March 27: The Suburb

2016/03/27 § Leave a comment

During this month in 1906 the Hampstead Garden Suburb Trust Limited was established.

The Trust predated the founding of the actual suburb outside of London, which was the brainchild of Henrietta Barnett, a wealthy woman of reformist zeal and excellent taste (she’d already founded the Whitechapel Art Gallery).  The development of a large tract land–243 acres to start–was prompted by her interest to save the parcel (destined for development as the Tube lines reached further out of London’s center) from misguided development, lacking aesthetic charm and cultural value.  Instead, it would be an experiment in design for beauty and health–personal as well as social. She emphasized the fitting of architecture into an open landscape, fine gardens, space open to all, and the residents drawn from across the social spectrum.

The plan, laid out by Raymond Unwin (1863 – 1940), included his picturesque approach to residential design, providing variety in plan and aesthetics, to serve different family needs, and to fit into the landscape beautifully.  Central public buildings (like this church) were designed by architect Edwin Lutyens (1869-1944), who could design just about any building in virtually any style mostly better than practically any other building alive.

It’s a lovely place, although, lovely and green and artsy as it is, a Garden Suburb will always be a suburb, characterized by necessary parasitic relationship with a real city.  The early architecture of the place lives up to Barnett’s vision for “thousands of people, of all classes of society, of all sorts of opinions, and all standards of income, [living] in helpful neighbourliness,” but that ideal has not been sustainable, any more than The Suburb would be sustainable without the iron umbilical cords that connect it to London.  A quick scan of real estate prices in Hampstead reveals that the dream of equity has died, but it also clearly shows the value of these well-designed houses in a lovely landscape (a result of supply and demand), which come at a premium–sadly, one that not everyone can afford.  It does, however, appear to be in the reach of Muggle dentists.

Image: the proposed plan (from this source)

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