Going backwards

Posted in houses

Driving back to Aberdeen from Banchory the other day I happened upon a rather troubling phenomenon; architectural regression.

In Drumoak, on one side of the road are some small semi-detached cottages, which could be council housing. On the other side is a development of ‘executive homes’

The cottages, which appear to be 1960’s or 70’s have some rather quirky White box dormers which sit into the tiled roof. The forms are simple but effective and despite lacking expensive materials or twidly detail they are quite successful.

The executive homes have pitched slate roofs, sash and case look windows and twidly details around windows and at eaves. The odd thing is that these Victorian details are on buildings built in the last ten years.

Developers have effectively regressed to a language which pre-dates our grandparents. In every part of our life we embrace ‘the new’, we use iPads, smartphones, satnav and all manner of kitchen gadgets. We drive cars which are sleeker and smarter than the Apollo rockets, we like electronic music, watch films created entirely within a computer but for some inexplicable reason our houses look geriatric.

Is this the fault of the developer? Or perhaps that is what clients want? Or are the designers not pushing the envelope? There might be some blame in a planning system which puts so much value on ‘old’ but there are policies which promote contemporary design so I’m not sure that is the issue.

In truth I don’t have an answer, I’d love to hear a response from a developer or a homebuyer so if you read this and feel that you can comment, please do.

Room architects


  1. Nina
    February 5, 2011

    I totally agree with what you’re saying – great post. I have always wondered about this; why is there not more contemporary, ‘daring’ architecture around here? Do people REALLY want run-of-the-mill “old-looking” houses made out of cheap material? Or do developers just not want to take the risk of offering something a bit more unique and modern? It is SO boring and soulless. As an architectural historian from The Netherlands it is all a big mystery – and a disappointment – to me. When I moved here five years ago I was hoping to be able to continue working in architecture, stimulating debate and awareness of good design like I used to do in previous jobs. No chance. There’s not even one architecture centre in the whole of Scotland, after even The Lighthouse in Glasgow shut its doors two years ago. A shame really. Thanks for bringing it up though, it’s nice to see other people in our area feel this way!

    • roomarchitects
      February 6, 2011

      Thanks Nina, it is a real shame that there aren’t any gutsy developments. The only thing that I can think of is that each participant (developer, buyer, designer, planner) is holding back just in case the others don’t follow. I suppose it’s like design by committee where the result is usually the lowest common denominator.

      It must be especially bad coming here from a country where architecture is prized and ‘the new’ is representative of the age in which it was built.

      I’ll be sure to check out your blog when I get back to the office (when I’m not using my expensive, slow mobile connection)