What does Cornish architecture mean to me as a Cornishman? Having grown up in Cornwall, and lived my whole life here, it is fair to say I have a love for everything Cornish; as a local architect this includes the architecture. I am passionate that architecture should speak of its time and place and should be inspired by the beauty of the landscape, seascape and local environment. It should be progressive, using the latest technologies and innovations to leave our mark in time. It is said that great architecture is timeless and transparent, something which every architect aspires to achieve.
I have always been interested in our past; especially the innovations during the industrial eras, in particular through the wealth of tin mining which left iconic engine house structures and miners’ cottages all the way up to and including wealthy estates such as Lanhydrock. We can, of course, learn a great deal from history, with the past being able to inform the future. Whilst most people associate Cornwall with this architectural heritage, together with the earliest constructions found on Bodmin Moor and in west Cornwall, we should also appreciate what the Victorian, Edwardian and Georgian eras brought to Cornwall; a walk through Truro is fascinating. The vernacular architectural styles are also varied throughout Cornwall, including quaint cob and thatched cottages, slate buildings with scantle slate in the west and large rag slates in the north of the county.
Many people find it more difficult to appreciate our modern architecture such as the brutalist style of Cornwall Council’s New County Hall which is a Grade II listed building. In fact, there are many 50s, 60s and 70s buildings which have been listed, many also winning prestigious architecture awards. I have learnt to appreciate these buildings with their differing architectural styles and influences, which continues the historical journey allowing our history and progression as a society to be visually read. As fashion and technology has advanced, so too has architecture.
I am a firm believer in designing buildings of our time that are truly sustainable and which complement our beautiful county. I can’t help thinking that this generation has lost its way with poorly presented pastiche representations that we now see scattered across the county in the form of housing estates… of course beauty will always be in the eye of the beholder! I feel that many new buildings have lost their identity and our regional distinctiveness. I believe we should embrace creativity, innovation, uniqueness and, of course, good-quality design. Cornwall is, and always has been, blessed with talented designers and innovators, so keep an eye out for these people as they are prepared to share their passion with you and make Cornwall a more vibrant and interesting place to live.
Ian Armstrong is the Co-Founder and Director of ARCO2 Architecture Limited.