We Should Build For Brightness (14 March 1975)
The other afternoon I had a run through the new part of the new city of Milton Keynes. I wanted to find the whereabouts of the Stantonbury Campus in daylight in case I wished to go there in darkness some time. I had heard that the road which begins in Bletchley as Bond Avenue led directly to the campus, so I set off from there.
Well, as soon as I got to the top of the avenue and out onto the V-road going north I was a stranger in a strange land.
For miles I did not see anything I recognised except the unmistakable Bucks mud on parts of the road.
The impression I had was one of dreariness, if not of actual desolation. This was not due to the road itself, which bent and curved and undulated smoothly and interestingly enough for the most part. I think it was the general atmosphere.
We seemed to be skirting the edge of a development rather going through it. Buildings in various stages of construction showed up from time to time on the brow of higher ground on the left and roads went in that direction from a series of roundabouts.
Signposts indicated strange places we are only just beginning to hear about. Prominent among them was “Netherfield.” This puzzled me. There could be nether fields of several villages hereabouts, so which one was it that was so honoured?
I avoided all such temptations to digress, however, and at length came upon a sign to Stantonbury. Here we seemed to be on a summit, but I did not look back. I was too interested in escaping from the wilderness.
My wife wouldn’t have stood for it, anyway. She, mindful of former pleasant country runs and occasional picnics around here, had been saying things like “Ugh! It’s horrible,” and “I wouldn’t want to live in one of those,” and “Please, let’s get out of it.”
I replied that it might be all right in due course (carefully avoiding “when it is landscaped,” which is now in danger of becoming a dirty word), but she said: “Not in our time.”
From previous experience of developments in Bletchley I ought to have warned her beforehand that a dull afternoon in winter is not the best of times to go looking at new roads and building sites.
So I kept moving until, going downhill, we came upon an enclosed collection of odd-looking buildings tricked out mainly in white. At the same time I thought I saw ahead the familiar old road from Bradwell to Newport.
“This is it. This is the campus,” I announced. “There’s no sign of life, but there needn’t be, seeing as it’s half-term – as they call ‘teacher’s rest’ nowadays.”
“There’s no notice that it’s the campus either, so far as I can see,” said my wife darkly as we passed by the gate.
We had debouched onto the old road and had set course for Bradwell when a nagging doubt began to assail me. Suppose that was not Stantonbury at all. After all, there never was enough of Stantonbury to recognise, anyway. And suppose that was not a campus but some kind of secret government establishment to do, say, with the early warning system! Moreover, we reached New Bradwell much more quickly than we should have.
I kept the notion to myself all the way home via Wolverton, Stony and Whaddon. At the end of which my wife said: “Never again.” The only bit she had enjoyed had been that between Stony and Whaddon.
Well, I learnt later, of course, that that collection of buildings in the outback was not the campus, whatever else it might have been. Somewhere along the route I had gone left instead of right. So at the time of writing I have yet to discover the campus. A bad case of non-campus mentis, as you might say.
But I do beg of the Milton Keynes Development Corporation to brighten up the image of the new city before they go any further. Have done with black boxes. Away with grey slabs. Cut out that dull-rust colouring. Do not let the oldest buildings in the city remain the brightest – which they are up to this date.
Build for brightness. Think of the city in terms of a riot of colour on a lush green backcloth. A Cezanne, not a Holbein. A kaleidoscope, not a catafalque. If we are to err, then let us err on the side of vivacity. Never let it be said that our dwellings are more attractive within than without. Let them spell out a joyousness at first sight. That is what the new city is all about. That is what must be done.