Thursday, August 21, 2008

To the Scaffold!



Fine posts at Kosmograd and the Fantastic Journal on eco-towns, the mini-Poundburys that were going to be built all over the South of England until the housing crash and the imminent New Labour electoral meltdown made them look a little unlikely. Although, like the F.J I don't believe that building on brownfield sites in London is necessarily the solution to a national housing crisis, or that concreting over the countryside is necessarily a bad thing, there still seems to be something missing here. What the spec cheerleaders tend to forget or wilfully ignore is that housing was actually being demolished in the North of England at the same time that Hackney, say, was bursting at the seams with infill and new housing of an Ikea Modernist sort. The eco-town schemes and exurbs and the Rogers'n'Burdett sponsored stunning developments in E8 are really part of the same process, not at all opposing - that is, the over-concentration of wealth and population in the South-East of England, due almost entirely to the ever-expanding tentacles of London's financial districts and the total decimation of manufacturing.



Obviously building art galleries and even more pallid versions of the pallid E8 stunning developments in said Northern cities isn't exactly the solution either. The problem is the whole question is skewed from the off. It's maybe worth looking at past proposals for towns and networks that were mooted before it was decided that speculation was Britain's main permissible economic activity. Rather than building more Fun Palaces, be they Asdas or Guggenheims, to 'regenerate' once-industrial towns, we could try something along the lines of Cedric Price's 'Potteries Thinkbelt', a 1960s attempt to replace dying industry by utilising the remnants of that industry in the service of new technologies and new forms of production. Otherwise we're just buying into an increasingly untenable logic whereby - even after the obvious havoc wreaked by financialisation and the associated housing bubble - everything is built around the stock exchanges, whether in vernacular commuter towns or in riverside 'luxury' flats.

5 Comments:

Blogger Charles Holland said...

I just read your post on Heartfield's book Let's Build at The Measures Taken which I thought was really good and very apposite. Like you, I don't think removing state control in the form of planning laws, the green belt etc is going to magically alleviate the inequalities of the housing market (which are clearly to do with other things, not least the small number of people who own most of the land) and certainly won't produce meaningful or beautiful architecture. But the opposition to the Eco Towns (which as you point out probably won't happen now anyway) is mostly comprised of a mixture of sentimentality and selfishness, with some cynically tacked on arguments concerning infrastructure and transport. Equally, the Simon Jenkins types of the world sentimentalise the city, so that the two groups prop each other up.

There is a way to acknowledge the importance of community and the development of meaningful architecture and avoid lapsing into the sentimentalism that Heartfield ridicules.

10:32 am  
Blogger owen hatherley said...

mostly comprised of a mixture of sentimentality and selfishness, with some cynically tacked on arguments concerning infrastructure and transport.

True that, though the latter is still a glaring issue. I don't think Jonathan Glancey, notably posh as he is, is opposing the plans for the same reasons as Jilly Cooper.

There is a way to acknowledge the importance of community and the development of meaningful architecture and avoid lapsing into the sentimentalism that Heartfield ridicules.

I don't doubt it - but alas I suppose I'd have to leave that area of things to the practitioners...

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