A guide to the new ruins of Great Britain

I'm currently enjoying Owen Hatherley, A Guide to the New Ruins of Great Britain (Verso, 2010).

It's a vicious attack on New Labour's PFI projects in 'regenerating' city centres. He terms the new style of PFI architecture 'pseudo-modernism', which takes some of the clean lines of modernism and bastardises them with the overt and ironic 'signs' features of postmodernism. The characteristics of the 'Blairite urbanism' are as follows (p.302):
  • use of a former brownfield site;
  • lots of wood detailing;
  • rhetoric of sustainability undermined by huge car parks and shopping malls adjacent;
  • water features;
  • brightly coloured rendered concrete;
  • irregular windows;
  • estate agent cliches.
There's an interesting chapter on Manchester, investigating how post-punk reflected the reaction to the slum clearances of the 1960s. By contrast, all he sees in the 'regenerated' Manchester is emptiness and falsity. Interesting fact that before all the warehouses were turned into loft apartments, in 1987 the city centre population was only around 300; now it's around 11,000. Yet all this comes with a social and indeed cultural price. The Spinningfields business district is the 'home of credit crunch chic'. The Urban Splash tower blocks in Collyhurst, which I often watch trundle by as I leave Victoria, come in for particular criticism. Named after suffragettes, and decked in artificial wood and pink paint, they are 'another example of the use of radical Mancunian history to sell Old Corruption all over again...It's surely only a matter of time before some disused factory or council block becomes Peterloo Apartments or Engels Mansions'. (p.141) Perfect examples of the soul-lessness of 'pseudo-modernism', slapping heritage onto every project to give it meaning, but taking the real meaning out in the process.
one of the 'Pankhurst' blocks in the mist
Also, the chapter on the West Riding has photographs of the wastes around Wakefield Kirkgate and the massive hole in the centre of Bradford that mirror almost exactly the ones that I took on my research trips. I must have a similar architectural/psychogeographical mind.
old railway station hotel pub,
Wakefield Kirkgate, 2010
'give it back to the people' graffiti
on the defunkt Bradford Westfield development, 2009

His blog is also worth a look - http://nastybrutalistandshort.blogspot.com/.


Popular posts from this blog

Spatial theory, cultural geography, and the 'spatial turn'

Effigies in protest

'the historian will be a programmer or he will be nothing'