Towards a "New Vernacular"

In Britain, there is such concern about the change in the quality of the rural environment that they set up The Countryside Agency with the mandate "to make life better for people in the countryside and to make the quality of the countryside better for everyone." They are "promoting high quality, sustainable new development in the countryside" and developed six key principles of sustainable development, design rules we could all live by as we pave over the North American countryside. View the PDF here or1. Energy
Energy consumption in construction and in use should be minimised and passive solar gain should be maximised. Renewable energy should be included in the construction, so that heat and or electricity is harnessed from renewable sources and in ways which integrate with the form and function of the building.

2. Materials
Building materials should be long-lasting or from a renewable source. They should be capable of maintenance and sympathetic repair on a long-term basis - appropriate materials and skills need to be available. Local materials are an important part of local distinctiveness, they help to create the sense of place and value in our towns and villages. Care needs to be taken with their sourcing; for example, quarries and brick works may provide materials and local employment but they also impact on the landscape. Small scale, sensitively sited works are likely to be more sustainable. Care should be taken that local sources are sustainable.

3. Flexibility
Buildings should be capable of adapting to different occupancies and uses over time. For example, long structural spans across the building will allow for later adaption. Prefabrication is increasingly used because it offers rapid construction. These buildings are often criticised as being unsympathetic to local character but they can be built in a number of forms. However, the off-site construction method does not support the use and maintenance of local building skills and materials and the future structural flexibility of prefabricated buildings might be limited. Their long-term maintenance, repair and adaptability could be problematic.

4. Quality
Buildings should be healthy, give delight and inspiration and be simple to manage. Designers should use natural materials rather than paints and plastics with toxic solvents and admit sunlight wherever possible to brighten interior space. The internal space should avoid congestion, allow for privacy and relate well with the space around the building.

5. Environment
New development should seek to enhance the landscape, local character and the natural ecosystem. It should be sympathetic to the existing land form, settlement pattern and individual buildings. It should seek to retain the existing ecosystem by returning surface water to the soil, retaining hedges and trees, recycling wastes and avoiding pollutants.

6. Community
Development should be part of a viable community. Commercial or industrial development should provide an economic contribution to the area, for example by providing local employment. New housing should be located conveniently for facilities such as public transport, shops and green space. Designers should also think carefully about how a place will function as research shows that residents do not necessarily use the closest facilities.
[By Lloyd Alter]