Think Pieces

THEME: A Thriving Village: Vision for 2035

Matt Wood

Towards a Rural Renaissance: Carwood, 2035 | 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?

You are invited to join the debate using the form on the right hand side. You can comment on both the theme in general and individual author’s response. If you want to react to an existing comment, please make reference using the ‘title’ field. You are required to input an email address to submit a comment, but you won’t be contacted in any way and it will not display, this is purely to stop spam

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  • Sustainability
  • Placemaking
  • Rural
  • Village

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At first glance the Norfolk village of Carwood does not look very different in 2035 from how it did back in 2013. The village maintains many of the qualities which make so many Britons yearn to move to the country: low-density living with large gardens and discreet distance from neighbours, fresh air and greenery, easy access to the countryside, and a strong geographical sense of location and community. The village population is still a mixture of long-standing and ‘new’ residents – a badge which seems to last at least a decade before starting to fade.

The traditional politics of old and new Carwood is still at work, but in a subtly changed way. In the late 20th century, ‘real’ villagers generally worked the land or in related businesses, and newcomers were for the most part commuters, travelling to Norwich and back each day by car. These distinctions are now blurred. In 2035 relatively few residents were born in the village, and many who have spent their whole life here have always commuted. In contrast, newcomers are more likely to work in the village than was the case twenty years ago. The number of businesses based in the village has risen steadily over the years – not just new ‘niche’ land-based operations (mainly in food-production and tourism) but also on-line businesses with customers spread across the country and abroad, that could previously survive only in towns and cities. It seems odd to recall that back in 2013 the village had only patchy mobile phone coverage, let alone broadband access. Broadband has also allowed more of the village’s commuters to work from home for one or more days a week, though business-culture has been slower to take advantage of this than many had predicted.

As such, the village is still heavily dependent on its private cars, despite ever-increasing fuel costs. Environmentalists feel that the failure to grapple this issue has been a cop-out by successive governments, but libertarians and realpolitiker point to a sustainability quid pro quo between town and country. Successive versions of the Common Agricultural Policy have greatly reduced the competitive advantage given to large-scale intensive farming; the rolling clay plateaux of Norfolk are still dominated by high quality grain crops (mostly aimed at an ever-more diverse brewing industry) but around villages like Carwood, smaller-scale mixed agriculture is undergoing a renaissance, boosting ultra-local food-chains. Rising fuel costs have maintained the trend towards micro-renewable energy in rural areas – woodstoves, biomass boilers and PV – whereas the adoption of renewable energy in cities seems to have stalled. As such, residents of Carwood have gone a long way towards closing the carbon ‘gap’ between them and their urban counterparts in Norwich, despite cars still being a fact of life in the countryside.

And the city certainly couldn’t do without the country. Urbanites still enjoy the countryside at the weekends, and realise better than ever that villages and farms are essential in maintaining Britain’s ‘green and pleasant land’. In 2035 more of the land around Carwood is open to the public via concessionary footpaths or new rights of way, as local farms embrace the diversification potential of the ever more popular ‘stay-cation’.

Holiday and weekend customers have certainly been important to the renaissance of the local pub, The Plough. In 2016 it closed after struggling for many years, and a residential conversion seemed its most likely future. So the village rallied round to save what it regarded as an important community asset. In one of the earliest successful uses of the new Community Right to Build (CRtB), the community granted a local planning consent for 20 large new homes on a piece of farmland just outside the village Development Boundary, donated to the project by a local farmer. The profit from the sale of the land was used to buy the pub, which re-opened as a community-owned not-for-profit business including a small shop, replacing the one that had closed several years before. Galvanised by the success of this community effort, the village prepared a more comprehensive Neighbourhood Plan. The centre-piece of this was a second CRtB Order which gave permission for ten more houses on the site of the old and run-down village hall. The land was packaged up and sold as self-build plots, with the profits being used to build a new community hall on the back of the pub. Combining all the village’s communities in this way (pub, shop, village hall) has produced significant operational efficiencies, and each provides ‘passing trade’ for the others. The result is a viable, bustling community resource at the very centre of the life of the village. Three further small housing developments have been completed in the context of the Neighbourhood Plan, with the increased share of the Community Infrastructure Levy on the developments used to improve the sports pitches and pavilion at the Recreation ground.

So the most visible change in the last twenty years is that Carwood is significantly larger than it was in 2013. The new families have been good news for the school, pub and wider social life of the village, ending nearly half a century of decline. This growth has also been good news for a number local architectural practices and builders. The sites brought forward for development under the Neighbourhood Plan were too small to appeal to the national house-builders, so local builder-developers have built them all out, except the smallest, which was bought by a group of self-builders. A local architect led the Community Right to Build projects and the subsequent redevelopment of the pub, and no fewer than six other practices have completed residential projects in the village for developers or self-builders.

All the new homes have been built at low density and have been carefully planned around three key views: one outward from the centre of the village across the village green, and two key views towards the village on approach – a development strategy set out in the Neighbourhood Plan. All the practices involved in projects at Carwood have developed a particular ethos of building in a village under a consensus-led local plan. The houses are clearly of their time (no Victorian repro’ here), but still seem to fit comfortably into their village context. It is a gentle shift in thinking which has been replicated across the country wherever communities have embraced change in the way that Carwoood has – but it still isn’t recognised as a real architectural ‘movement’. In 2035 mainstream architectural culture remains suspicious of the countryside, and disparaging of the brick-built, pitched-roof ‘new rural vernacular ’ which is emerging…but the locals love it!

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Architect Matt Wood is a director at \Lucas Hickman Smith\, based in the market town of Wymondham in Norfolk, where he grew up. Prior to joining the practice Matt trained at the Bartlett School of Architecture and was a director at Conran & Partners in London, working mostly on complex urban regeneration projects in the UK and abroad, mainly in the residential, hotel and retail sectors. Since then his interests have shifted towards issues of rural development and sustainability, and regional distinctiveness. He has written on the subject extensively on his website \Ruralise\. He is a member of the Greater Norwich Design Review Panel, a Regional Ambassador for the National Self-Build Association and director of Norwich architecture festival (FANN13).

Daisy Froud

3 wishes for the village of the future | 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?

You are invited to join the debate using the form on the right hand side. You can comment on both the theme in general and individual author’s response. If you want to react to an existing comment, please make reference using the ‘title’ field. You are required to input an email address to submit a comment, but you won’t be contacted in any way and it will not display, this is purely to stop spam

TAGS

  • Urban Design
  • Landscape
  • Planning
  • Sustainability
  • Placemaking
  • Politics
  • Rural
  • Village

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Among my 5 year old’s favourite books is a pop-up: ‘The Story of Things’. In a single spread, it narrates the Industrial Revolution. A left-hand grey page shows a dense brick city. This seamlessly merges into a right-hand page of green countryside. A train-track links them, along which an engine speeds, emitting rotating cardboard clouds, and laden with ‘steam crazy’ bearded Victorian gents. A perky little mill and mine peek up from the emerald fields. A canal nestles in the spine, blurring into sky above, hinting at realms beyond that are being fundamentally changed by, and in turn will change, the world of this page.

I’m glad that this is how my daughter is first engaging with a critical moment in the formation of her nation’s ‘cultural imaginary’. For it’s in the mid-nineteenth century that, despite romantic and often nostalgic distinctions between town and countryside having existed since ancient times, the current dominant narrative decisively took hold.

In rhetoric of figures such as John Ruskin, the city became a dense, dirty, dangerous place. The rural home, in contrast, became a site of reassuring comfort and tradition. The ultimate English symbolic space, to be defended at all costs. This ideal endures to the present, in popular culture, and in economic and planning policy. But of course, as critic Raymond Williams, among others, has tried to remind us, not only is this a false distinction, but it is also “a myth functioning as a memory”.

Williams argues in The City and The Country that the urban is not distinct from the rural, the town from the village. They are inextricably linked in a spatial and temporal web of socio-economic forces, forming and informing each other, as my daughter’s book implies. This has particular potency during the Industrial Revolution, post Enclosure and its resulting agricultural efficiencies, when fields and valleys, and adjacent villages and market towns, produced and marshaled resources to fuel industrial urban centres, and colonial expansion beyond. The look and feel of the countryside were not only irrevocably altered by the introduction of new infrastructure – canals, mines, railways – but by the re-investment of the profits of capitalism and colonialism in the form of property: stately homes and their estates. As Matt Hart writes regarding the house in Howard’s End, E.M Forster’s spatialised symbol of English domestic values: “The pleasures of home depend on the expropriation of land and labour in the rubber plantations of Nigeria.”

So that’s my first wish for the form of the rural settlements of the future. That they – that we – in striving to imagine and articulate these, stop understanding villages as ‘rural’, at least in any reductive essentialised sense. Of course categories – urban, suburban, rural – have their practical and psychological uses. But it distresses me when, as happened at a recent roundtable regarding a possible new movement for city life, people I respect say things like “Fuck the suburbs!” We need some new words that allow us to understand our settlements as an interconnected set of civic (but, obviously not ‘civic’…) spaces that we produce together, and are connected to, through the choices we make about where we live, work, or travel, what we eat, who we marry, what we buy, and so on, and through the interactions of these choices. And that allows us to experience any rural settlement – any place – in the words of my favourite geographer Doreen Massey, as ‘event’ or ‘trajectory’ – “always in the process of being made…never finished; never closed”.

Which brings me to my second wish. That these more self-aware understandings of spatial process, and of the interconnectedness of places, might guide us to new formal typologies, based not just on remembered dreams, but on playful re-interpretations of these, as well as articulations of contemporary social life and relationships. Those country estates? Many were landscaped in the new ‘picturesque’ style, a romanticized expression of the rose-tinted dreams and social aspirations of newly wealthy colonial expansionists. This fashion took an inherited rural ideal to a whole new level. One that has since become normative. Within their grounds, functional innovations such as the ha-ha tempered the dream with pragmatic concerns, ensuring that cows weren’t able to trample all over the croquet pitch, or sheep stare in the window at Sunday lunch. When these affluent folk decided to build new sanitary and efficient accommodation for their workers, they tended to build neat little settlements in a nostalgic style that was nonetheless new and “ahead of its time” too, as Nicholas Taylor describes in The Village In The City. He sums up Milton Abbas, the first Picturesque model village as having “out-Welwyned Welwyn a century and a half in advance.” In our (theoretically) democratic society, with its (theoretical) bottom-up turn in planning, what comparable forms might we generate, reinterpreting received forms and augmenting these with innovations that reflect twenty-first century social aspirations and ways of operating?

My third wish relates to who ‘we’ are in the twenty-first century, speeding along our spatio-temporal trajectory like those white bearded Victorian elders. In British architecture we talk a lot about the ‘post-industrial’. Architects spend quite a lot of time thinking up new futures for post-industrial spaces, urban and rural. But we don’t tend to talk so much about our national (as opposed to overseas) ‘post-colonial’ legacy and its architectural implications. And certainly not in a rural context.

As I’ve already suggested, the villages and rural landscapes that surround us, the world of country walks, tea rooms and the National Trust, would not exist without the colonial expansionism and exploitation of the past. These acts not only funded it, but also helped dream and mould it into being. Critic Lucienne Loh, writing on post-colonial English literature, notes that although some British cities have publicly acknowledged or apologized for their role in the slave trade, and have positively encountered and been altered by their imperial legacy through immigration, a comparable shift has not taken place in the countryside. This despite their status as inter-related aspects of the same social and political space.

While conservative critics such as Roger Scruton may be correct that “English culture entered the modern era with an immovable commitment to the pastoral”, that is not necessarily anything to be proud of, especially if the notion of the pastoral becomes fixed in exclusionary ways. Loh argues, in the tradition of Henri Lefebvre, that while architecture often pretends to be ‘innocent’, a mere backdrop to life’s events, it clearly is not. It also has a tendency to unhelpfully ‘fix’ form. She critiques the Ruskinian traditionalist position that the countryside must continually resist being trespassed and translated onto by a corrupting outside world. And suggests that, in contrast, we should more profoundly acknowledge the acts of trespass and translation in which the rural has been complicit.

So I would like to wish for a world of rural settlements that (i) understand themselves as ongoing stories, as collectively ‘invented traditions’, in which multiple citizens have a stake, (ii) know themselves to be nested within complex networks of relationships and (iii) actively encourage acts of trespass and translation, in the active pursuit of appropriate evolving form. Such form might well be knowingly (‘ironically’, says Loh) nostalgic, but it would also be creatively and socially progressive, and part of a broader discussion about how we, the we of now, wish to live within the constraints and opportunities of twenty-first century British life.

I’ll end with another spatial story. Doreen Massey writes of her discovery, upon visiting the Lake District, at a time when she was troubled by essentialist claims to place, that even this mountainous landscape was not what it seemed. The Lake District is held particularly dear in the English cultural imaginary. An iconic, reassuringly unchanging paradise of the rural sublime where – and here Massey quotes Mark Edmonds – even the rare human figures in representations of it appear “as stable and timeless as the lakes and fells themselves, as if they were living in some form of ‘natural state.’” But a little research revealed that even the Lake District’s rocks first existed in another latitude, on the other side of the equator. That millions of years ago they slowly crossed the sea. And that only later still did they rear up into their current mountainous shape. When even our most hallowed sites are ‘immigrant’, she asks, how can we claim any ‘intrinsic indigeneity’, or that there is any way that a place is or must be? But we can have productive inclusive collective discussions, through policy-making and cultural production both national and local, about how our settlements could and should be as we steam ahead into the twenty-first century.

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Daisy Froud is co-founder of architecture practice AOC (Agents of Change) where she leads the firm\’s participatory arm. Having trained as a linguist, she now works as an ‘interpreter’ of places, and of ideas and knowledge about places. With 14 years experience in stakeholder engagement and collaborative planning, she focuses on devising tools and strategies that allow multiple voices to meaningfully contribute to design decision-making processes. A qualified translator, Daisy has a First in Languages from Cambridge, an MA with Distinction in Cultural Memory, and teaches on the history and theory of urban change at The Bartlett. She recently completed a visiting professorship at Yale with AOC, running a seminar course on participatory architecture alongside a design studio. Among other activity, Daisy sits on Design Review Panels for the London Boroughs of Hackney and Lewisham is a member of the RIBA’s Building Futures Steering Group, and a Built Environment Expert for Design Council CABE.

Electric Edens

Electric Edens studio at UCA, Canterbury: Selected Projects | 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?

You are invited to join the debate using the form on the right hand side. You can comment on both the theme in general and individual author’s response. If you want to react to an existing comment, please make reference using the ‘title’ field. You are required to input an email address to submit a comment, but you won’t be contacted in any way and it will not display, this is purely to stop spam

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  • Urban Design
  • Landscape
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  • Sustainability
  • Placemaking
  • Rural
  • Village

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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.

Iain Watt

What will a thriving village look like in 2035? | 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?

You are invited to join the debate using the form on the right hand side. You can comment on both the theme in general and individual author’s response. If you want to react to an existing comment, please make reference using the ‘title’ field. You are required to input an email address to submit a comment, but you won’t be contacted in any way and it will not display, this is purely to stop spam

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  • Urban Design
  • Landscape
  • Planning
  • Sustainability
  • Economics
  • Placemaking
  • Rural

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Jim wakes up and wanders through to the kitchen. The screen there is gently flashing – letting him know that the chickens have laid – so he pops outside to grab a couple of eggs for breakfast. He picks up the extras too, and the household computer logs them into the community foodshare database (and finds a match almost instantly – Brian down the road is looking to trade some of his apples).

After cracking open his eggs, Jim puts the shells in his compost bin as usual, but pauses for a second to think about his options: should he use the garden compost today, or the organic waste pick-up scheme? Either way, Jim stands to benefit; either through better veggies from his garden; or a few pennies via the community-owned anaerobic digester (in which Jim is a shareholder).

“That reminds me,” he thinks, “I should pop in at the farm today.”

Jim had moved to the village 5 years previously. Wanting a place with a garden – and not being able to afford housing in London – he had started to scan the suburbs, and then the market towns, and then the villages beyond the commuter belt. Even then, the only viable options were part of the government-sponsored RuralReGen scheme, intended to help revitalise struggling rural communities.

He was somewhat apprehensive at first – he had never dreamed he’d move to an out-of-town development (“Noddy houses” he remembered his dad calling them). But this development felt different. As with all new developments it was zero-carbon (focusing first on ultra-efficiency, supplemented by ground-source heat pumps and the latest solar roofing and paint); and the developers had gone the extra eco-mile by adding in allotments, a lake, and a native woodland that connected to the growing network of local nature trails. This little bit of connectivity symbolised to Jim what it was that made this development different: it felt like part of a community.

The Council – and the villagers themselves – were already experimenting with new ideas when their village was ‘picked’ for the RuralReGen scheme, and they embraced the development as an opportunity to up their game. Regular ‘new faces’ evenings are held at the re-opened pub (the Badger and Turbine), and every new arrival receives a ‘welcome pack’ delivered by hand by a neighbour.

This pack, of course, highlights the various efforts to knit the local farm more closely into the fabric of the community, and as Jim cycled to the farm later that morning, the success of those efforts were plain to see.

On the way there, he passed Julie from the village maintenance team. She had just mown the sports field and was taking the clippings to the farm to feed the anaerobic digester. Maggie, a retired teacher, sat in the passenger seat – her local lift-share app alerted her to the fact that Julie was going that way and had space for a passenger. Julie’s van was one of the few non-electric vehicles left in the village. But with regular trips to the farm there was always a reliable source of biogas to take advantage of.

As Jim arrived, the Year 6 school kids were maintaining the beehives and collecting honey. Profits are up they told him excitedly: partly due to a good summer; and partly due to the brand revamp they had launched in the spring (which had seen internet sales jump 50%). They now had plans to invest in a number of new hives – including a few ‘off-site’ ones. Jim signed up as a host; the kids agreeing to take care of all the set-up and maintenance (“we’ll be round once a week to check up on them!”) with Jim getting a few pots of honey in the summer (and some welcome pollination services for his garden).

After entrepreneurship class, the children moved onto biodiversity monitoring. The regular records the school has kept of bugs and birds for the past 15 years (increasingly supplemented by others in the village) have proven a valuable tool in monitoring the impacts of climate change. A fair amount of local pride has even built up around the village’s ‘hotspot’ status (their population of corn buntings has even been growing steadily – a rare outlier against the national trend).

Watching the kids log their sightings on their computers, Jim recalled the school headmistress’ presentation back when he was considering the move from the city. “We want our pupils to be equally fluent in nature and technology,” she told the prospective villagers.

Jim stopped by the farm shop, picked up his groceries, then started the cycle home (he had a holo-conference with his colleagues in London at 11am). As he left, Brian arrived to check that the anaerobic digestion unit was working properly. For all its benefits, anaerobic digestion remains hands-on work. But with so many units up and running around the region these days, Brian had carved a niche for himself as a roving ‘AD technician’. He and his small team check that all the pipes are clean, and that the bacteria are happy – freeing up time for the farming team to focus their efforts elsewhere.

As Jim’s visit highlighted, the farm had become a genuine hub of social activity – as well as a thriving enterprise. This represented a huge change since Jane and Tom, the resident farmers, had first reached out to the local community to part-fund an anaerobic digestion unit all those years ago. Those first tentative steps have now grown into a fully-fledged partnership. The farm shop is thriving; the farm hosts the bi-annual village food festival (which draws in a couple of thousand visitors twice a year); and part of the farm is now dedicated to community growing (with villagers paying an annual fee in return for as-much-as-you-can-carry seasonal produce).

Like the village itself, the farm is now a net producer of electricity, with the AD units supported by significant solar investments (including 0.5 MW of ground-mounted solar in a field that doubles up as a free-range chicken coop) and three 1.5MW community-owned turbines.

Back in 2013, this would have been enough to power almost all of the 1400 of the homes in the village. But with today’s ultra-efficient homes – and with many other small-scale systems scattered around the village – most of it is surplus.

What is more unusual – even today – is that three 120 metre-tall turbines went through planning with zero local objections. “Well the community approached us with that idea,” Jane points out whenever asked about this unusual situation, “and as we all get a share in the profits, why would anyone object?”

“We’ve learned two key lessons,” Tom expands. “Firstly that it is possible for communities to power themselves. If you start thinking about powering the country as a whole – and the need for many gigawatts of capacity– you inevitably get drawn towards big centralised solutions. But if you start at the scale of a house, or a farm, or a village, and build up, you quite quickly realise that a whole host of small-scale options are available – and that they often bring a whole host of co-benefits along with them.

“And that leads into the second point – if we had simply tried to maximise energy production, rather than looking for ways for energy to support everything else we wanted to achieve on our land, we’d have gone down a completely different route than the one we’ve embraced here. Instead, we have a suite of energy investments that have helped us, and the local community, thrive while enhancing our ability to grow food – all while creating a space for nature.”

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Iain Watt is a Principal Sustainability Advisor at the Forum for the Future – a leading sustainability non-profit specialising in futures work, innovation and capacity building. He leads on the forum’s work on climate change and energy, and has launched the \Farm as Power Station Project\ in conjunction with Farmers Weekly and Nottingham Trent University, intended to bring about a step change in the uptake of farm-based renewable energy across the UK. Iain is particularly interested in exploring and promoting an integrated approach to energy – such that energy investments complement, rather than compete with, food production, waste management, pollution control, rural economic development and the like. Before joining the Forum for the Future he worked at Ceres leading on the first two editions of the Global Reporting Initiative’s Sustainability Reporting Guidelines.

Charles Holland

Towards A New Ruralism | 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?

You are invited to join the debate using the form on the right hand side. You can comment on both the theme in general and individual author’s response. If you want to react to an existing comment, please make reference using the ‘title’ field. You are required to input an email address to submit a comment, but you won’t be contacted in any way and it will not display, this is purely to stop spam

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  • Urban Design
  • Landscape
  • Planning
  • Sustainability
  • Economics
  • Rural
  • Village

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In a recent address to the NHBC, National Trust chairman Simon Jenkins discussed the pressing lack of affordable housing in rural areas. Far from suggesting ways in which new housing could be delivered however, Jenkins argued that the children of rural families have no right to a life in the countryside. There is, he claimed, simply not enough room.

Jenkins’ lecture was accompanied by a familiar rhapsody about the beauty of the English countryside and the unique charms of its existing villages. The debate about housing shortages in rural areas is thus framed between two potent myths; a ‘natural’ landscape populated by picture-postcard villages on the one hand and its imminent disappearance below a sea of concrete on the other.

Both assume that our existing villages are somehow a natural part of the landscape, rather than the result of economic and social forces. Over time, new buildings in the landscape – and indeed changes to the landscape itself – become naturalised. Radical shifts in land use and settlement pattern end up becoming protected as part of our heritage. Rural villages are thus transformed from places in which people live and work into objects of aesthetic contemplation.

But when does this aesthetic mummification begin? At what point do villages that have been built over several hundred years stop developing? When does a living and breathing community stop breathing and become a museum exhibit? And why is now always the tipping point at which our Arcadian idyll is about to be lost forever?

The idea that villages evolve naturally, as if according to ancient and immutable laws, can be challenged by looking at the number of planned settlements that exist in the UK. In Villages of Vision, her pioneering study of such places, Gillian Darley recorded the many instances in which new villages were conceived and built during the 18th, 19th and even 20th centuries. These villages – often developed around utopian ideals or as the philanthropic projects of wealthy industrialists – were the result of deliberate planning rather than ad-hoc accretion over time.

The final chapter of Darley’s book – entitled No New Villages? – ends with a provocation. What would a 21st century village look like? Who would it be for and how would it be planned? If we could conceive of new village settlements as a positive contribution to our rural landscape, what forms would they take?

Addressing these questions means addressing the socio-economic underpinnings of rural settlement. Clearly the circumstances that brought our older villages into being no longer exist. Imagining contemporary versions of such places means thinking about the emerging economic and industrial activities that might make them possible.

New industries based on renewable energy production, digital fabrication and data transmission could lead to 21st century rural villages. Like the planned settlements of previous centuries, these would challenge the idea of the village as an organic, slowly evolving typology.

There are other legacies of itinerant rural living too, such as the squatter settlements and self-build ‘plotland’ villages documented extensively by the anarchist writer Colin Ward. New villages might also embody radical forms of social, economic and political organisation.

The idea of new socially, technologically or politically progressive villages poses another critical question to do with modernity and urbanism. Modernism is intimately bound up with the processes of both industrialisation and urbanisation. Villages by contrast are supposedly connected with pre-modern rituals, home supposedly to superstitions, irrational beliefs and what Marx memorably called ‘rural idiocy’.

What would it mean then to be rural and modern at the same time? What is a modernist village or a 21st century version of ruralism? Do such binary oppositions mean anything in an infinitely connected world? What is a ‘real’ village in the age of the global village?

Despite the philosophical fascinations of such questions, there are pressing social and economic needs for answers to the problems of rural housing shortage and unemployment. Already villages are increasingly the preserve of a wealthy elite whose economic activities take place elsewhere. With decreasing numbers of jobs available and a chronic undersupply of affordable homes, the children of rural families are priced out of rural life.

The answer can’t be to view rural areas solely as a leisure facility for wealthy urbanites and place further levels of protection over their development. Nor is the answer to deregulate planning laws and hope for the best, as the current government seems to suggest. Is there a way then to imagine a future for rural life that avoids either gross exploitation or aesthetic and social mummification?

Over the last year, the post-graduate design studio I ran at the University of Creative Arts, Canterbury, looked precisely at this question, speculating on the forms that a contemporary rural architecture might take. The resulting projects re-engage with a radical tradition of rural settlement and imagine new futures for the village in the 21st century. The Electric Edens think piece explores some of these projects.

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Charles Holland is an architect, writer and teacher. He is a director of the London based architecture practice FAT (Fashion Architecture Taste) and a visiting professor at Yale University. He writes regularly about architecture and design and edits the Fantastic Journal weblog. You can follow Charles on twitter at: @fatcharlesh

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THEME: A Thriving Village: Vision for 2035

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Blurring Boundaries

Melissa Sterry COMMENTING ON A Thriving Village: Vision for 2035 20.09.13

Amidst all the talk of future cities, I am absolutely delighted to find this participatory piece on future villages. Think 4 pertinent factors that will shape future villages are: * The fact 'smart cities' have local, regional and national impact - therein their advantages extend to rural regions. * Pop-up / temporary services and the revival of mobile services, i.e. vendors on the move that bring 'the city' to 'the village'. * 3D Printing enabling rural citizens to download and print many goods, i.e. replacement parts for goods in need of repair - and beyond this the return DIY technology, maker-culture and micro-manufacturing, or to use an historical term 'cottage industry'. * Mis-information about the benefits of city-living, i.e. poorly researched 'studies' that claim that city living promotes 'intelligence' and other such claims that fly in the face of decades of health and wellbeing studies that clearly illustrate that the ilk of light and noise pollution - both so abundant in cities - are linked to several serious health conditions. While it was a talk on the future of post-industrial cities, I touched on the above issues in my keynote at the Manchester International Festival 2013, the speech notes from which can be found here http://www.slideshare.net/societas/diy-cities-post Look forward to following the Thriving Village debate with interest and would love to talk with you about it.

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Villages that survive

Paul McCombie COMMENTING ON A Thriving Village: Vision for 2035 16.08.13

Whether a village becomes an aesthetic mummification depends on why it came into being in the first place. The estate village, the works village, the retirement village, the dormitory village - all planned villages - have clear visual identities imposed by the power structures that generated them, and become museums of the compromises and ideals of their times. In the brief phase of fossil-fuelled easy transportation in which we live, these mummified villages which lost their real purpose decades or centuries ago are kept in a state of half-life by commuting and holidays. The village which 'thrives' as a jollied-up 'community' may bear a very poor resemblance to the places where lives revolved around a common purpose. 3-D printing, 'renewables', collective housing - these are mere passing industries and dominating ideologies which are made obsolete or rejected by succeeding generations. They might leave remains with or without charm - the notion that 'rural' is of necessity 'delightful' is held only by city-dwellers whose money allows them to choose the nicest places for their weekends. The villages that truly thrive are there because of their physical locations, their convenience for the necessities of life, and as transport becomes more difficult again in future so this will matter more and more. Their survival will be assured only by their versatility, and their social tolerance. A collective committee could easily be worse than a Lord of the Manor of industrial mogul. The strength of a village is that there are few enough people that the individual cannot hide, live and let-live becomes the rule. They can be very humane places, of human scale, but only make sense if the focus of life is in the village. In the countryside this will always involve agriculture, and cheap energy is supporting tourism, just as it allows food production with very few people. This will change, and rural villages will inevitably revert to the low-carbon, agriculturally dominated places they used to be. In the meantime we need to aim way beyond 'affordable' housing - everyone is tired of the housing market always finding the maximum that can be afforded, whether as purchase cost or rent. We desperately need a planning system that supports the need for housing close to people's work, and bursts the bubble of high land prices and hence house prices. When we spend money on a house, we want that to be on the fabric that we live in, not for the privilege of occupying the site. Of course, there is a difficulty at present - an ever increasing proportion of the population is retired, or in other ways has no work location to live near, no commute to do. With governments of every colour making preservation of accumulated wealth a high priority, the rich retired are likely to continue to take the bet for themselves for many years to come. But if land prices and rents can be controlled, then they may find the rest of us living next door!

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RIBA retired

Charles gautier( Granada Spain) COMMENTING ON A Thriving Village: Vision for 2035 05.09.13

Medium rise high density saves the land and you get to see the countryside: but the two elements equally require Attention : the structure of community ( previously slowly evolving ) and infra structure. If these issues are not addressed the village belongs in noddyland....

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THEME: A Thriving Village: Vision for 2035

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Contact

Stefan Doeblin COMMENTING ON Daisy Froud 12.02.17

Hi Daisy we are organising a conference Riving the Countryside and I would like to talk. Maybe you could contribute. Thanks in advance and best wishes, Stefan

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