A New Kind of Bleak: Journeys through Urban Britain by Owen Hatherley

By Owen Hatherley

An anatomy of failed-state Britain, by means of the writer of A advisor to the recent Ruins of serious Britain.

In A advisor to the recent Ruins of serious Britain, Owen Hatherley skewered New Labour’s architectural legacy in all its witless swagger. Now, within the yr of the Diamond Jubilee and the London Olympics, he units out to explain what the Coalition’s altogether various method of financial mismanagement and civic irresponsibility is doing to the locations the place the British reside.

In a trip that starts and results in the capital, Hatherley takes us from Plymouth and Brighton to Belfast and Aberdeen, in terms of the eerie urbanism of the Welsh valleys and the much-mocked splendour of modernist Coventry. in every single place open air the synthetic Southeast, the development has stopped in cities and towns, which languish as they watch for the subsequent bout of self-defeating austerity.

Hatherley writes with unrivalled aggression in regards to the disarray of recent Britain, and but this is still a e-book approximately percentages remembered, approximately not likely successes in the course of likely inexorable failure. For in addition to trash, historic and smooth, Hatherley unearths indicators of the hopeful state Britain as soon as used to be and tricks of what it will probably become.
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It was also the rationale behind one of their more inspired actions, a temporary occupation of Euston Station, where they also produced a parodic Evening Substandard, pre-empting the media’s hostility to them. The student movement was astute in trying to avoid the tedium and predictability that marred the previous decade of protest in the UK, from the polite and for all its numbers easily ignored Stop the War protests in 2003, to the various sparsely attended ‘Carnivals against Capitalism’, usually easily ‘kettled’ and beaten by the police.

Given the evident success of the internal arrangements and the lightness and airiness of the place, it’s a shame that its design language stays at such a low voltage. That’s something which becomes especially clear with the transition to the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson building. This latenineteenth-century hospital was closed in 2002, with its functions transferred to nearby University College Hospital. The complex required a complete restoration of its much smaller, cosier rooms, with the original tiles and fireplaces scrupulously pieced back together.

This was the granting of planning permission to something called ‘The Quill’, a tower of student housing aimed by developers at students from King’s College. It’s a fine example of contemporary architectural idiocy, a lumpen glass extrusion full of clumsy symbolism – the flurry of steel spikes that gives it its name is ‘inspired by the literary heritage of Southwark’ – but it’s a reminder that students are far from the privileged, cloistered group that some present them as. It’s the obnoxiously detailed tip of an iceberg, of the pile-up of awful student housing that has resulted from the partial privatization of education.

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