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.
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:
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.