Doctor On The House: When designs make sense, they get demolished

New buildings that fit in with old ones? Only a deranged radical would dream up such a scheme, says Jeff Howell
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The Independent Online
I HAD a nice surprise last week; I got a letter, with a French postmark, from that Leon Krier - the architect who worked with the Prince of Wales on Poundbury, the new village development in Dorset.

Now, you will understand that my postbag has contained quite a few letters of late, mostly of the irate-architect-from-Ongar type, telling me off for daring to question architects' divine right to bugger the place up for the rest of us. So when I opened the envelope and saw that the boy Krier had taken the trouble to write to me, in his own hand, I feared the worst. I need not have worried; it turns out he's read my views on Poundbury, and I'm the only person to have written anything complimentary about the place in any British newspaper for the past five years ... so he'd be honoured if I'd attend his book launch at The Prince of Wales' Institute of Architecture in Regent's Park.

Before I proceed I must declare an interest - well, two interests actually. The first is that I think most ordinary people feel more comfortable with classical architecture than with modernist glass-and-concrete boxes; and the second is that when I arrived at The Prince of Wales' Institute I found there was no beer, so I was forced to quaff huge quantities of white wine, my glass being constantly refilled by a team of hovering waiters. I'm not complaining, but I thought I'd better mention it. I ended up chatting to a very nice man who said he'd designed Milton Keynes once but he now mostly does racecourses.

Anyway, the boy Krier has been a bit demonised in this country. I first came across him a few years ago when I saw his design for a building for New College, Oxford University. It had solid brick walls and stepped brick footings with no foundations - just like every other building constructed on the site for the past thousand years. Naturally, the college's governing body rejected the plan, even though engineers' calculations showed that it was a perfectly sound design and would conform to building regulations. Clearly Mr Krier thinks new buildings should fit in with existing ones and provide pleasant spaces for people to live and work in, rather than be monuments to those who designed them. In the eyes of modernists this apparently makes him a dangerous, demented radical. Still, as the man from Ongar said, what do I know about it?

Wallpaper job

MORE on how to choose a builder. There seems to be a rapid growth of schemes, such as Barclaycard Home Assist and HSA Home Emergency Care, offering to put you in touch with "reliable tradesmen". Exactly how qualified these tradesmen are is not made clear in the brochures, and I would not criticise these schemes without knowing more about them, but a reader writes from Norwich about a builder recommended by the AA's Home Moving Service; he's been waiting six months and the bloke still hasn't started the job. Do these schemes really provide a service, or are they just a marketing tool for the organisations concerned? British consumers deserve a proper government-administered builders' registration scheme ... even that bloke who wallpapered the Lord Chancellor's apartment could get on it.

q You can contact Jeff Howell at the Independent on Sunday or by e-mail: Jeff@doctoronthehouse.demon.co.uk

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