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Towards a multifunctional rurality: Agricultural change and the development of England’s smaller rural settlements

Part 2 Project 2012
Thomas Powell
University of Cambridge Cambridge UK
Eighty-three percent of the UK environment is rural, open countryside interspersed with thousands of small villages and hamlets. Industrialisation and post-war agricultural modernisation transformed Britain into an urban nation, yet the territory urbanisation left behind is significant and complex.

The foot and mouth crisis of 2001 saw tourism’s loss to the economy as greater than agriculture’s, marking the shift in the countryside’s role from the productivist to the post-productivist. The transition has changed the countryside dramatically. Examination reveals a contemporary rurality of luxury barn conversions, priced-out locals, NIMBYism, nostalgia and constrictive planning policy, alongside failing rural services and unsustainable car-centric lifestyles. This ‘commodified countryside’ sits in conflict with a remnant agro-industrial farming practice, which faces great upheaval as it is called to sustainably intensify production.

This design thesis argues that the challenges the countryside face stem from the underlying productivist/post-productivist dichotomy of contemporary rural space, proposing that a new conceptualization of the countryside as a multifunctional and synergic territory is needed to attain a sustainable future.

The thesis proposes a new rural development paradigm where multifunctional village farmsteads are promoted as a means to reconfigure farming practice, landscape management and rural development. This strategy is explored through the synergic development of a farm, the adjacent village and the surrounding landscape in rural Cambridgeshire.

The agricultural landscape is reorganised around multifunctional corridors, which establishes a new ordering principal providing for ecology, sustainable agricultural function, public access and green infrastructures, whilst dissolving the boundary between settlement and open countryside.

This landscape change is integrated with a long-term masterplan which describes how the village could be rebalanced with new development, alongside an editing of the existing environment and settlement structure.

The farmstead itself becomes a valve between the reconfigured settlement and landscape, a multifunctional hub which accommodates farm business pluri-activity, landscape management, sustainable agricultural practice, conservation and leisure activities alongside social functions, local services and rural economic activity.

The proposition suggests a pragmatic and holistic vision

Thomas Powell


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