Sunday, January 31, 2010

Municipal Miscellany

A Things-style round-up of odds and ends, in lieu of a serious post, in order to partially dispel any concern that I am abdicating my blogging duties. I'm not abdicating so much as hoping somewhere else will take over my functions for a bit. The reason for this isn't so much sloth as the work of assembling and expanding the various Urban Trawls into a book to be published by Verso at the end of the year, entitled A Guide to the New Ruins of Great Britain. More details and shameless, grasping plugging will ensue when there's a cover and such things. Meanwhile, and all mostly come across in the writing of the above...

I've probably linked to him before, but Iqbal Aalam is one of the most consistently brilliant things about Flickr - an architect with a seemingly endless slide collection of photos from 1960s-1980s (mostly) British architecture, which he occasionally updates by going back to photograph the sites as they are now. Some recent, insightful and depressing sets have been about Milton Keynes, specifically its attempts to purge itself of its science fiction past. At the top of his page now are pics of the demolition of the Bletchley Pyramid in favour of an astoundingly bland PFI style scheme that Cabe urged not to be given planning permission; but English Heritage decided a black glass pyramid was 'relatively commonplace'. So on those terms, I look eagerly forward to them delisting those thousands of Georgian terraces. More tragicomically, there's also some newly-taken pics of Norman Foster's Bean Hill, his first housing scheme, done on an extremely low budget in the mid-70s, now the least Fosteresque buildings imaginable. It's not often in the retrospectives, although a prize should be given to anyone who somehow manages to present Baron Foster of Thames Bank with photographs of what it looks like now.

Via one of my favourite Flickr groups, the Skybridge-Skywalk-Skyway pool, documenting the elevated pedestrian links across the city that we really ought to have by now, I found this fascinating set of The Mumbai Flyover, more specifically a series of overhead pedestrian walkways that are fulfilling one of the less utopian promises of Metropolis - the affluent in the sky, with the poor down below. The direct demarcation of class in terms of the very means of traversing exactly the same spaces. Unexpectedly, the photos are all by Andrew Harris, UCL geographer and organiser of some very interesting urbanist symposia. At which point I remembered he'd sent me one of these pics before, where he tells me 'although deemed pro-pedestrian it seems they are generally a way of removing pavements from busy roads, bypassing poor areas of housing and generating significant revenue for construction firms and their friends.'

The literal elevation of one class above another was, according to this old Prospect article, attempted by Wilson and Womersley in their plans for the University of Manchester, where the students would have the sky and the 'hoi polloi' Oxford Road. That's as maybe, considering the hoi polloi were often then living along walkways designed by Wilson and Womersley in Hulme - but the article is mostly lamenting the (then-imminent, now long-completed) demolition of the Maths Tower, one of the post-IRA bomb sacrifices to the hungry deities of regeneration. However, as is so often the case, the sacrifice accompanies a reconstruction, albeit of a rather strange sort. Photographs of the Mathematics Tower, designed by Scherrer & Hicks in 1967-8 and demolished just under 40 years later, appear remarkably similar to those of Islington Wharf, in Award-Winning Ancoats, New Emerging Manchester, designed by Broadway Malyan in 2007-8 at the time of the Maths Tower's demise. There's the very same combination of North-West redbrick vernacular and a series of canted, angular glass towers stepping upwards. Were these purveyors of shiny Dubaisms trying to appease the memory of Brutalism? No walkways however, of course.

In a similar Mancunian vein, here's a project on Hattersley, a suburban estate nudging the Pennines, on the outskirts of Cottonopolis, a document of a landscapes equally weird and mundane (link courtesy of Palace). Islington Wharf, meanwhile, is nominally part of New Islington, an incomparably inept redevelopment (with some interesting architecture scattered across the rubble) of the former Cardroom Estate, which is a vivid, extreme example of what has happened to municipal housing in the last decades. Councils are now actually building stuff, to a small extent, after the effective decriminalisation of council housing last year; among those designing it, in Lozells, Birmingham, is the proprietor of No2Self. He very kindly asked me to compose a short introduction to what is alive and what is dead in municipal housing to take with him to the planning committee. It mostly draws on stuff that has appeared here before, but it can be viewed and downloaded here, should you wish to do so.

Meanwhile, in more Brutalist revival news, Koolhaas borrows idea from the neglected late 'cosmic' period of Soviet architecture. But you know, in glass rather than concrete - but note the hapless commenter who asks ' I thought we we're trying to get rid of ugly concrete looking buildings like this?' If things were that simple. (link courtesy of the fragrant Ms Pyzik)


Blogger Nemesis said...

Small point of information: English Heritage doesn't list, legally it's the Sec of State who lists. Basically the decisons are taken by the DCMS, and the Secof State has the final say. EH advises, along with others, and such advice isn't always taken. The same applies to delisting. I doubt there are thousands of Geo terraces listed, so many fell to the bulldozers in the not too distant past, but Heritage Gateway will no doubt supply you with the answer...

12:22 pm  
Blogger owen hatherley said...

I was being a wind-up merchant there, of course. But yes, I'm aware of that, hence Margaret bloody Hodge getting the final say on whether various things get listed...

1:35 pm  
Blogger Nemesis said...

Well, she is of course advised by the rag bag of folk who work at the DCMS... whose competence I at times question... and of course so much is challenged nowadays that it's not a simple matter just to list.

Development is money, and those who develop can pay 'consultants' to write 'reports' (I'm choosing my words here...) arguing the toss as to why the building is rubbish and shouldn't be listed, and mighty legal firms to threaten to challenge...

1:44 pm  
Blogger Nemesis said...

...and I add... some of those 'consultants' IMHO are indeed tossers... but of course it pays well.

1:45 pm  
Blogger Lang Rabbie said...

Broadway Malyan design almost decent building, shock horror!

But your cf has set me thinking. Was the brick on the Manchester Maths building ever "contextual"?

It wasn't red brick or even "redbrick" - it was the darkest of dark purple engineering bricks.

25 years ago on my first visit to Manc, it looked completely out of place in Oxford Road.

Even before they were cleaned, Waterhouse's stone built Manchester Museum and Whitworth Hall never had the smoke darkened chiaroscuro of the great Mancunian warehouses - too many sadly now demolished.

3:17 pm  
Blogger owen hatherley said...

The pic of it in the recent Manchester 'Pevsner' makes it look lighter, but then I never saw the Maths Tower in its lifetime.

It should also be noted that the photo of the Broadway Malyan tower is from its 'good side'. From the back, facing Ancoats rather than the City Centre, it's pretty grisly. But I bet their Mancunian office were making a direct reference - it's just too neat otherwise. The Koolhaas one is more a question of affinities, but this seems much more direct.

4:34 pm  
Blogger Lang Rabbie said...

I have a vague recollection that one of the more geekish of my 1980s sixth form contemporaries who ended up at Manchester referred to it as "The Barad-dûr"

5:54 pm  
Blogger Kosmograd said...

I remember going to the brown pyramid Bletchley Leisure Centre a few times back in the 70's, inside was a funny shaped 'fun-pool' complete with slide and airborne children splashdown rather than the traditional rectangular swimming pool. I seem to recall it had palm trees in it, but this might be fevered imagination.

So anyway, Bletchley shopping centre was inevitably fucked by the opening of Central Milton Keynes shopping centre at the end of the 70's, and became an overnight windswept ghost-town. In only a few years the fast trains from London no longer stopped at Bletchley in favour of MK.

Milton Keynes' birth was Bletchley's death.

3:26 pm  
Anonymous Cat said...

Those Flickr sets are really great; I've always been fond of elevated walkways.

When I proposed, in school, a spacious, elegant and multipurpose pedestrian bridge to cross a horrendous intersection, the critics said, "That is a terrible idea and no one will ever use it! People would rather wait ages for the lights, and then make a mad dash for safety than take stairs or an elevator." The problem of demarcation of class never came up.

It's interesting that that is the case in existing large projects like that, and by interesting I mean really depressing.

5:45 pm  
Anonymous バックリンク said...

The last photo, are those building real?

Incredible to see such a creative and beautiful construction.

4:34 am  
Blogger avvakum said...

Since this post is already off topic (and because you mention Soviet architecture), have you seen this?

Here is a Google Maps image of the building in question (a kitchen factory in Samara):,+samara&sll=53.20216,50.159618&sspn=0.282148,0.602188&g=samara,+russia&ie=UTF8&hq=&hnear=Russian+Federation,+Самарская+область,+gorod+Samara,+Novosadovaya+ulitsa&ll=53.216037,50.149122&spn=0.004407,0.009409&t=h&z=17

(Nemesis, take note as well.)

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