Design Challenge

and Requirements

Design Principles

The Foundation believes that there remain many positive and relevant attributes to the principles incorporated in the Parker and Unwin layout included in their master plan — a detailed scan of which will be made available to registered competitors. There is a great opportunity for a modern reflection of these layout principles, in order to meet modern living and place making aspirations for a 21st century garden city.

1903 Parker and Unwin master plan for Letchworth Garden City

There are a number of early references, of interest. For example, in his 1909 book, ‘Town Planning in Practice’, Raymond Unwin stated that using ‘the main building lines and masses, placing any important features in his design, such as terminal feature at the end of a road, or any buildings required to limit the size and give a sense of frame to the street picture’.

In this book Unwin recognises the difficulty with predominately semi-detached and detached houses and the risk of monotony.

Letchworth was sold via a series of leases, with different architects producing schemes for approval initially by Barry Parker and Raymond Unwin and then Parker alone, who sought to ensure that development met their original principles. They emphasised that the use of an informal design approach should not be at the expense of purposeful design of spaces framed by buildings, highlighting the importance of the space around buildings as much as the building design.

In terms of the original Letchworth Garden City master plan, there are several aspects that stand out:

  • The tree lined corridor plays an important role in creating strong boulevards as can be seen by Parker’s double verge on Broadway Gardens and Sollershott East and West, repeated in his schemes across the world. A co-ordinated approach to landscaping, incorporating tree lined streets, hedging and trees defining the property frontages, groups of housing addressing a traditional village green, such as those found at Westholm and Ridge Road, enabled a park like character for the whole of the town and is a core principle.
  • Accents were often created by variations in the building line. An example of this is the splayed arrangement of the three blocks of Silver Birch Cottages in Station Road.
  • The principle of closure represents the breaking down of the street scene into sequences by means of closing the view at key points, particularly at road junctions. This is highlighted by the view southwards into Rushby Mead from Hillshott and demonstrated more formally in Jackmans Place around the triple road junction, where a focal block is set across the view line.
  • Group design can be used as a means of giving identity to the various roads within the Garden City. For example, a residential cul-de-sac or the linking together of blocks to form street corners, as at the junction of Lytton Avenue and South View. Occasionally, corners would be treated as blocks of striking design, for example the twin ‘L’ blocks which frame the North side of the junction between Sollershott East and Field Lane, or the block boldly set diagonally across the acute angled junction between Sollershott East and South View. The identity of roads was also emphasised by street trees, with different species used for each road.

Materials and Detailing

Barry Parker in his role as Chief Architect for First Garden City Limited was responsible for a series of regulations. This included reference to materials, where it states:

the high standard of beauty which we desire to attain in the Garden City can only result from simple, straight-forward building, and from the use of good and harmonious materials. They desire as far as possible to discourage useless ornamentation and secure that buildings shall be suitably designed for their purpose and position.

This also reflects the influence of the Arts and Crafts on these pioneer architects.

The rough cast render utilised for the greater proportion of early homes, supported Parker and Unwin’s design approach and added cohesion to a design which involved a number of different architects and clients. This also helped address the availability of materials, as well as their dislike for the local bricks!

Design features such as dormer windows and gables were accented with tile-hanging or dark stained boarding and steep pitched roofs, with gables, hips and dormers creating variety in the street scene.

Unwin urged architects to:

apportion materials with a view to some colour scheme … avoid monotony, but not by an irregular jumble of materials and colours, but by a sufficient though unobtrusive variation in the different buildings, leading up to some more definite breaks in colour in certain parts; treating differently different roads or parts of roads, and so producing interest and variety on his estate, which will be greatly helped by the sense of unity maintained in each individual part, and of harmony over the whole.

None of these core elements suggest that there should be a uniform design for all garden city schemes or the need to only develop a pastiche of early Garden City homes, which can be a disappointment on new developments, which claim a garden city influence.

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