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:
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.