Architecture: Don't prettify the pigsty: The cosmetic fiddlers of the shopping arcades should not be allowed to fake Arcadia, argues Rowan Moore

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The Independent Culture
THE BEAUTY of the countryside is becoming more of a debased currency every day. As well as its ecological impoverishment, there is the more insidious threat of bogusness, of false respect for the past, which makes every Tesco into a barn, every factory-made housing estate into a time-worn village. The fakes are unconvincing, but they still contaminate the genuinely old and beautiful with their mimicry. Nothing seems real, everything seems a film set.

With one noble exception.

Modern farm buildings, exempt by law from the tinkering of planning committees, have the same direct simplicity that barns, cowsheds, granaries and oast-houses have always had. Sometimes these structures are elegant, like the open-sided Dutch barns propped on their astonishingly slender legs. Sometimes, resembling giant metallic boulders, farm buildings have a quiet strength. Sometimes they evoke odd images, like the barrel-vaulted, portable pigsties that, dotted about a field, resemble some porcine garden city, a muddy Utopia for pigs.

Most importantly, they are not phoney. Yet, on this page last week Roger Hawkins called for their prettification.

Mr Hawkins, an architect from Totnes in Devon, thinks that architects should 'improve' farm buildings with corrugated traditional details, and that planners should rule on their acceptability.

One shudders. There will be silos in Cotswold stone, brick-effect cladding, prefabricated thatch and dovecotes with PVC pigeons. There will be fibreglass dungheaps - 'all the authentic charm of traditional manure without the embarrassing odor' - and steel struts dressed with wobbly timber. We know that the materials will be fake because even the most conservative planning committees rarely insist on genuinely traditional ways of building.

Such fiddling would not be free. For hard-pressed farmers, and there are plenty of them, the time and expense of getting permission, employing architects and adding 'traditional' knick-knacks could be ruinous. Meanwhile, the more villainous farmers of the popular imagination would manage to circumvent the system, or pump their land with still more pesticides and fertilisers to raise the extra cash.

Nor would this interference achieve its desired ends, since a 50ft silo will remain a 50ft silo, no matter how many 'traditional features' are stuck to its sides. Mr Hawkins objects to the size of modern farm buildings, but dressing them up will not make them smaller. If we want a less industrialised landscape and smaller farm buildings, we will have to change the economics of modern farming. This is a political decision, not an architectural one.

From the City of London to rural villages, 'traditional' styling is used to camouflage huge and often destructive changes, to smuggle through office blocks and supermarkets that are too big or monolithic for their site. We can be certain that planner-friendly farm buildings would be used in the same way, to mask the ecological devastation of the land. The Tescofication of the countryside would be complete.

(Photograph omitted)