Is this possible anymore?

Semur-en-Auxois Bourgogne.png

Semur-en-Auxois, Cote-d’Or, France. (Photo by Joel Pidel)

Above is a photo of a town, Sémur-en-Auxois, in the Côte-d’Or, a department of northeastern France. Below is Sarlat-la-Canéda, in the Dordogne, another deparment, in the northeast. They are both beautiful, and it makes sense to wonder whether there is any hope that towns and villages like this are possible anymore, and if so, whether they should be built.

The photos were sent to the TradArch list by architect Joel Pidel. Not long after, architect and planner Tom Low started sending a series of drawings of his “Pocket Court Project.” The reaction on the list was extraordinarily heartening. Of the painting here he writes:

tomlowpocket court project.png

Here is a #watercolor version of the sketch rendering of one of the pocket oval greens and cottage designs for the #PocketCourt- Project. The colors, shade, shadows, and textures help accen- tuate the design to another level of detail.  Also the previous posts help document the design process journey with many of the decisions and incremental processes it takes to get there. Also this #handmade design and incremental approach has advantages including elevated creativity, increased efficiency, ability to change scale, and a pace enabling the designer to think things through while in parallel crafting the ideas.

Low credits architect Sara Hines and her recent book Cottage Communities: The American Camp Meeting Movement for his pocket-court imagery. Her book explores “[t]he invention of detail that arose using simple parts with care and imagination, a love of geometry and craft,” and “what secrets can be learned about organizing spaces, human scale, proximity, design, and subtle tricks of planning that sustain the experience.”

Of course, Low’s image is not quite a French village, nor need it be. But it is a start, a very good one, and I am sure others in this country, such as Hines, and elsewhere are thinking outside the box and toward the time when habitation made by hand creeps back into and takes over the heart of the way we design and build today. In the meantime, while the craftsmanship involved is rebuilt, costs may require a more tooled approach to craft.

There are some who say this sort of thing should not be built today, that it is not “of our time.” Well, maybe that’s what’s wrong with our time – not the only thing (by far), but suggestive of our era’s deepest flaws. Is there anyone aside from the modern architects, the major developers and their camp followers who think our built environment is worth writing home about? I doubt it. And they know we are on to them. As they laugh up their sleeves on their way to the bank, they are whistling past the graveyard.

“We can land a man on the moon, so why can’t we …” Well, we can, and will.

town in the Dordogne, Sarlat-la-Caneda.png

Sarlat-la-Caneda, Dordogne, France. (Photo by Joel Pidel)

About David Brussat

For a living, I edit the writing of some of the nation's leading architects, urbanists and design theorists. This blog was begun in 2009 as a feature of the Providence Journal, where I was on the editorial board and wrote a weekly column of architecture criticism for three decades. Architecture Here and There fights the style wars for classical architecture and against modern architecture, no holds barred. My freelance writing and editing on that topic and others addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a fellow of the Royal Society of the Arts, and a member of the board of the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, which bestowed an Arthur Ross Award on me in 2002. I work from Providence, R.I., where I live with my wife Victoria, my son Billy and our cat Gato. If you would like to invest your prose with even more style and clarity, please email me at my consultancy, dbrussat@gmail.com, or call 401.351.0457. Testimonial: "Your work is so wonderful - you now enter my mind and write what I would have written." - Nikos Salingaros, mathematician at the University of Texas, architectural theorist and author of many books.
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21 Responses to Is this possible anymore?

  1. Pingback: Tom Low’s village progress | Architecture Here and There

  2. I saw this yesterday and thought of your blog. He’s turned this ugly duckling into something a lot more attractive.

    http://www.boredpanda.com/cement-factory-renovation-la-fabrica-ricardo-bofill/?utm_source=fbshared&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=SHRD

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    • Yes, that’s pretty amazing. My wife sent it to me last night. She said that the architect could have made the interior cozier, and I agree, but it is still pretty amazing.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I guess the type of building he’s presented with may have influenced his industrial, utilitarian interior…though I’m not adverse to it to be fair, it just wouldn’t be for me.

        I’m much more traditional in my likes as you can see from my Pinterest Interiors board below:

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  3. I was just about to add Semur-en-Auxois to my list of places to visit while on our trip but it’s not in the Dordogne, it’s out towards Dijon in the East of France. Never mind, it still looks like a beautiful place to visit.

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    • Very soon after I first posted on the Dordogne, a commenter pointed out my error and I fixed it, but somehow I must have accidentally worked on an earlier version and the fix disappeared. I have now restored it.

      Liked by 1 person

      • These things are easily done. Everything still holds true no matter where the village is, it’s a beautiful place and I’ve added it to my bucket list. It might be doable to visit Semur-en-Auxois when I eventually get to visit Strasbourg and Colmar, so I’m glad of the introduction. Thank you.

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  4. I have no official / educated understanding of what constitutes good architecture but the above is my kind of place. When I see somewhere like this, I want to go there, I want to walk its pretty streets and romanticise about its past and the possibilities of living somewhere so stunningly beautiful.

    I’ll be there in April/May and I’m so looking forward to it. We’re doing a trip covering some of the Plus Beaux Villages de France (the most beautiful villages in France). This time around we’ll be focusing on the departments of Aveyron, Lot, Tarn and Dordogne so thank you for sharing.

    I realised early on that I choose my holiday destinations based on architecture and scenery more than anything else. There’s something so romantic and beautiful about these places and I wish we built like this now.

    In my uneducated opinion, it’s architecture to fall in love with as opposed to architecture to be astounded by, by its mechanical genius. I can appreciate modern architecture, I just can’t fall in love with it.

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    • You are not uneducated, Touch. Your opinions of architecture and places are like the opinions of many. We all grew up surrounded by architecture, developing a deep intuitive ability to judge architecture, much more so than we develop for arts we see only occasionally. It is only the so-called experts, who sneer at building lovely architecture now, who have had their natural reverence for beauty purged by architectural education. They and their camp followers keep the rest of us trapped in an environment of ugliness. Some of us are trying to find a way out, a way to roll back their insanity. As I have been expressing in recent posts, there are solid scientific reasons why our neurobiology hates modernism. Thank you for your lovely opinion, and don’t let anyone badger you into thinking that it is uninformed. It is profoundly informed, far more deeply informed than the garbage of the “experts.”

      Liked by 1 person

      • I remember being in Nottingham and seeing a series of buildings that looked like coloured building blocks and I commented that I didn’t like them and thought them a blot on the landscape. One of the guys in the car was an architect and slammed me for my comment and claimed it was a brilliant example of modern architecture, my reply was simply “It might be but it’s still ugly”. 😀

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  5. Pingback: Barnard Trace Charette: Four or five years too late… – Mindful Technologies

  6. Stunning architecture. They just don’t make new homes like that!

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  7. Scott Winton says:

    we tried to do what you suggest with our Piazza Escondida development in El Paso.
    https://www.facebook.com/piazzaescondida/
    Thanks for your good work.

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  8. Pingback: In lumina

  9. David, great article. With your permission I’m going to share it with our community of owners and friends of Carlton Landing. We are working to build this kind of place right now and southeast Oklahoma. I work closely with Tom Low and Andres Duany on the design side and we have a stable of brilliant architects that I’m honored to work with. The watercolor image you showed of the pocket neighborhood was one of our inspirations for a new workforce housing component we are building in Carlton Landing using the community land trust model. We hope to be able 10 homes this year under that structure. Thank you for sharing and thanks for the great article!

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    • So happy you have shared this information with me, Grant. I really was in the dark. I did not see every post on TradArch but I did not glean where it was. Many thanks. And of course you have my permission to use my piece as you wish.

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  10. Richard J Jackson says:

    Sémur-en-Auxois is not in Dordogne (or Drodogne as in the caption) that I can find. Beautiful either way, though.

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  11. Indeed, David, there is plenty of very beautiful new traditional architecture out there, at all cost ranges and by all kinds of people, in all kinds of settings. (One of the lies used by attackers of good traditional architecture is that it’s either impossible today, or only for the rich. And this by people who themselves build mostly for the rich, or for rich patrons!)

    But one of the things we need to do is get the word out about these great projects. Thanks for doing that through your blog! – Michael Mehaffy, Chair, INTBAU College of Chapters

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    • There is indeed much new traditional work, Michael. I just got Robert Adam’s new book “Classic Columns” and he’s very far from by himself in this, as we all well know. I wish Bob Stern would stop building modernist buildings. Well, no matter. Most people don’t realize that he does that, and better for him (and us) that they don’t.

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