A Guide to the New Ruins of Great Britain

A darkly humorous architectural guide to the decrepit new Britain that neoliberalism built.
Back in 1997, New Labour came to power amid much talk of regenerating the inner cities left to rot under successive Conservative governments. Over the next decade, British cities became the laboratories of the new enterprise economy: glowing monuments to finance, property speculation, and the service industry—until the crash.

In A Guide to the New Ruins of Great Britain, Owen Hatherley sets out to explore the wreckage—the buildings that epitomized an age of greed and aspiration. From Greenwich to Glasgow, Milton Keynes to Manchester, Hatherley maps the derelict Britain of the 2010s: from riverside apartment complexes, art galleries and amorphous interactive "centers," to shopping malls, call centers and factories turned into expensive lofts. In doing so, he provides a mordant commentary on the urban environment in which we live, work and consume. Scathing, forensic, bleakly humorous, A Guide to the New Ruins of Great Britain is a coruscating autopsy of a get-rich-quick, aspirational politics, a brilliant, architectural "state we're in."


  • “Angry, fiercely funny.... Essential reading for anyone who ever feels their blood start to boil when they hear the word ‘regeneration.’”
  • “An exhilarating book. Owen Hatherley brings to bear a quizzing eye, venomous wit, supple prose, refusal to curry favor, rejection of received ideas, exhaustive knowledge and all-round bolshiness. He travels, self-consciously, in the famous footsteps of J. B. Priestley and Ian Nairn, and there can be no higher praise than to suggest that he proves himself their peer. This book is as much a marker for an era as English Journey and Outrage were.”
  • “Hatherley's footloose narrative is driven by a heartfelt anger ... as well as a laudable desire to open people's eyes to the true value of their cities.”
  • “A book of finespun rage ... a book that had to be written. Wittily, bitterly, pithily, mostly accurately, Hatherley tells it how it is.”
  • “This surgical evisceration of the cityscapes of Blairism is required reading.”
  • “Wonderfully provocative.”
  • “Hatherley is always entirely clear about his personal standpoint, so his criticisms never seem unjustified ... A rather bleak undercurrent is tempered by Hatherley’s often witty observations and easy-going prose style.”
  • “This is a different kind of Heritage Britain, the kind that the tourists don't usually get to see ... this is also the real Britain, and Hatherley is the most informed, opinionated and acerbic guide you could wish for.”
  • “Roomy and intellectually sophisticated.. It is bold and original, and it may change how you see British cities.”
  • “This is fear and loathing in Lost Albion riffed by a quainter version of Hunter S Thompson.”
  • “Painted with a raging energy that is exhilarating ... [It's] political, sinister, sometimes funny.”
  • “A serious left-field attempt to provoke thought and argument ... This is an important book that is entirely worthy of the arguments it sets out to provoke.”
  • “Hatherley deserves to be widely read … he has brought a welcome freshness and honesty to architectural criticsm.”
  • “The latest heir to Ruskin ... Hatherley blasts the architectural style of New Labour Britain. Whatever your pet-hate, Hatherley will probably have some enjoyably cruel words for it.”


  • The welfare state we’re in – A reading list for the present class war

    In the UK this month austerity has revealed itself to be in the mode of naked class war. Monday began with welfare reforms, the introduction of the notorious bedroom tax and reductions in the access to Legal Aid. These attacks will be followed in the coming weeks by the replacing of disability living allowance with a personal independence payment policed by Atos, the reduction in the 50p tax rate (providing tax cuts to the rich) and the introduction of the controversial Universal Credit scheme. Combined with other aspects of late capitalism (from food prices to housing shortages) the reality of life in austerity Britain is uglier than it has been for some time.

    With textbook ideological manoeuvring these assaults have been accompanied by a rhetoric designed to divide the working classes between “workers and shirkers.” To the chorus of the right wing press, statements, such as this one by Liam Fox or this from Iain Duncan Smith, ultimately aim to crush the possibility of an organized resistance. Most revealing this week has been efforts by the right wing to frame the horrific Philpott manslaughter as a result of ‘benefit dependency.’ Almost beyond belief, this story’s beginnings in the Daily Mail and right wing blogs were reinforced yesterday with this statement from the grubbiest man on earth: Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne.

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  • Owen Hatherley: The Olympian Landscape

    An extract from A New Kind of Bleak: Journeys Through Urban Britain by Owen Hatherley 

    The reason why this is all able to occur is easy enough to discern; it’s there in front of you, everywhere you turn in Poplar, with that air-traffic alerting light flashing on and off the pyramid at the top, winking mockingly at you. Canary Wharf, like the first City, is breaking its banks, and spreading bankster colonies all over the borough of Tower Hamlets. As we have grown to expect, the financial crisis they triggered (Lehman Brothers and AIG did their naughtiest things here) has not led to any noticeable contrition or humility. From Poplar we could make our way into the Isle of Dogs itself, to peruse its glass and steel, or to jeer at the way that the kitsch of the ’80s still sits around it, dating the place horribly; we could walk around the mean, low-ceilinged shopping mall that sits under the central phallus of One Canada Square, the pyramidal erection dubbed at the time ‘Thatcher’s Cock’. We won’t, however. We ’ll head away from this Thatcherite landscape with its Fosterian Blairite appendages to a much purer space of New Labour, just to finally give them their due, for their most large-scale experiment in the planning of a wholly new, tabula rasa district of the capital.

    I ought to be brief, or as brief as possible, on the subject of the Olympic Site.

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  • A New Kind of Bleak excerpted in Guernica

    Guernica recently published an excerpt from A New Kind of Bleak, the forthcoming book from Owen Hatherley, author of A Guide to the New Ruins of Great Britain. The excerpt, taken from Chapter Two of the book, analyzes and critiques the site of the upcoming 2012 London Olympics. "Next to all of this is a very large, Allford Hall Monaghan Morris-designed City Academy, so that wealthy parents don’t have to worry about their kids mixing with the most multiracial and multicultural place that has ever existed in human history. Who knows, they might have learned something," writes Hatherley of the poor urban planning used to design the site. He argues that rather than using the Olympics as an excuse to improve the city and its layout, the exact opposite has been done. As he explains:
    What of the Olympic site itself? Everything is dominated by the ArcelorMittal Orbit, a shocking pink entrail laterally curved around an observation tower, famously commissioned by Boris Johnson in the toilets of a fundraising dinner from steel magnate Lakshmi Mittal, who provided the metal in return for the monument being named after him. There’s a faintly sick irony in this ex-industrial zone being overlooked by an edifice dedicated to a prolific downsizer and asset-stripper of factories, but that aside, there are buildings to enjoy, if you can keep from your mind the town-planning abortion that has been wreaked upon Stratford.

    Visit Guernica to read the excerpt in full.

Other books by Owen Hatherley