The efficacy of rural design guides: Northern Ireland, Ireland and Scotland

  • Roisin Marie McAllister

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


Rural Design Guides were first introduced in Northern Ireland over four decades ago to inform, shape and ultimately improve the quality of design of single dwellings in the countryside. They were initially formulated in response rising levels of development in the countryside and replicated to address what was viewed in the media as a marked deterioration in design standards exacerbated by the Bungalow Bliss movement in Ireland. They represented a conscious and visible attempt within the highly-charged arena of rural planning to mediate between dissenting groups – the environmental lobby opposed to development in the countryside and rural people with new-found prosperity, seeking to build on their land.

Today, Rural Design Guides are firmly embedded as supplementary planning guidance documents in Northern Ireland, Ireland and Scotland. They continue to operate as a key response or mechanism utilised by planning authorities to address poor standards of design in rural dwellings, despite no analytical evaluation of their success. This research therefore addresses this profound gap and questions the efficacy of Rural Design Guides in effort to examine whether they achieve their objectives to improve design. Northern Ireland is the main focus of study, with Ireland and Scotland used as regions for comparison.

This research uses mixed methods including questionnaires, case studies and an expert Design Review Panel to assess design quality. It unveils findings pertaining to their use, implementation (by planning authorities) and effects, contributing to broader conceptual debates on "good design" and design governance. It reinforces the importance of conveying design as a process rather than a product, maintaining neutrality and avoiding endorsement of design preferences in pursuit of a rural idyll. It supports the argument that design governance shouldn't be dependent on isolated "tools" but "be about shaping the decision-making environment within which design decision-making occurs" (Carmona, 2018, p.5).

This research concludes by calling for an urgent review of Rural Design Guides (in the context of the climate emergency) and proposes a "Rural Design Initiative" to tackle root causes stemming from historical cultural traditions and socio-economic context, which today continue to impede design quality.

Thesis is embargoed until 31 July 2028.

Date of AwardJul 2023
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Queen's University Belfast
SponsorsDepartment for Employment and Learning
SupervisorSarah Lappin (Supervisor) & Gary Archibald Boyd (Supervisor)


  • Architecture
  • planning
  • rural planning
  • rural design
  • good design
  • rural idyll
  • bungalow
  • Irish rural housing
  • rural design guides
  • design governance
  • one-off housing
  • vernacular
  • vernacular cottage
  • big house Ireland
  • bungalow bliss

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