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Welwyn Garden City


Design in Town and Village

(Ministry of Housing and Local Government)

Author: Thomas Sharp, Frederick Gibberd, W. G. Holford

Published: 1953 by Her Majesty's Stationery Office

Format: Paperback 9¾" by 7¼" with 120 pages

This is a very well-made book on the street layout aspect of town planning. There are numerous black-and-white photographs and some very well-reproduced plans, printed on semi-glossy paper. There is not much about Welwyn Garden City in it, unfortunately, just a passage about communal front gardens and a couple of passages about culs-de-sac. Three of the photographs are from Welwyn Garden City - two of streets in the town and one aerial shot.


The book is in three parts:

Part One: The English Village

by Thomas Sharp, C.B.E., D.Litt., M.A., M.T.P.I., F.I.L.A., L.R.I.B.A.

Part Two: The Design of Residential Areas

by Frederick Gibberd, F.R.I.B.A., M.T.P.I.

Chapter I
Chapter II
Chapter III
Chapter IV
Chapter V
The Raw materials and their Arrangement.
The Arrangement of the Area.
Street Pattern and Picture
Spatial Layouts
Layout with Landscape

Part Three: Design in City Centres

by W. G. Holford, F.R.I.B.A., M.T.P.I, Professor of Town Planning, London University

Chapter I
Chapter II
Chapter III
Chapter IV
Chapter V
The Problems
The Street
The Enclosed Space
Street Furniture
Open Planning



The Foreword is by Harold Macmillan who was then Minister of Housing in Winston Churchill's government, and later to become Prime Minister himself in 1957 on the fall of Eden:

This book discusses problems of design in the grouping and lay-out of buildings. In the past thirty years a great deal has been done to improve the standard and design of individual houses. But the general effect has too often been dull and depressing.

It is very hard to analyse what makes a good design. But it is very important to try to do this; and - at a time when so much development and re-development is going on - to direct attention to some of the questions involved.

Three well-known experts in town planning have accordingly been asked to contribute, from their own experience, essays on the subject of design in relation to the building and re-building of towns, of suburbs and of villages. This seemed more appropriate than an official "manual" since the questions involved are matters of taste; and very much, therefore, matters for individual opinion.

The opinions expressed in this book and their method of presentation are those of the authors. That is as it should be. But one lesson we can all take to heart is that good design is not costly: it is not achieved by extravagant use of land, wide and draughty streets or lavish expenditure - indeed, the reverse. More compact building leads to better and more attractive grouping as well as saving land and reducing cost.

In recommending this book to housing and planning authorities, I would ask them when they study the contents, not to lose sight of this conclusion.




The following passage and illustrations are from Part Two, Chapter III: Street Pattern and Picture:


It was suggested in the first chapter that the dwellings might be arranged to form spaces which are as significant as the buildings themselves, and in which both the spectator standing in the space and those living in the surrounding dwellings are given the sense of being in a place with its own individual character.

In an arrangement of houses to form a street picture the two chief elements are the horizontal plane, formed by the carriageway and pavement, and the vertical planes formed by the house façades. It is an obvious and simple principle that these two planes are likely to be more completely united the closer they are together. Failure to observe this principle strikes at the root of the unsatisfactory appearance of many pre-war housing estates. For instance, the two planes are scarcely united at all when the house stands back from the road and is separated from it by the visual barriers of hedge and front garden (Fig. 35). When the view of the façade is only obstructed by a low wall (Fig. 36) the planes are much better united; and if all the front walls and fences are swept away and the space between the pavement and the house is designed as a communal front lawn, the composition will be even more complete. Innumerable objections are still made to the communal front garden, but its problems have been solved in America and Canada, and in this country, besides the shining example of Welwyn Garden City, it has been used in several post-war housing schemes. No one can doubt that its appearance is immensely superior to that of the enclosed front garden and it is to be hoped that more authorities will adopt this form of development.

The communal front lawn can be developed into a landscaped area in which the houses and the road are related to one another through the landscape design - for example, in many low-density housing areas, the dissimilar forms of the buildings are held together by a carefully designed planting scheme (Fig. 37). But although there is a place for such layouts, it is suggested that, for both economic and aesthetic reasons, the general trend in design should be towards high-density housing groups contrasted with broad areas of landscape. This means that the house-to-road relationship must be closer rather than wider.

Diminution of the space between the house and the road tends to preclude the planting of full-size forest trees and large shrubs, and puts heavy wear on the grass surfaces. In consequence, extensive landscape gardening cannot be used to form urban street pictures. There is no reason why it should be so used, for (and this is an important proposition) the fusion between the dwelling and the road will be greater if the horizontal surfaces against the walls of the dwelling are hard and natural things are suppressed (Fig. 38). Similarities in the texture and pattern of the two planes appear to give them greater affinity than if the floor plane was grass. But this does not imply that all growing things must be excluded from the urban scene. We need trees and grass both for their own sakes and to give contrast to the forms of architecture, but they should not be so ubiquitous as to destroy that feeling of urbanity which can be obtained through the close juxtaposition of the wall and floor planes (Fig. 39).

Fig. 35  
Fig. 36 - Crawley Goodman & Kay, Architects
Fig. 37 - Sherrards Wood, Welwyn Garden City Louis de Soissons,
Fig. 38 - Lawrence Street, Chelsea  
Fig. 39 - West Norwood, Lambeth Booth & Ledeboer, Architects



The following passages and illustrations are from Part Two, Chapter IV: Spatial Layouts:


The spaces so far mentioned are for the most part formed on the road pattern, either by expanding the road into closes or squares, or by grouping buildings round changes in its direction. In layouts of this type the road is a very important element and may even be the controlling influence in the design. But another approach to design is to regard the space itself as the dominant element, with the road only incidental to it. Instead of laying down a pattern of roads and then forming spaces on it, a series of satisfactorily related spaces is evolved and linked together by carriageways and footpaths. The main spine roads must be predetermined, otherwise the layout will lack structure; but beyond this the design can assume a very definite pattern of linked spaces or cells, each of which has its own character. The difference in approach is perhaps best illustrated by comparing the plan of part of Welwyn Garden City (Fig. 81) or the squares of Bloomsbury (Fig. 207) with the average contemporary estate (Fig. 82).

Fig. 81 - Welwyn Garden City  

In Fig 81 above, the road running from top left corner to middle bottom is Ludwick Way. The road crossing this near the top is Knella Road, and the one crossing further down is Holwell Road / Salisbury Road. The closes to the left of Ludwick Way are Essendon Gardens, Bassingburn Walk, Ethelred Close, and (off Longlands Road) Burgundy Croft. The closes to the right of Ludwick Way are Ely Place, Verulam Close and (off Knella Road) Cranborne Gardens, Barnard Green and Longmore Gardens, and (off Salisbury Road) Salisbury Gardens, St Audrey's Green and Shortlands Green. The small close at top right (off Heronswood Road) is Heronswood Place.

Fig. 82  
Fig. 207 - The University of London, Bloomsbury  

The following passage is from the same section (Spatial Layouts):

When the space is deep rather than wide, a cul-de-sac can often be substituted for the loop (Fig. 85). This rectangular form makes an infinitely better space than the usual cul-de-sac in which houses are loosely grouped round a turning circle as, apart from the design being more cohesive, all the houses have a good view across the space and the shut-in feeling in the end houses is avoided. The turning area should be rectangular rather than circular, as this reflects the shape of the space and makes for a simpler arrangement of paths. Fig. 85 shows a turning space in T form with additional space for parking, and Fig. 86 illustrates an actual example of a close of this nature.

Fig. 85  
Fig. 86 - Welwyn Garden City Walden Place