Balaton-Upland Design Guide

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 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 howtheir house should look. Designers might ask why a Local Authority or anyoneshould suggest how new houses should designed. Some no doubt will even takeexception to the idea of such a publication, no matter how good it is.

 Such was ourexperience when the Cork Rural Design Guide ‘Building a New House in theCountryside” was first published in 2003, at a time when Ireland wasexperiencing stong population growth and an unprecedented building boom. Thepressure for one-off individual houses in the countryside was immense. Againstthis background, many despaired at the apparent complete absense of designquality, or reference to the cultural, social or geographical contexts intowhich these increasing large houses were being dropped. This is what gave riseto our  Cork Rural Design Guide and I ampleased to report that it was generally very well received, albeit as someremarked, 10 years too late for certain parts of the countryside.

 In this age of newtechnologies, instant communications, redefined patterns of living and everemerging global climatic concerns it is easy to argue that issues of heritage,locality and regional identity are just quaint, old-fashioned and perhaps evenirrelevant notions. It is far easier to brush these contexts aside and to blazeahead into a homogenised new future than it is to rise to the challenges thatthey pose.

To do so howeverrisks the obliteration of the rich cultural diversity of the built envionment.

A journey acrossEurope, though geograpically relatively short, is a fantastically enrichingexperience of local and regional differences making it a wonderful place inwhich to live or visit. Most would agree that it would be tragic to lose ordilute this cultural environment replacing it with a medicore uniformity.

 In essence, aDesign Guide such as this is a reflection, a celebration even, of the extradordinarywealth of the built heritage of a particular area, distinguished by regionalcharicteristics and features that has evolved over millennia. Such DesignGuides set out the challenge for new generations of designers, beset by atsunami of digital images and possibilities, to design location specific newbuildings, informed by their locality and context, in ways that can be new andexciting.

Not all newbuildings should be or can be wildly exciting or innovative. Indeed what manyfind attractive about traditional or vernacular “architecture” is the clarityof hieracy, from common everyday buildings, to semi public commercialbuildings, to formal scale public or civic buildings. A Design Guide must askthose comissioning new buildings in sensitive contexts to be cogniscant oftheir surroundings and to aspire, with their architect or designer, to buildsomething that is comfortable, well-mannered and appropriately sited, executedand detailed externally, nothwitstanding the multititude of possible alternativeinternal arrangements that might exist, conservative, modern or otherwise. Veryimportantly, this is not the same as asking that new buildings be mereimitations of past styles. On the contrary, it asks something much much morechallenging; that you build something today that is of its time, that respondsfully to today’s pressing energy and climatic needs, that meets the demands ofmodern living and working but is immediately recognisable as being of itspeople and place. Not an easy ask by any means.

 So was ourDesign Guide a success? In many ways I believe it has been. It certainallyprovoked debate, stimulated new thinking, broadened design horizons, raisedawareness and helped generate a wave of iconic modern houses, very distinctlyIrish, to be realised. It may not have have led to the end of oversized, illproportioned, inappropiately decorated, badly designed houses but over time anew confidence has emerged and change is slowly following.

 I have hadthe good fortune to visit Balaton and to enjoy and admire its lanscapes,scenery, buildings and the warm hospilitality of the people. I was struck byhow extraordinary and different the vernacular houses of Balaton are from theones of the Irish tradition - ours fashioned by the need to huddle down on awindswept island on the edge of the atlantic ocean, yours blessed with a warmermediterranian type climate but needing to stay cool in summer and warm inwinter.

This Guide Ihave no doubt will reawaken a new respect and value in the depth and richnessof the built environment of the Balaton region, and will lead to many shiningexamples of how the present can be skillfully combined with what has gonebefore, to make wonderful new places to live and work, that very definitely areof this time, but also, completely at one with their surrounds.

 Mike Shanahan, Architect

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