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What did you do on your holiday?

Sure an’ it was a short one … what with the horses to look after and all that, but we did go for a stint over the peninsula to one of those now booming coastal towns where marinas and holiday development enclaves have replaced that sleepy-village atmosphere and ‘beachfront cafes’ now pepper the foreshore along with the McMansions and other beachfront developments to keep a holiday-happy clientele … well … happy!

Perhaps it is time here to inject a conundrum into the conversation about the connection between the idea of the sleepy village, cultural architecture and the hunger for so many housing developments in these coastal locations … Well how about this:

Why is Art?

Indeed … or rather what has art got to do with the above three discussion points … where does an artistic eye come into the relationship of village, housing and development? … Simple … The once sleepy-village picture of these coastal towns didn’t just arise out of nothing … they were a result of settlement of one distinct cultural ethnic group … the Cornish in this case … and with their migration from their homeland, they transport.ed their own peculiar style of housing size and design … these styles slowly morphed into the turn of the twentieth century cottage we see in the older parts of the towns and give the village that attractive air of settled conformity …

In a sample street of the old part of the towns, you will see limestone constructed houses of similar dimensions, the straight or return verandah, finials and lacework or timber shaped corbels on the posts … similar but never the same … slight variations to mark the individual tastes of the builders …

But these variations only ventured within a kind of perimeter of cultural allowance … to be too extreme was frowned upon .. to be too radical was seen as thumbing one’s nose at your fellows … not appreciated nor tolerated .. hence we see the evolution of the uniform umbrella of sleepy-village cultural architecture … that ingredient that made these coastal villages so attractive to the holidaying city dweller and then opened up the surrounding land to speculators and property entrepreneurs … who went on to develop the eyesores we now have to endure in these once lovely coastal locales.

Where we stayed for our short sojourn was in one of those lovely old town streets … in a renovated old house … a pleasant feel … next door, an old house was knocked down and a brand-spanking modern unit was built … it was said the knocked down house was in a bad state of repair … I have my doubts of these claims .. I have been employed in trade to renovate many older houses and find that when the in-situ structure is reasonably sound, the roof and rooms can be restored within reasonably cost … certainly cheaper than demolition and new build with the incumbent costs of fire, energy and structural engineering requirements now required by law …

In a street of cultural/period-piece dwellings, this new unit is an eyesore … regardless of design material, colour … it stands out like I suspect the bombastic owner wanted … but I see it as a blot on the streetscape that should never have been allowed … and the fact that it is in the end no more than a “holiday house” more incriminates the owner for its gross intrusion.

In stark contrast across the street stands an old house of the turn of the 20th century … not renovated, but assiduously maintained … it’s walls and roof line along with the footpath aligned wooden balustrade original and complete … certainly the maintenance has been attentive to detail as can be expected to retain the cultural architecture of the street … I have sat and just stared at that house in its balanced beauty for a long time … just absorbing the “art” of balanced construct inherent with the eye of the trades who built it … for certainly the trades of times gone by are reflected in both design and construct … from the burnt lime of the mortar to the size of the limestone chosen and placed to the joinery of the windows and structure … what the ancient Greeks would call “Eye sweet” … in contrast: A thing of beauty … a joy forever.

At one point in our holiday, we were taken to the town lookout and our friend pointed to the bay and exclaimed …

“Isn’t it a beautiful view?”

There blotting out most of the bay-view was the backyards of foreshore McMansions and the caravan park with the usual flotsam and jetsam of accompanying residences … I wasn’t wanting to rain on the friend’s parade, so just nodded in reply and when they directed my attention to the North Shore Beach in the distance and how wonderful the sands there were, I recalled my visit the those same sands around 40 years before and remember camping behind dunes there and casting a fishing line from that beach … now the dunes are long gone and the foreshore lined with those same McMansions (is there a design factory somewhere churning out the same designs for these boxes?) and if I turned around at this lookout, I would see similar boxes overlooking even the lookout … like the owners saw it as their right to even steal the view!

I have worked for many spec-builders and I can tell you that few … very few … have any sort of eye for the Art of the thing they are building … their developments certainly capitalise on the “sleepy village” atmosphere of the locale when selling their ghastly eyesores … and then play upon the “getting away from it all” holiday feeling of the coast … and then proceed to dump their monstrosities onto the landscape until they completely destroy that very essence of the location that first attracted their unwanted attention …

This is where the “Art” is lost and where it badly needs to be restored … restored like those cultural architecture houses … the streetscapes that were not just dropped from a designers sketch-board in one day, one year or one generation … but rather evolved and grew as did those Cornish and other migrants to the vastness of this country … an art that grew from the foundations up rather than dropped from a false God down onto the populace … and this attitude has expanded unwanted and unwarranted into every part of our lives, from our workplaces to our politics, we have this demand of the “individual” to both steal our culture and dominate our view of where our lives ought to be heading … there needs to be change and the only way it will change is to once again seek the cultural base of our lives and rebuild from those solid foundations.

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  1. Joseph Carli

    There must be some on this site who are aware of the community strength of “cultural architecture”…and how it affects social comforting of certain demographics….perhaps ALL demographics. Yet it has been mostly dismissed in a world of uniformity and crowded property developement in the newer suburbs..

  2. Harry Lime

    Joseph,I have spent most of my life in building and building design,albeit on the fringes ( I had problems conforming),but my two most referenced texts on design are A Pattern .Language and The Timeless way of Building.Might be worth a look if you haven’t already.There is a third book in this trilogy whose title escapes me. Harry.

  3. Harry Lime

    Joseph,The Oregon Experiment.

  4. Joseph Carli

    Thanks for those, Harry…will go there…this thing about ‘cultural architecture’ has been hovering on the perifery of my thoughts for some time, but it was that “over the road” cottage that I gazed at on my holiday that cemented the idea in me…it was a beautiful, well-balanced delight…and the streetscape was a likewise balanced expanse of housing…that’s about all I can explain of it…just a delight.

  5. Joseph Carli

    Yes, Harry…the notion of “Quality without a name” fits in well with my thinking…a very good decscription…very good…for that is what cultural architecture is…an evolution from the basic constructs of a culture to the more sophisticated styles of the early twentieth century…Style – structure – balance….such that could be adopted also to a social condition….as described in those publications you mention…interesting in that they all were from the mid to late 70’s….I recall that small window where so much clarity of thought came together, only to be destroyed by the Fraser/Thatcher/Regan era of crushing neo-liberalism.

    When I was in the trade, I would sometimes offer a client to carve an insert of a gum-leaf motif on a plain newel-post or even a more radical (once) Leunig “little-man” head instead of a plain round knob…I have a “Mr. Curly” finial on top of my atrium entrance roof.

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