Ed West Ed West

Classical architecture makes us happy. So why not build more of it?

The key to a happy life, it’s been discovered, is living near to Georgian architecture and a Waitrose. Bath, York, Chichester, Stamford, Skipton, Harrogate, Oxford and Cambridge are among the towns listed in the Sunday Times 20 nicest places to live in Britain survey.

Almost all these areas have one thing in common: they all feature a great deal of Georgian housing. And they’re all mostly unaffordable. There is a fair amount of research suggesting that traditional architecture, such as Georgian and Victorian terraces and mansion blocks, contributes to our wellbeing. Beauty makes people happy.

This can be measured through house prices, which consistently show bigger increases for more traditional buildings. A study from the Netherlands showed that ‘even controlling for a wide range of features, fully neo-traditional houses sell for 15 per cent more than fully non-traditional houses. Houses with references to tradition sell for 5 per cent more.’

London terraced houses built before the First World war went up in value by 465 per cent between 1983 and 2013, compared to 255 per cent for post-war property of the same type. Beauty sells, but because it’s rare, it’s exclusive.

So why don’t the authorities at local and national level do the obvious thing and make more town centres look like Edinburgh or Cambridge, and so make beauty available to more people? Imagine if parts of Birmingham were as beautiful as Bath or bits of Manchester looked more like Prague or Bruges – I’m pretty sure it would be popular with locals. Manchester, which took such a battering from town planners in the post-war period, looks set to have two large towers plonked right in the centre, against some strong local opposition.

There is obviously a place for skyscrapers in modern cities, but these clearly do not complement the surrounding streets.

Already a subscriber? Log in

Keep reading with a free trial

Subscribe and get your first month of online and app access for free. After that it’s just £1 a week.

There’s no commitment, you can cancel any time.


Unlock more articles



Don't miss out

Join the conversation with other Spectator readers. Subscribe to leave a comment.

Already a subscriber? Log in