-settlements – akin to hamlets and farm complexes – also explore issues of typology and vernacular language. Large, loosely programmed agricultural barns and outbuildings form the starting point for new buildings that can be home to various forms of industry as well as small scale civic uses such as meeting houses, pubs and meeting halls.

The proposal reinvents and formalises the barn conversion, a ubiquitous typology in the area of north Essex where the project is sited.

Michelle Sweeney – Collective Village

Michelle Sweeney’s project reflects on the pressures of an ageing population. Taking the retirement village of Whiteley as a starting point, she proposes an idealised settlement pattern that can expand and grow as the number of residents increases. In doing so, her project also reflects on an abandoned history of model and utopian planning, exploring a balance between the ideals and realities of occupation.


Collective Village – 4 primary houses, Michelle Sweeney

Forms that initially appear inflexible and authoritarian reveal an ability to nurture a richness and complexity of lifestyle, especially in relation to the typical debased vernacular mode of new rural housing.

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Photo essay by Charles Holland, who recently led \’Electric Edens\’, a post-graduate architecture studio that explores ideas around contemporary ruralism. The studio was based at the Canterbury School of Architecture(UCA)and involved the following 7 students: Samantha Brewer, Jason Le Mare, Dana Mahmoud, Zerrin Kabaoglu, Maria Mantikou, Amanda Dantes and Michelle Sweeney.

The title Electric Edens is taken from music critic Rob Young’s recent book on experimental English rural music. Its use here is to suggest a similar desire to be both modern and rural at the same time.