a good critique of British urban 'development'

Have just greatly enjoyed Owen Hatherley (2010) A guide to the new ruins of Great Britain, London: Verso. It’s a rollicking tour of the cities of England + Cardiff + Glasgow, evaluating and describing what’s been done to them in modern times. Sometimes gleeful, more often rueful or rude. The underlying analysis is a solid leftist and modernist one, but it’s very tacit which I quite enjoy.We don’t get theoretical or synthetic chapters and this remains a collection of magazine articles commissioned by BD; it doesn’t really work as a book. The editors at Verso were either lazy or defeated. Still it’s great to have. On Milton Keynes (p91)

The 1982 station square designed by the architects of Milton Keynes Development Corporation (Stuart Mosscrop, Derek Walker and Chris Woodward) is one of the most remarkable Modernist set pieces in Britain, a bracing landscaped plaza flanked by three perfectly detailed Miesian blocks…

Then on Nottingham University’s Jubilee Campus designed by Make (p71)

In its combination of jollity, bathos, vacancy and authoritarianism, it sums up the Blairite era in three dimensions.

I’ll add some more gems as I come to them.
But I should post a warning: this book is ruined by the apallingly poor presswork (by Scandbook AB in Sweden) in which the many photographs all appear in a narrow range of greys. It’s the kind of production which got offset litho a bad reputation when I was 20. It doesn’t have to be like that as most architectural/design publishers know (and the Hyphen Press is specially good). But if this is the best Verso can manage then I should take your illustrated book elsewhere when you write it.

LATER (28 Feb) I just went to talk he gave at UCL. It was a great shock because I had expected another jaded old leftist like myself (60-70) but he turned out to be young, maybe 30. (Allan Cochrane said to me afterwards, when I told him, that I should have guessed his age from the way he wrote about Manchester music in the book. I just don’t know about Manchester music… )

Apart from that, all was well. He did quite a good talk, and it was great to see the pictures in legible quality (and in colour). His analysis is a bit flaky (not very carefully theorised) just like in the book, but basically sound and strong and refreshing. We could do with a lot more such writers.

In one respect I thought the talk less good than the book: he couldn’t resist a lot of references (mostly negative) to stars while a virtue of the book is its appreciation of good non-star architects where he finds their work. He’s a bit obsessed with architects, actually. But at least he does examine their work in the context of the funding streams, development companies, political regimes and so on which generated them.

It’s better than most of the John Punter collection on the Urban Renaissance where there is precious little good stuff, despite all John’s efforts.

Some discussion is at http://bartlett-thinktank.org/2011/03/a-good-critique-of-british-urban-%E2%80%98development%E2%80%99/

Later (24 March) Good Neil Smith review of it in Mute http://www.metamute.org/en/articles/the_regeneration_railway_journey_1

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Author: Ed

Editor

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