Civic Trust Cymru promotes civic pride as a means to improving the quality of life for all in the places where we live and work, and encourages community action, good design, sustainable development and respect for the built environment amongst people of all ages.

‘Britain’s Building, Places, and Spaces: The Unseen in the Everyday’, by Ptolemy Dean.

Reviewed by Amanda Brake, August 2016

Book front coverPtolemy Dean’s wonderfully illustrated exploration of Britain’s places considers the beautiful, characterful, and quirky architecture and townscapes of Britain. Dean draws our attention to that which is familiar; the everyday scenes that are so often taken for granted. Our attention is drawn to those details and features that perhaps would have gone unnoticed or ‘unseen’, helping the reader find greater appreciation for British places while also providing a methodology and point of reference for analysing these places ourselves.

Dean’s accessible celebration of British places opens with the explanation that “this is not a book about architecture […] it is more a book about observation’. There is very little jargon or overly academic writing; instead there is concern for the ‘feel’ of places, and their context and overall character. Indeed, the book opens not with the analysis of a building and its architectural style, but with a lamppost and signpost, which together “are intimate and humane. They somehow create a sense of place where little otherwise exists”.

Tonyrefail_book pageDean’s study uncovers the layers of a place, considering the smallest details across a broad range of features from buildings and street furniture to lighting, scale, and texture, and all of this is beautifully and informatively illustrated with washes of colour and wavy pen and ink drawings. From simple country buildings to towns and grand cathedrals, the book covers a broad spectrum of features which make up the places of Britain.  This includes some lovely places from Wales such as Llandeilo, the covered street arcade in Dolgellau, and the quayside gate that frames Carmarthen. As someone who grew up in the South Wales valleys, my favourite of Dean’s analyses is his astute observation that in some places, such as the valley town of Tonyrefail, “it seems that the topography […] was simply a bore that had to be overcome”.

Dean’s work is informative without being too heavy, and visually lovely. This book would be a useful resource for Civic Societies, as it encourages an appreciation for our built environment and highlights features we should be paying attention to. Britain’s Buildings, Places, and Spaces is essentially a bite size characterisation study of many familiar places in the UK, with lots of valuable tips to be gained for Civic Societies thinking about undertaking similar studies of the places in which they live.

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