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Ben Bolgar – Transforming Lives by Creating Beauty

28 April 2016

The Prince’s Foundation’s Ben Bolgar sets out the transformative effect beauty can have on people’s lives

ResPublica’s call to arms for the democratisation of beauty strikes a chord with The Prince’s Foundation for Building Community. Perhaps that is not immediately obvious from our name, but The Prince’s Foundation’s mission is to transform lives by building beautiful places.

We believe there is a fundamental link between human happiness, health and the quality and beauty of the environment. Unattractive environments can have a negative impact on the feelings and outlook of those who experience them, whereas beautiful environments can lift the spirits and develop a sense of pride in those who use or live in them.

We have three strands of work – we educate and train people in skills that are crucial to creating beautiful places to live; we pioneer best practice and thinking that helps further the ideals we believe in and we work to produce examples of this best practice in real, live, places where people can make their homes.

At the moment we see a tension between quality and quantity when it comes to new development. There is a sense that ornament and craft skills in building are shouldered aside as unnecessary; that new developments don’t respect a sense of place or root into their location; that ‘beauty’ is a fanciful word, not suited to targets or achievements. There really should be no excuse for creating ugly places, places that jar the eye. The idea of putting people with little choice, as exemplified by post war housing estates, into ugly and depressing environments that are often distinct from their surrounding communities is really unacceptable and socially divisive.

With developments that The Prince’s Foundation has been an instrumental part in creating, we seek to show alternatives are possible and, indeed, preferable. Look at Poundbury: a range of buildings that echo local materials and tradition, creating a thriving community to live in. And Poundbury is also sustainable: the layout and planning of Poundbury has created a place where there’s a job for every household.

Or you could consider Nansleddan, in Newquay. Another development where the Foundation has striven to ensure our design principles are brought alive. We work to central principles, including having:

  • Design that respects the complex character of a place and takes into consideration local characteristics;
  • Design that is distinctive yet blends with the local and natural environment, coming together to value the whole;
  • Design whose decoration not only enhances the quality and beauty of a building, but also helps engender emotional value and personal and cultural relevance.

We strongly believe that putting care and attention into buildings makes them more likely to be valued by future generations as items of beauty and that involving the local community proactively in the planning process helps them to feel ownership and ensure the development respects local desires. And all of this comes together to create beauty in form and environment.

The last point, looking at involving the local community from the start, epitomises for us the right to beauty for all. We have found, through twenty years of community engagement, that if you involve a local community more beautiful places are created. This is what prompted The Prince’s Foundation to support communities to say ‘I want Beauty In My Back Yard’.

We did this by creating BIMBY. We think this is the essence of the democratisation of beauty. It gives local communities the tools to positively influence the planning process and help ensure better design quality in any new developments in their area.

Whether you come at it from the angle of creating buildings that use local materials; or the angle of reflecting local heritage. Whatever a local community sees as beautiful, BIMBY helps them to articulate this – in a way that planners and developers can understand and respond to. It opens up the language of beauty to more than the usual groups – architects, planners, developers. It brings beauty to communities across the country, giving them the tools to shape what they see as beauty in their area; to create what they see as beautiful homes.

With BIMBY in action, we should see more beauty being created across the country.