Thursday, November 30, 2006

Houses of Lords

I admit to being really quite pleased that chastened Millennium Dome creator Richard Rogers is building a housing development in Southampton, and not only because it'll be the first time one of those 'architects' have been allowed anywhere near the city since 1969. Of course the form of the development is pretty predictable: some luxury flats, built on the site of a disused shipyard. It all looks very CGI, but Rogers has had occasional moments of being off-message, so perhaps it'll have at least some gesture at being public: there's a library, at least.

I recently picked up in the consistently excellent Salvation Army shop in Deptford High St a 1986 book New Architecture- Foster Rogers Stirling, by Dejan Sujic. Three architects, two soon to be given the preposterous feudal titles: Lord Rogers of Riverside and Baron Foster of Thames Bank, respectively (Stirling died in 1992 before he had the chance). The book marks beautifully the coming to hegemony of the High Tech style, essentially an adaptation of the techno-romanticism of a Chernikhov or Sant-Elia for the purposes of the self-aggrandisement of the City of London. This wasn't entirely the architects fault. If you look at the projects that someone like James Stirling would have worked on from the 60s to 79s, you find a list of structures for universities, polytechnics, council housing. In the 80s the list would be museums, galleries, luxury housing and offices for stockbroking. This is where the work was, making explicit the link between museum culture and the rise to absolute power of 'financial services', both replacing a society where new things would be made, and public services would be provided.

The Lloyds building is perhaps the most staggering building built in London in the 20th century, completely out on its own, utterly uncompromising. IT on a visit there said it looked like the architecture the Soviets might have had if they'd won the Cold War, and indeed it does. All the signs of industry and function are worn on the outside, a structure aggressively proclaiming itself as a machine for working in. The interesting question is: why did finance capital want a Constructivist aesthetic? It isn't as if the style was adopted for housing or shopping centres.

This is especially key when the calmer but equally industrial works of Norman Foster have achieved a bizarre worldwide dominance, with another grandiose curve, lump or cock of glass being announced seemingly weekly: and both Rogers and Foster have designed some (appropriately ponderous) towers for Ground Zero. A possible answer to this is that their architecture evokes all that finance capital doesn't do: it looks like activity, industry, futurism, newness. Something dynamically surging into the future, not hurtling back to the 19th century.

Plakaty 94

The Peasants are Revolting

A quick and overpriced jaunt to Dartford today, having a check up on the usual at Darent Valley Hospital, which has the dubious honour of being one of the first PFI hospitals in the country. So while it has almost as many places you can buy gloopy ciabattas as Waterloo Station, it uses to weigh you a pair of old scales that look like they've been used repeatedly since 1923: i.e, the sort where you have to adjust the bar so that they stop wobbling, then you can work the weight out: I felt like pointing out that you can get normal scales in pound shops nowadays. At least it doesn't have a bloody Solicitors Office inside, unlike the hospital in Southampton where my Mum works.

Being dead centre of Prescott's Thames Gateway supercity, Dartford is proper Robinson in Space territory. Endless rows of blank sheds, gasometers, landfill, heavily fenced and guarded wasteland, Belmarsh just up the road, all looked over by a melancholy and beautiful bridge, and with Bluewater at the other end. So after being felt up a bit I had a wander round the charity shops of this overwhelmingly elderly town, and was delighted to bump into a pub called The Wat Tyler. A portent perhaps - maybe once again revolution may descend from the retail parks and industrial sheds of the Kentish Hills...

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The Black Hit of Space

If, as Jameson claims, it's now easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism, then it's worth investigating the various forms that the end of the world might take. Roger Luckhurst, in the most recent of the free lunchtime lecture series Science and its Fictions, promises at least three interesting deaths for the human race, as an unsubtle way into a discussion of the very English, very Victorian enmity between Science and the Humanities. Ths enmity he discusses takes off from some familiar debates: those between eg, 'Darwin's bulldog' and teacher of HG Wells TH Huxley or the Wilson government's resident technocrat C.P Snow, and custodians of the bourgeois novel such as Matthew Arnold or (shudder) Leavis. And you can go from here to such well-kicked around kerfuffles such as the Sokal hoax, though that need not detain us here. Cutely, Luckhurst confesses to 'Pipette envy', a yearning for the messy experimentalism of the sciences.

This is mapped onto the network theory of Bruno Latour, seen as a way out of this binary partly by its listing of the various extra-curricular variables on science, whether hangovers, funding from venture capitalists or the military, etc. The question, when the flattening out of value advocated by Latour is achieved, would then be 'what do the objects want?' This recalls the 'Biography of the Object' advocated in the late 1920s by Sergei Tretiakov, which is newly translated in the current issue of October. For Tretiakov and his comrades in Lef, 'literature' is not rejected as a category, but is expanded into a collective project. Rather than the novel, the newspaper. The author as someone who might compose feuilletons, take photographs, write memoirs or technical memoranda. There's a prefiguring here of Ballard's oft-stated fondness for medical journals, government reports and lists over the 'Hampstead novel'. For Tretiakov the object can express something about the people that come into contact with it, can discuss itself. This biography is an act of construction, not of creation.

But rather than this conception of a literature that becomes a science, what is interesting for Luckhurst is the manner in which, frequently invoking HG Wells, science itself is taking on the role of an apocalyptic fiction. Here the most utopian, extravagant scientific or religious ideas are fitted into a schema in which the political status quo is unchangeable. So you have something like Raymond Kurzweil's wonderfully titled The Singularity is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology, which envisages a kind of technological Rapture, the elect uploading themselves into machines in space. Kurzweil is a scientific adviser to George Bush. Alternatively the apocalypse outlined in scientists' predictions might be brought about by Prince Charles' nanotech grey goo, by catastrophic climate change, or by the machines rising against us. Accordingly, it's left to SF (Luckhurst mentions Kim Stanley Robinson) to actually think ways out of this. In an argument the other night the esteemed Bat020, extolling Ballard over Bogdanov, said 'if you can fantasise the revolution, it's not the revolution'. But rather than settling for a Ballardian autopsy as the only model for thinking the future, perhaps a lifting of the prohibition on casting a picture of utopia - or at least a picture of revolution's possibility - might lift some of this inertia.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Plakaty 93

'It set me thinking. I didn't get where I am today by thinking!'

Posts have been thin on the ground of late, I grant: mostly I haven't done anything more useful in that time than watch Reggie Perrin and eat rice cakes, though there is a shortish piece on Patrick Keiller- subject of my first ever blog post!- over at The Measures Taken, and normal profligate service should be resumed soon.

Something's Missing

In the Grauniad the other day, one of their columnists, who shall remain nameless, said that being in love was like Nick Drake's 'Northern Sky'. And one shouldn't necessarily mock this. Much. Love may well be as damply cloying as this, sometimes, without doubt, it's going to be the amorous equivalent of an episode of Heartbeat. If I were to point to a record that sounded like falling in love, if such a thing could, then it might be 'Talk in Danger' the first song on Luomo's The Present Lover. Tripping over itself with things to say that don't come out properly, stammering, babbling even, beset with something between panic and thrill. Underneath AGF's swooning vocal, sweeping up all this incoherence, is something like unalloyed excitement and bliss, every area of the sound-space filled with pure, gratuitous pleasure.

K-Punk, on an old dissensus thread is spot on about the seduction of Luomo's Vocalcity, its plateaus insinuate but never demand, take pleasure but never come. He damns The Present Lover, conversely, for being too 'present'. Regardless of it pulling into focus the diffuse, gaseous wisps of synth and song that rode on the propulsive basslines of Vocalcity, it's the gaps, the stutters, the things not said that make the record equally poignant. There's always something just out of reach in The Present Lover, expression giving way to fragments of plaintive speech, requests or declarations being undercut into inchoate, scrambled syntax: as the divas of 'What Good' argue with each other, 'what good is it to talk to you?'

The Lacanian lexicography of The Present Lover was best stated by the review by Tim Finney. Who is perhaps the only other person other than me who rates The Present Lover over Vocalcity, so his underwhelmed reaction to the new Paper Tigers had me very worried. At first, after hearing it, I was delighted it didn't sound like M People, which is what I had been led to believe: but it does lack the sense of ethos the other two have. Almost like a synthesis, it has the hypergloss of The Present Lover alongside the vaporousness of Vocalcity. This lack of an overriding point to the record is what makes it an undeniable dissapointment, but when it works, Paper Tigers is fabulous. 'Wanna Tell' is utterly delirious, one of the desperate singers repeating 'I Can't even-can't even-can't even' over a track which morphs from the lushest of disco to mechanical clatter to Timbaland cyber-R&B, though never leaving Luomo's favoured emotional zone: glacial, bracing in its combination of atrophy and wildly romantic overstatment.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006


I've never heard this phrase before, but it seems rather appropriate. The Skyscraper City forum has a tremendous photo thread on London tower blocks, running the gamut from the sublime - Balfron and Trellick, etc: to the horrifying, such as the astoundingly bleak Aylesbury Estate in Walworth. Plus the absurdities of sticking pitched roofs on towers to make them more homely is well illustrated. A pilgrimage is being made tomorrow to the 'shoddy copy of the ville radieuse' (said Kenneth Frampton) that is the Alton Estate, and a report will doubtless follow. The pic above is of the now utterly bastardised Pepys estate in Deptford, just up the road from me, and examined in detail on many lengthy bus journeys...

Back to Nowhere

There's something distinctly strange about reading William Morris in the first decade of the 21st century. It's difficult to work out exactly when News from Nowhere is set, but the latest date mentioned in there is 2003. So quite possibly, we are pretty much at the exact time that Morris expected to see Communism achieved. We should all be skipping merrily about in a society without 'heart-sick hand workers, or brain-sick brain workers', and ought to feel cheated that we aren't.

The lineage that links Morris to Modernism is fairly well established: Pevsner's Pioneers of Modern Design was one of the earliest to posit Morris'/Arts & Crafts' 'honesty', truth to materials, radicalism of everyday life and the minor arts as a spring of proto-Modernism. There are some startling passages in Morris' writings, particularly in the surprise of how unsentimental his socialism was, how it included in it an unashamed element of class warfare, how theoretical and systematic compared with the tentative trade unionists and paternalist middle class reformers of the period: or the 'workhouse socialists', as Morris derided them. So you get terrific passages like this, from 'Goodwill No Remedy': 'for my part I have never underrated the power of the middle classes, whom, in spite of their individual good nature and banality, I look upon as a most terrible and implacable force: so terrible that I think it not unlikely that their resistance to inevitable change may, if the beginnings of change are too long delayed, ruin all civilisation for a time.'

The use of design as an ameliorative, almost in lieu of a revolution, can be derived from Morris, though very much against his intention: unlike Le Corbusier he would have chosen the latter out of the choice of 'Architecture and Revolution'. The production of beautful objects was taken to be more or less impossible for Morris under capitalism, which didn't stop him from doing so: and using mass production on occasion, too. Though the essential hostility to industry is still what rankles most in News from Nowhere, the belief that the Guild society and its crafts were aesthetically and morally superior to that of 19th century capitalism: a view that is difficult to hold with. I'd take any slab or girder of Brunel's engineering over any of Morris' tapestries, on an aesthetic as well as functional level. But the machine is all but phased out by the time of Morris' 'Nowhere', and a 'barbarous' iron bridge is replaced by a stone one in the course of the book.

This is partly why News from Nowhere seems, despite its wit and earthiness, one of the duller utopias- no wonderful technological feats, no glittering future, just an expansion of the idealised Medieval without the religion. There are always hints with Morris of something more, such as an 1880s proposal for skyscrapers: though even that was provisional, to provide light and decent housing until the work of deurbanisation can be started. Morris isn't quite a wild-nature-crank, though: in 'Nowhere' it is difficult to go anywhere 'without there being a house in sight'. It's a mass suburbanisation, cities that aren't really cities, on the Lewis Mumford model of the Modernised Medieval. Though it is hard to begrudge the use of the Houses of Parliment for storing manure in 'Nowhere'. 'We have heard about the strange game they used to play in there'...similarly, note how (for all their charm) much less exciting the utopias presented in Utopia Britannica are when compared with those in the Russian Utopia Depository. Unless one regards the Glastonbury Festival as Utopian...

None of this excludes a counterfactual about what Modernism would have been like without the adaptation of the likes of the Deutscher Werkbund - Morrisites to a mensch - to Americanisation and the romanticism of the machine. Bruno Taut's expressionist-medievalist glass house might be the missing link. Perhaps it'd be not unlike Frank Lloyd Wright, who after all came from a fairly Arts & Crafts background, his early houses akin to Morris' Red House. Wright was pretty much alone as an Ornamental Modernist, and the houses and public buildings of 'Nowhere' are very heavy on the ornament. Except Morris' ornament, unlike Wright's, was figurative: one might even say Socialist Realist. So concievably, it could have been like the Workers' Palaces of the Moscow Metro, if Morris wasn't so scathing about the 'sweat boxes' of the tube. Or perhaps like an extension of the Boundary Estate in Shoreditch, a spacious, sylvan area of social housing, where Keiller's Robinson finds his Utopia, and which recently voted overwhelmingly to stay as Social Housing. The radicalism of the 1890s shaming the 2000s.

Plakaty 92

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Towards the death of Self-Ironisation

IT excellent on Colette, Theweleit, the 'generational' and the vexed question of whether or not one can have an interesting life under late capitalism...including in the Comments some wittering by me on interesting quasi-fascist couturiers of 20th century Paris and other folk complaining of their inability to read history. The delibidinising of history is surely a very convenient ideological function, especially in a reactionary epoch: enabling the widely-held but erroneous belief that everyone now is better off than they were before, that there is more class mobility, that 'modernisation' can mean returning to pre-1945 fiscal policy simply because no-one knows what that led to the first time, to watch Simon Schama waffling over a reconstruction, eh.

Left-Wing Melancholy

Is it counter-revolutionary, I wonder, to be choked up when watching a scene of a Victorian socialist meeting in an Andrew Davies adaptation of a lesbian music-hall novel?

This seems to be happening to me a lot lately, a tendency to a kind of lachrymose leftism, especially when thinking of the optimism and solidarity of the early Socialist movement when compared with the atavism and atomisation that passes for politics today. Not to mention what was freqently done in its name. Not only have I found myself wiping away a tear at the end of bloody Tipping the Velvet, but becoming impossibly melancholic reading a collection of William Morris essays, or bleary over another viewing of Patrick Keiller's London. The latter film seems to have an undercurrent of anger in it, a well of rage underneath the delightfully plummy narration and allusions to a 'bickering sexual realtionship' between middle-aged men. The knowledge watching it now that all that he fears might be done by the Major government of 1992 has been done by Labour, only with a whole lot more that even Keiller didn't anticipate. The dreadful sadness of watching hope just before it gets crushed.

This seems to shift by the time of Keiller's later Robinson in Space, where the fascinating landscape of invisible commerce, retail parks and the security state is surveyed by a rather more detached and defeated eye. Uncommented on is a frame of a plaque declaring 'The Sedgefield ForteTravelodge and Little Chef Restaurant was opened by the Rt Hon Tony Blair, 1995'. Keiller's new film The City of The Future, made with archive footage from the 1900s, is being shown at UCL on Thursday, and I expect to see the blood red jackboot of history crushing optimism a few times there as well. Benjamin's original essay on 'Left Wing Melancholy' was a statement against melancholia, the picturesque treatment of poverty by photographers and novelists, in favour of a hard, forward thinking, unsentimental Communism. Which is increasingly difficult to maintain...

Plakaty 91

The Politics of Decay

Further to the post below, the Moscow State Museum of Architecture has a frankly rather sobering page showing the sheer degeneration and overrunning by nature suffered by the actual built projects of Constructivism, as opposed to the carefully archived and oft-discussed Utopian blueprints.

Particularly noteworthy in this context is the fact that Moscow's city authorities recently approved blueprints for a series of skyscrapers based on famous Russian painters and designers of the early 20th century. A Kandinsky skyscraper, a Malevich one, and so forth. This being while the city's actual avantgarde art lies rotting, being overtaken by vegetation, falling alarmingly if picturesquely to pieces. Marvellous.

(NB: Any funding boards, people with money, possible patrons etc should bear in mind that whatever I might say about the Russian government's contributions to urbanism, killing journalists and colonial wars, I would quite possibly waive all these objections for an expenses paid visit to Moscow. Or maybe to have a peek at the designs for Gazprom City in St Petersburg. OK...?)

Friday, November 17, 2006

Dustbin of Utopias

They (the projects) represent a different engsia with no place in real space, like the Utopia Land.

The brilliantly named Russian Utopia Depository, a wonderful resource recently found, which features around 300 years worth of unbuilt projects: unsurprisingly hitting their peak from around 1914-1954, traversing a period from geometric abstractions, machinic constructions, the still utterly astonishing designs of Chernikhov, and on to the phantasmagoric palaces of Stalinism. There does seem to be a point being made here that these projects inevitably ran up against the conservative quotitdian. A comment on some sort of Russian 'character' of dreaming and ineptitude.

This is not necessarily national, as in the Moscowfication of Britain that Momus is as ever perspicacious about: the concommitance of the utterly alien and the grimly shabby that you could find by walking from Birmingham's Future Systems Selfridges to Handsworth. It begs the question of how useful utopia ever is as a designation. There is that prohibition on casting a picture of utopia that much of the left have sensibly observed, from Marx to Adorno's damning of 'the utopia that can be bought'. And in the instance of this Architectural Utopia Depository, how to interpret the fact that many structures just like the 20s projects illustrated there were built?

The Soviet portion of the V&A's Modernism blockbuster concentrated on the unbuilt, for the most part, seemingly to avoid the very real questions of the political vagaries and everyday mundanities of going off to have a drink in something like this. Victor Buchli's Archaeology of Socialism, a study of the Narkomfin Apartments, is especially useful on the question: what does it do to you, living in utopia in everyday life - particularly when a regime has declared that utopia to be obsolete, politically dangerous? This dialectical tension is what still makes utopia a worthwhile term, though its ideological usage always has to be borne in mind: 'dreamer' as backhanded compliment.

Plakaty 90

Thursday, November 16, 2006


'What writer of science fiction would have 'imagined' this 'reality' of East German factories-simulacra, factories that reemploy all the unemployed to fill all the roles and all the posts in the traditional production process but don't produce anything, whose activity is consumed in a game of orders, of competition, of writing, of book-keeping, between one factory and another, within a vast network. All material production is redoubled in the void. One of these simulacra factories even 'really' failed, putting its unemployed out of work a second time.'
Jean Baudrillard, Simulacra and Simulation (1981)

Though it was clearly not a fun place to live most of the time, there was something just so fascinating about the former Deutsche Demokratische Republik.

Plakaty 89

I was very pleased to see via Site Meter that someone had got here via a google search for 'Contrapuntal Montage', and I genuinely hope that they found what they were looking for.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Notebooks out, Plagiarists

Everyone wants two blogs, eh...I shall forgive messrs Miller and Fox, however as a) their current posts are both very, very good and b) I nicked the idea off Oliver Craner in the first place.
Incidentally, on the subject of the political allegiances of elegant literary bloggers, and on the occasion of the neoconservatives being persona non grata at all but the most outre Washington dinner parties, it's worth remembering this magnificent dissensus thread. Do hope its main contributor starts writing again now he's left civilisation for the antipodes...

Plakaty 88

The world's only Hygiene

Hans Poelzig, IG Farben building, 1930

'Once extended in time, Modernism (like everything else) must either acknowledge (and work with and thorugh and round) its OWN inner development — currents, conflicts — or devour itself generationally. But to accept flow and conflict within itself — ESPECIALLY when encounter the brakes on concrete realisation of the NEW SOCIETY — is either postpone all change until real actual revolution (maintain purity at expense of achievement) or embrace piecemeal reform and postpone revolution. Collapsed to any given situational content (as the situation passes), the avant garde becomes mere mannerist revivalism — Poundbury Modernism, where the nostalgia for content tics new and daring in say 1925 is re-presented as an uncomplicated yearning for change (and all the while, the material-of-choice is changing anyway). But strip out any given content — the particularity of the material of a given situation– generalised, all that remains is a self-cannibalising, history-less Futurism.

Emil Fahrenkamp, Shell-Haus (1932)

Mark Sinker, brilliant if somewhat belated, on 'Taylorism of the Intellect' via the V&A Modernism spectacular. While I feel I'd have to read this several times a day while making extremely detailed notes (some of them in CAPITALS) in order to respond properly, a few quick points from the second or third reading.

Hans Scharoun, housing at Berlin-Siemensstadt, 1931

One - Hygiene. Marinetti (it's 'let's quote The Futurist Manifesto' day!) claimed that war was the world's only hygiene. And there is a markedly scorched earth approach to the subject in Schutte-Lihotsky's kitchen, sure: but rather than being a product of the particular historical situtation of there being a servant class, this has more a more grimy historical root, I feel. After all, the kitchen was essentially designed for council estates, the municipal Functionalism of Ernst May, so keeping the cook out of sight was not a factor. The residual fear of filth and disease in a society before the widespread use of detergents, antibiotics and so forth was. Not that this doesn't veer towards pathology - but it is markedly less strange than it appears to a cossetted, disinfected 21st century eye.

Margerete Schtte-Lihotsky, Frankfurt Kitchen (1926)

Two- Modernism and Modernisms. One could rope practically any cultural phenomenon from 1860 to 1995 under the rubric, if one wanted to. However I thought it fairly clear that the V&A was using a fairly narrow version centred on interwar design and architecture, limited to the futurist-suprematist-constructivist-functionalist-purist continuum. Taking it to task for excluding Ezra Pound seems a tad futile - at the very least if Pound is useful here, it's in the brief 1914 moment as theorist of Vorticism, rather than the Pound of Axis broadcasts and the Cantos. Which brings us neatly to...

Albert Speer, Zeppelinfeld (1934)

Three - Nazism. Which is the phrase I used rather than Fascism quite pointedly, as one can find the continuum mentioned above in the service of Mussolini, occasionally. The favoured style for Italian Fascist architecture might have been a more militaristic form of art deco, but there were, I concede, the Italian Rationalists: though they were markedly less significant or original than their French, Soviet or Weimar German counterparts. And let's not forget that Futurism was practically killed as an active force by its acquiescence with Fascism (try to name a significant post 1920 Italian Futurist work) very much unlike Russian Futurism, which grew in depth, significance and influence after 1917. The continuum (a loaded phrase, I grant) was interrupted almost totally in 1933 by Hitler. And that wasn't for the want of trying, by the 'apolitical' likes of Mies, to put themselves at the service of the Third Reich.

Ernst Sagebiel, Berlin-Tempelhof (1936)

There is a book to be written on the way that a certain kind of classicist modernism fades, almost imperceptibly, into the stripped classicism of the Third Reich. It would run from the stone clad Functionalism of certain buildings like Emil Fahrenkamp's Shell-Haus or Hans Poelzig's IG Farben building, with their gleaming Travertine, to the stone cold of the Nazi Tempelhof airport. The residual elements of Futurism were purged first however, and the divide Sinker posits between users and builders helped this along: Functionalism was occasionally used for Industrial buildings, but never for housing or for state. The problem if someone actually did write this book is that it would veer constantly towards the Modernism=Totality=Totalitarianism thesis, which is what everything I've written on the subject has tried to problematise at best or show up as ideological nonsense at worst.

I can lock all my Doors, it keeps me Stable for Days

A racing automobile which seems to rush over exploding powder is more beautiful than the 'Victory of Samothrace'.
F.T Marinetti, Futurist Manifesto

Recently I was flicking through the Rough Guide to England that was lodged on a friend's coffee table, and out of curiosity looked for the entry on my beautiful hometown (which I have never lived in as a grown-up, but nonetheless). Predictably this was along the lines of 'the city was pounded by the Luftwaffe, but finally destroyed by disastrous postwar town planning', in true Prince Charles style, before going on to suggest you have a look at the medieval city walls then swiftly schlep off to the Isle of Wight. Predictably I was a little piqued by this: 'my aesthetic was formed by that disastrous postwar town planning, damn you people!'

Aside from my own prediliction for architectural ultraviolence, there is a serious point here to be made. The obvious face of postwar redevelopment: concrete blocks, flat roofs, curtain walls and all that immediately shouts its mid-century status is what is usually posited by disastrous town planning. And with that you have the rhetoric about aloof town planners who were hopelessly naive and/or hated the working class. There was some utterly disastrous town planning in Southampton after 1945, but it was not in architecture but in the total subordination of the city to the private car. These decisions run from the 50s all the way to the present, rather than stopping in the 1980s along with the return from concrete to brick.

First, a dual carriageway was sliced through the centre of the city, immediately creating a ghetto in St Mary's by cutting it off from the shopping and drinking bit of town, cutting it off from bus routes, and generally leaving it as adrift as if it had been 5 miles rather than a few minutes from the parks, civic centres and shops of the centre. Second, nearly all the minor railway stations were closed and demolished, but for the former terminus which is now a casino, assuring that you couldn't get around the city by anything other than a car even if you wanted to. Thirdly, the M27 wrapped itself around the conurbation making sure that one's perspective of the city would be perpetually a view through a car window. Then a series of shopping centres of ever increasing postmodernist tweeness were stuck into the city centre at entry and exit points, enabling the experience of city consumption without any of the concommitant sociality, culminating in the grotesque hulk of West Quay.

Accordingly, it is now a city almost completely devoid of any sort of life or character, but one very easy to get around by car. The other side of 1950s-70s town planning seems quite utopian in comparison, the car being forcibly tamed in estates like Northam, Weston or the area around the Shirley Towers point block. Some of it is even quite beautiful, such as the majestic Corbusian ferroconcrete ocean liner of Wyndham Court. The city wasn't killed by modernism or shifty leftwing townplanners, but by a machine of which Dziga Vertov once wrote 'how can one not admire it!' The ensuring of atomisation in one satnavved little contraption, which might knock a few people over, but if it does, it's not as if you'll lose your licence. The death of the public sphere encapsulated.

Yet it has a beauty all of its own, even as it performs its work of destruction. One of the most heartstoppingly beautiful sequences in cinema is Tarkovsky's relentless drive up and down the flyovers and tunnels of Tokyo early on in Solaris. Everything happening at once outside, thrillingly kinetic, yet with the driver and his son calm, pensive and sleepy, almost bored inside the vehicle. A better metaphor for current urbanism is difficult to imagine.

(NB- this post was prompted by a conversation that caused IT to knock over her drink with a gesture of enthusiasm, so apologies for any and all bitten tongues, wine sodden keyboards or crisps lodged in throats. Pics all from here.)