Traditional Architecture Group
A Linked Society of the Royal Institute of British Architects


The Purposes of Traditional Architecture


Many people today yearn for a better quality of environment in their cities, towns and countryside. All too often, where changes do occur, the results represent a degradation of what was there before. We need to learn how to reshape our built environment in a way that reflects the desires and values of the community.

Traditional architects understand that buildings of the past are uniquely capable of satisfying people’s needs. In the past buildings were designed to be beautiful as well as well as functional. Architects were schooled in a tradition that had evolved over millennia - one that totally integrated the practical and aesthetic requirements of buildings.

But in the latter part of the twentieth century a majority of architects lost their way and became beholden to utopian dreams of reforming society and the individual. They sought to make both fit for their particular vision of the future. These architects aimed at a rupture with the past holding that history was irrelevant to the modern world. The desire for beauty was replaced by a subservience to technology and abstract theory.

But all the while traditional skill and knowledge were never lost and some architects in Britain and elsewhere continued steadfastly to practise and develop traditional architecture. The members of this Traditional Architecture Group are heirs to this continuity.

Traditional architecture teaches us that by seeking to create and to recognise beauty we establish a contact with our own sense of humanity – a humanity that is shared by all. Traditional architecture comes in many different styles and forms, for it is produced by many different individuals and cultures and so variety is an essential aspect of it. But whatever its origins it is always accessible to all.

Traditionalists believe that, however much the times we live in might be subject to change, there are basic human values which do not change. Our values in respect of the built environment are an example of this. This is clear for when we look at great architecture of one hundred, five hundred, two thousand years ago its power is undiminished.

The Traditional Architecture Group is committed to developing the values established by long tradition and adapting them to the modern world. Traditionalism looks to the past only to see the future more clearly. In the new century traditional architecture is growing worldwide. Traditionalism is the solid, viable, long term future for architecture.


ENVIRONMENT- Conserving Energy with Traditional Construction

The management of the earth’s resources is one of the most pressing issues of our times. Many would say it is the most pressing. Architecture, as one of the major consumers of these resources, must play a major role in their management. and conservation.

The materials used in all of today’s new buildings represent an enormous proportion of the total consumption of the planet’s resources. Minerals, geological formations, petroleum products, metals and timber are all used for construction. All except the last, timber, represent finite non-renewable assets.

Also the actual construction processes consume a vast amount of the world’s energy in fabrication, site works and transportation.

The occupation of buildings requires heat, light, environmental controls and the running of all manner of appliances. The energy demands of all these elements are massive.

Added to that is the polluting effect consequent upon the construction and operation of any building.

Nor should we forget to take account of the decommissioning and demolition of buildings for this often involves the jettisoning of myriad resources accompanied by environmental degradation.

Given that architecture plays such a major part in the consumption of world resources, the design of buildings should surely take account of this at every stage and seek a responsible and rational approach. Unfortunately this is not generally the case at present.

Many buildings of today, flaunt their extravagant use of modern materials like glass, steel and plastics regardless of the implications for supply of resources. Once occupied these buildings place heavy demands on technology to regulate the internal environments they create. The technologies in turn are greedy of resource and so a spiral of increasing consumption is promoted. The future decommissioning of such buildings with their elaborate and quickly outdated technology represents a store of problems for generations to come.

Traditional architecture provides the only real answer for reducing consumption at every stage of a building's life. Many of the materials used in traditional construction are naturally available with low technology working and as far as possible are locally sourced. Traditional heavyweight construction simplifies internal environmental control reducing the dependence on sophisticated technology. Prefabricated elements and their associated transport costs are employed in limited fashion as site assembly takes the major role.

The demolition of a traditionally constructed building is a relatively rare occurrence as traditional architecture is highly adaptable to new uses and traditional style is not subject to the whims of fashion. Traditional materials and construction are the most durable there are and with proper maintenance can last virtually for ever. They do not require constant and expensive maintenance and renewal and in many respects improve with time and weathering. However, if a traditional building is demolished the materials are suitable for recycling or disposal with minimal damaging environmental impact.

If we are serious about conserving world resources for future generations in the way we build there is no alternative to traditional architecture.

URBANISM - For Quality of Life in our Towns and Cities

The urban realm is the public realm. Urban space is public space.

Public spaces consists of the spaces (streets, squares, alleys) between buildings that are accessible to all. The freedom of access that we all have to public spaces is what enables them to perform a very special and important role in our lives.

As public urban spaces are formed by the space between and around collections of individual buildings, the separate design of each of those buildings is important to the overall quality of the space. If we think of urban spaces, large or small, they are what they are by virtue of the assemblage of buildings that make them up. As examples, we may for instance think of, in grand fashion, Trafalgar Square or, in more intimate form, of a favourite street or market square near where we live.

Belief in the importance of public space is central to traditional architecture. Traditional buildings respect their context and their neighbouring buildings so that they can contribute to the urban environment in general.

But public space comes to mean more than just attractive, functional space where we can enjoy ourselves or work and trade. It comes to represent in physical form our sense of community and society. The development of good urban space is not just an architectural programme. It is also a societal programme. This wider meaning of public spaces is often heightened by the incorporation of monuments or monumental buildings within them.

Public space in the latter half of the twentieth century often became neglected and the emphasis shifted to the proclamation of private space in the urban arena. Buildings were designed more as individualistic statements sometimes deliberately denying the need for any role in the public space. The result was in many cases a disruption of the urban fabric and a degrading of much loved urban places.

But of recent years, a “New Urbanism” movement has grown up in America and Europe that seeks to re-establish the primacy of public urban space. It also seeks to robustly face up to the many problems of the modern city, such as its overcrowding, relentless expansion and transport difficulties.

Good urbanism is a vital ingredient of modern living and modern society. Only traditional architecture is wholly committed to the development of the urban realm and understands the principles that are necessary to carry this development through successfully.