“The public spaces at the heart of our regenerated cities turn out not to be very public at all (as the Occupy protesters found when they tried to camp in privately owned Paternoster Square in the City and were forced to fall back on the Church).”
Edwin Heathcote’s review of Owen Hatherley’s critique of Britain’s 21st century urban development, A New Kind of Bleak in the Financial Times points out one of the fundamental arguments of the book, namely the failure of modern city planning to engage and involve the communities within which and ostensibly for which it is built.
As Heathcote notes,
“It is…refreshing to see politics reintroduced to the architectural debate. It may not sound a radical idea, yet architects have – as Hatherley points out – been despicably compliant in their acceptance of the privatisation of public space and the absurd culture of surveillance that accompanies it.”
Visit the Financial Times to read the full review.
Hatherley’s revealing interview in The Quietus expands on this idea with particular reference to his initial reaction to the newest and biggest of London’s skyscrapers. He describes the Shard as “a grotesque imposition, just an enormous slab of city fucked into south London” : a project that benefits mainly developers, with minimal and superficial concessions to the local community. Hatherley contrasts the development of the Shard with Guy’s hospital, previously the tallest building on the south London shore, and in particular: “the idea that at that point you could have built an NHS hospital that could be the most prominent thing on the skyline, whereas now it’s a gigantic Qatari owned centre of yuppie malevolence.”
Hatherley argues that his enthusiasm for the post-war developments of the '50s and '60s stem from their social ambition which he says are now regarded as "inconceivable" and "utopian" but were in fact simply "pragmatic". He explains that the past for him is “a kind of index of things that could be done, an unfinished project.” This ambition is particularly resonant given the current housing minister’s recent suggestion that social housing in expensive areas be sold off to fund the equivalent in less desirable areas. For A New Kind of Bleak is just as much about the absence of development as a critique of it. It is, Hatherley points out, "about the places where … spending had been cut off. And one of the points that I thought would really be worth making was the current dichotomy we have when we talk about the public sector and the private sector." So, A New Kind of Bleak melds social and political commentary with their architectural manifestations.
Visit the The Quietus to read the interview in full, including discussion of Hatherley’s literary influences, views on regional art galleries and more.
One of the cities that Hatherley revisited in A New Kind of Bleak, is Glasgow, which he regards as Britain’s second city. The Scotsman’s review surveys Hatherley’s tour of Scotland where, “the despairing author looks to Scotland for something better and different, or at least a “pinkish sludge” separating it from down south.” Inevitably there is disappointment here too and as south of the border, “‘class cleansing’ continues apace” and “resistance takes the small-scale and ephemeral form of student occupations or, more nihilistically, the burning and looting of a neoliberal cityscape where organic delis and pound shops live cheek by jowl”.
Visit The Scotsman to read the full review.