Having joined an audience of 70 odd at Tim, Miriam and Harry’s Think Time event, and following on from Charlie’s great précis, I was left reflecting on Architecture and Agriculture.
It struck me that many of the buildings presented and discussed were rather more agricultural than architectural. Driven by production processes that begin out in the landscape- be it flax or barley in the case of Ditherington, clay in the case of Middleport, or coal and mineral extraction out in the Ruhr Valley, these buildings are shaped by material production first, and people second.
John Ruskin suggests that every mark man makes on the earth can be classified as either agriculture or architecture.
Do we need to start thinking of our historic industrial buildings as agricultural , rather than architectural, heritage? If so, how might this colour our attitude to their preservation and reuse? Might interventions become more bold? More intrusive? Or given the repeated challenges of funding and investment, might we simply allow these buildings to become our era’s picturesque ruins- gloriously pointless in the wake of newly invented processes and attitudes to working conditions. Might letting go of one or two of the “less important” examples refocus the mind on the significance of the few very special cases still remaining? These buildings were almost always borne of pragmatism and profit. A reverent treatment of them now, seems alien to their nature.
Conversely, where does this attitude leave our thinking on architecture informed by agriculture? Construction aside, what qualities are left that speak explicitly of architecture?
I love to think of Palladio in this context. Homes and farmsteads pragmatically built, agricultural in their construction, but nothing other than architecture. Massing, composition, placement, and proportion; intelligently inter-related and judged; supremely humane.
Palladio has his modern counterparts too: Brian MacKay Lyons in Canada, and Glenn Murcutt in Australia, both deal with architecture defined by setting, landscape, climate, and resource. Their means of construction very much relate to the agricultures of their place, but their buildings are never anything less than truly human.