Andrés Duany at Holyrood

photo courtesy of The Guardian

I don’t wish to sound like a sycophant, but I’d been waiting a while to hear renowned US architect-planner Andrés Duany in person. Watching him on youtube and reading about him in The Guardian is okay, but doesn’t compare to the real thing.

He isn’t, arguably, the West’s most famous planner of the moment for no reason. Whether or not you agree with his apparent desire to promote neo-traditional architecture à la Prince Charles and his Prince’s Foundation, the eloquence of his analysis of what is wrong with recent suburban, car-focussed town building in the UK and USA is very seductive.

For me, the talk that Andrés Duany gave at the Sustainable Places Conference at Holyrood Palace in early June was interesting for a different reason. He gave a stimulating outsider’s critique of our planning and development system – and was remarkably forthright in his views, given our location in the heart of the Establishment. But I guess he’s an American.

What were his main points?

Planners and regulators are too concerned with statistics, from demographic forecasts to traffic modelling. We were urged to relax and be less exact – just go for parameters.

Our housing layouts are too concerned with water and drainage – which makes new neighbourhoods too extensive, too green, not urban enough, and not walkable enough.

We produce wonderfully attractive guidance – but there’s just too much of it. Mr Duany urged us to produce less guidance and more standards. More shall, and less should. Producing these codes will be a huge effort – but well worth it. Once the codes are in place, developers can choose whether to comply with the codes, and get a quick consent – or step outside them and accept that it will take longer to get a decision.

Architects should stop fighting. The style – modern, neo-traditional, whatever – doesn’t matter. We can live with both.

There’s nothing wrong with architectural copying. Copying happens in every aspect of society and economy – as long as it’s emulating rather than blind copying, it’s good, as we refine what has been designed before and continually learn.

Release more land to developers. At the moment, they operate in a very constrained and remarkably uncompetitive market, due to the restrictions of the planning system. That means that houses will always sell (provided mortgages are available, of course) and quality is low. More land release – as in Belgium and Spain, according to Mr Duany, leads to more competition and lower prices. (And, he admitted, more kitsch – because that’s what the developers choose to compete on.)

We were urged to look at our own Scottish heritage much more, to analyse and observe what we have, and use old concepts and ideas again if we can.

I believe I’ve captured the essence of Mr Duany’s critique. What do you reckon to his views?

Thanks to Kevin Murray Associates for supporting my attendance at the Conference.

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