Sunday, 4 May 2014

The British Garden City Movement: Bedford Park

Jane Jacobs attacked the Garden City movement when she stated that “its prescription for saving the city was to do the city in.” Was this criticism justified? Well, the answer is surely yes and no. Firstly, the original Garden City movement was an attempt to deal  with the growth of existing cities by proposing satellite communities. The size of existing cities would be limited by green belts. These would help  define a city’s  size, maintain a balance between city and country and by forcing new developments into existing sites in a city  act as a catalyst for urban regeneration.

The idea of satellites was basically an offshoot of its concern about  the issue of city size. Bedford Park, in west London, is often taken as a good example of the Garden City Movement though its proximity to central London ensures it should really be viewed as a neighbourhood of an existing city rather than a true satellite.
An important fact about Bedford Park is the date of its founding, 1875, which gives it some claim to be the origin of the Garden City Movement.

The development is often viewed as the work of Richard Norman Shaw although Shaw was actually the second architect to be appointed by the client, Jonathan Carr. Other architects who worked on the development included Edward W Godwin, Maurice Adams and EJ May.

The development is centred around Acton Green Common and the adjacent Turnham Green  tube station. Here are the non-residential uses such as parade of shops, church and pub. 

Shaw was  responsible for buildings which compromise centre pieces of the development such as St Michael &  All Angels Church  and  the Tabard Pub.

                                     Shops on The South Parade.

A series of residential streets fan out from this heart of the community.

                                                     Priory Gardens

The houses by Shaw at 22 Woodstock Road  are surprisingly not the best in the development.

High density housing has been allowed on part of the site.

Richard Norman Shaw is remembered as one of the most eclectic architects of the Nineteenth Century, responsible for buildings such as New Scotland Yard  on the Thames Embankment and the less interesting Piccadilly  Hotel.

Much of the development has been designed in what became known as The Queen Anne Style.   It is something of a historical curiosity that Richard Norman Shaw, a   half-Irish, half-Scottish architect should devote his career to this English, or to be more precise, Dutch style of architecture.

Dutch motifs such as bell gables can be found throughout the development. Many of these houses are not actually by Shaw himself.

Should this approach be regarded  as something simply producing surface effects rather than any deeper, spatial qualities, the sort of criticism sometimes leveled at the  work of John Nash? Well, to give an informed answer to that question I would have to have seen more Shaw interiors and I can only recall visiting the interior of two buildings by  Shaw ,  Swan House on Chelsea Embankment and The Royal Geographical Society in South Kensington and  both indeed provided a memorable experience.

At any rate, the development contains some of the prettiest houses in London.

The development has provided a home for famous residents such as W.B. Yeats, Camille Pissarro and, in more recent years, John Humphrys of the  BBC. It also appeared in the  G.K. Chesterton novel The Man who was Thursday under the name Saffron Park.

It is true that the garden City movement as conceived by Ebenezer Howard had little to say about existing cities and hence offers little guidance on issues such as the regeneration of inner-city  sites. It that sense, it cannot be said to be a comprehensive theory of urban design. Its concern for issues such as city size and satellites did evince an ability  to think in regions, something often sadly amiss from today’s thinking on urban design.