The Garden City: Built Heritage and Landscape Character


First introduced in 1898, the concept of garden cities began in the UK but soon spread across the globe. Today, we’re able to find 30 garden cities in the UK alone, with additional examples throughout Europe and as far afield as America, Asia, Africa and Australia.

Despite their popularity in virtually every continent on the globe, the garden cities are undoubtedly a quintessentially British invention. Characterised by rolling hills, nature reserves and conservation areas, the garden city model is perfectly suited to the rural landscapes of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

What is a Garden City?

It was Ebenezer Howard who first introduced the idea of garden cities, back in the 20th century. In an effort to solve the challenges of overcrowding and pollution in Victorian cities, Howard proposed a series of towns installed within greenbelt land. Designed to incorporate, but separate, residencies from industry and agriculture, Howard believed that garden cities could effectively articulate the benefits of living in an urban and rural area, while avoiding the disadvantages of both.

According to Howard’s triumphant vision, garden cities should be built on rural land, adopting a concentric pattern and six radial boulevards to be used for settlements and allotments. Crucially, the area between these boulevards and the city centre should consist of parks, gardens, nature designations and conservation areas.

Garden cities were not designed to extend or grow exponentially. In fact, a well-defined border to prevent encroachment on rural land is a critical and mandatory element of a garden city. Once one garden city was fully populated, Howard believed that further cities should be planned and built to accommodate the needs of the country’s population.

Letchworth and Welwyn: Garden Cities Brought to Life

As the popularity of Howard’s ideas gained traction, it wasn’t long until before the first garden city was built in 1904 by architect and town planners, Raymond Unwin and Barry Parker. Located in Hertfordshire, the county’s vast spread of greenbelt land saw Letchworth become the first garden city.

Despite, or perhaps because, of its popularity, homes within the new Garden City didn’t remain affordable for long. As a result, property prices in Letchworth rose and homes in the first Garden City attracted various skilled middle-class workers.

True to Howard’s original idea, the development at Letchworth ceased when the designated land was populated with residential homes, parks, gardens, natural designations, rural land and industrial buildings. However, it didn’t take long for a subsequent garden city to take shape nearby.

In 1919, land was purchased in Welwyn and the world’s second garden city began to take shape. Although its close proximity to London compromised self-sustainability, the living environment and greenbelt land ensured Welwyn become a desirable place to reside.

Even though Letchworth and Welwyn remained the UK’s only garden cities until late in the 1930s, there’s no denying their popularity, particularly among homeowners who treasure the greenbelt land and extra space. Indeed, properties within these areas remain as popular today as they ever were, with many people eager to reside in an environment that encapsulates modern-day amenities with picturesque countryside and rural landscapes.

Garden Cities: Today

Since Howard’s concept of a garden city first came to life in Letchworth, a total of 30 garden cities have been created in the UK, with undoubtedly more to follow in the future. The post-WWII introduction of the New Towns Act, along with Sir Frederic Osborn’s effort to integrate garden cities into regional planning, saw a triumphant surge of new communities created in line with Howard’s ideas.

Today, garden cities remain among the most popular residential locations in the country, with property prices reaching far above the national average. Unsurprisingly, the demand for residential housing within urban and rural environments remains as high today as it ever has been.

While self-sustainability is not always achieved or indeed targeted at all in newer garden cities, the widespread of fast-speed transport made commuting into large urban areas a realistic and convenient option for residents. As a result, life in garden cities has flourished, not only in the UK but across the globe as well.

Although the use of parks, open space, conservation areas and nature designations are no doubt integral to the success of garden cities, today’s residents also place a high value on the significance of the architecture and built heritage too.

With 56 listed buildings in Letchworth and surrounding areas, and a further 25 in Welwyn Garden City, it’s clear that the character and quality of the buildings are fundamental to the aesthetic, feel and function of these beloved garden cities.

Of course, this does mean that modifying an existing structure or commissioning a new building requires thorough planning and consideration. With help from Hertfordshire architects and experts, today’s property owners can articulate modernity with the traditional characteristics so intricately connected to the design of these garden cities. In both residential homes, civil buildings and industrial units, the rich history and exquisite design is perfectly encapsulated in the architecture and built heritage.

What Does the Future Hold for Garden Cities?

The popularity of garden cities shows no signs of losing momentum. In fact, demand for homes within existing developments continues to rise as the years go on. With new garden cities and garden towns set to be built, it’s clear that the success of these settlements can continue to be replicated well into the 21st century and beyond.

Despite being created late in the 19th century, the concept of garden cities could be integrated into our modern lifestyles, as schemes evolve and the switch from on-site to at-home working reduces the need for residents to be situated close to their place of employment. As a result, property buyers will no longer be as concerned with employment opportunities within garden cities themselves or with the commutable distance between their new home and larger urban areas.

Many people are already predicting increased demand for housing outside of the country’s urban cities and towns and, as society continues to evolve, the demand for garden cities could escalate than ever before.

Need an architect in Welwyn Garden City?

Image: The Coronation Fountain, Parkway, Welwyn Garden City, Hertfordshire, England, toward the north west

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