Balaton uplands Design Guide

Some may question the need or reason for a ‘Design Guide’ for new houses. Others might ask why a Local Authority or anyone should suggest to them how their house should look. Designers might ask why a Local Authority or anyone should suggest how new houses should designed. Some no doubt will even take exception to the idea of such a publication, no matter how good it is.
Such was our experience when the Cork Rural Design Guide ‘Building a New House in the Countryside” was first published in 2003, at a time when Ireland was experiencing stong population growth and an unprecedented building boom. The pressure for one-off individual houses in the countryside was immense. Against this background, many despaired at the apparent complete absense of design quality, or reference to the cultural, social or geographical contexts into which these increasing large houses were being dropped. This is what gave rise to our  Cork Rural Design Guide and I am pleased to report that it was generally very well received, albeit as some remarked, 10 years too late for certain parts of the countryside.

In this age of new technologies, instant communications, redefined patterns of living and ever emerging global climatic concerns it is easy to argue that issues of heritage, locality and regional identity are just quaint, old-fashioned and perhaps even irrelevant notions. It is far easier to brush these contexts aside and to blaze ahead into a homogenised new future than it is to rise to the challenges that they pose.
To do so however risks the obliteration of the rich cultural diversity of the built envionment.
A journey across Europe, though geograpically relatively short, is a fantastically enriching experience of local and regional differences making it a wonderful place in which to live or visit. Most would agree that it would be tragic to lose or dilute this cultural environment replacing it with a medicore uniformity.

In essence, a Design Guide such as this is a reflection, a celebration even, of the extradordinary wealth of the built heritage of a particular area, distinguished by regional charicteristics and features that has evolved over millennia. Such Design Guides set out the challenge for new generations of designers, beset by a tsunami of digital images and possibilities, to design location specific new buildings, informed by their locality and context, in ways that can be new and exciting.
Not all new buildings should be or can be wildly exciting or innovative. Indeed what many find attractive about traditional or vernacular “architecture” is the clarity of hieracy, from common everyday buildings, to semi public commercial buildings, to formal scale public or civic buildings. A Design Guide must ask those comissioning new buildings in sensitive contexts to be cogniscant of their surroundings and to aspire, with their architect or designer, to build something that is comfortable, well-mannered and appropriately sited, executed and detailed externally, nothwitstanding the multititude of possible alternative internal arrangements that might exist, conservative, modern or otherwise. Very importantly, this is not the same as asking that new buildings be mere imitations of past styles. On the contrary, it asks something much much more challenging; that you build something today that is of its time, that responds fully to today’s pressing energy and climatic needs, that meets the demands of modern living and working but is immediately recognisable as being of its people and place. Not an easy ask by any means.

So was our Design Guide a success? In many ways I believe it has been. It certainally provoked debate, stimulated new thinking, broadened design horizons, raised awareness and helped generate a wave of iconic modern houses, very distinctly Irish, to be realised. It may not have have led to the end of oversized, ill proportioned, inappropiately decorated, badly designed houses but over time a new confidence has emerged and change is slowly following.

I have had the good fortune to visit Balaton and to enjoy and admire its lanscapes, scenery, buildings and the warm hospilitality of the people. I was struck by how extraordinary and different the vernacular houses of Balaton are from the ones of the Irish tradition - ours fashioned by the need to huddle down on a windswept island on the edge of the atlantic ocean, yours blessed with a warmer mediterranian type climate but needing to stay cool in summer and warm in winter.
This Guide I have no doubt will reawaken a new respect and value in the depth and richness of the built environment of the Balaton region, and will lead to many shining examples of how the present can be skillfully combined with what has gone before, to make wonderful new places to live and work, that very definitely are of this time, but also, completely at one with their surrounds.

Mike Shanahan, Architect

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