Below are contact sheets of a series of photos I’ve taken documenting every building on Totnes’ commercial street. This represents about half of the buildings in the commercial core of town.
The variety within an overall regularity is what is most striking to me. The buildings range from 1.5 stories to 3.5 stories – with one exception of a four story building (5th row, second from left.) Most are two to three bays in width. Rooflines for the most part are horizontal, but with just enough peaks to make it interesting. Materials are varied from stone to shingle to brick to stucco and wood. All have an active ground floor, with much visibility into the shops; doors are open directly onto the sidewalk. Projecting overhangs, reminiscent of Elizabethan architecture, appear on a few buildings, most notably in the building that houses the Totnes museum (5th row down, far right.) That building was built approximately 1575.
The one other building I’ve seen with a date on it is on the 7th row, third from left: the date says 1604. For the most part it appears that these buildings were built between then and the early 20th century. Even if the late 19th century buildings do stand out some, the overall harmony is remarkable over such a long time.
Permanent signs are restrained for the most part. There are many a-frame signs on sidewalks and window posters. Lots of fine textured announcement posters in windows as well. Colors are muted and harmonious – is this recent or from the deeper past?
During business hours, there are lots of pedestrians. Note too the amount of cars on the street. After business hours – 5pm – the street really empties out. A drawback to an active urban space that may never be overcome; a century or more of tradition of shop closing times will be hard to change.
All in all, these buildings show the importance of having and respecting an established architectural ecosystem. These buildings have been used and reused for scores of decades and centuries, demonstrating a remarkable adaptability and resilience. They will be our companions as we enter the low energy, low capital, local future. In a sense, they will have witnessed the world come full circle to from intensely local to global and back again, serving us well the whole time. Will the architectural creations of the mid to late 20th century serve us as well?
Other posts will look at the urban design aspects of the street itself; things such as width to height rations, sidewalk to street widths, finish floor elevations relative to street grade, etc.