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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."

Reviews

  • “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.”
  • “In this angry, fiercely funny book, Owen Hatherley steps forward as the Pevsner of the PFI generation, an erudite, urbane guide to the Ballardian wreckage of millennial Britain. 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 favour, rejection of received ideas, exhaustive knowledge and all-round bolshiness.This book is as much a marker for an era as English Journey and Outrage were.”
  • “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.”
  • “A useful and entertaining guide to the state of our built environment .”

Blog

  • “Defend free movement, without illusions”—On the Significance of Immigration

    Sam Kriss is a UK writer who blogs at Idiot Joy Showland and has previously written about the post-Brexit Labour coup on the Verso blog. Here he unpicks ‘immigration’ as an empty signifier in which the totality of modern life's general miserableness is encapsulated and given false explanation — yet one that now threatens the end of freedom of movement, which argues the left must defend, without illusions.

    Our policy is to end free movement: people were unhappy about the drudgery and uselessness of social life, and the ruling classes encouraged them to call that miserable situation ‘immigration’; now, to fix the situation, the same ruling class is proposing to actually end immigration. The politicians have decided that Europe means immigration, but immigration only means itself. It’d be hard to imagine a more ridiculous outcome; it’s as if someone in a restaurant was unhappy with the food, and the manager tried to fix things by tearing up the menu. 

    Britain is obsessed with immigration; nastily obsessed. The vote to leave the European Union was, it’s now solemnly agreed, really a vote on open borders and freedom of movement. Apocryphal tales of people voting Leave because they thought it meant that all the migrants would be made to leave; more concrete, more harrowing instances of bigotry that have nothing to do with European migration law: assaults and attacks on black Americans and British Muslims, people who weren’t covered by any of the referendum’s overt content, but who carried the physical marks that signal migration. What does it actually mean when people talk about free movement, about unrestricted mass migration, about all these foreigners coming in?

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  • "Cities, like cats, will reveal themselves at night" - an extract from Nightwalking: A Nocturnal History of London

    Extract from Nightwalking: A Nocturnal History of London by Matthew Beaumont

    In the dead of night, in spite of the electric lights and the remnants of nightlife, London is an alien city, especially if you are strolling through its lanes and thoroughfares alone.


    In the more sequestered streets, once the pubs are closed, and at a distance from the twenty-four-hour convenience stores, the sodium gleam of the street lamps, or the flickering strip-light from a soporific minicab stand, offers little consolation. There are alleys and street corners and shop entrances where the darkness appears to collect in a solid, faintly palpitating mass. There are secluded squares where, to appropriate a haunting line from a poem by Shelley, night makes ‘a weird sound of its own stillness’. There are buildings, monuments and statues that, at a distance, and in the absence of people, pulsate mysteriously in the sepulchral light. There are foxes that slope and trot across the road, in a single motion, as you interrupt their half-shameful, half-defiant attempts to pillage scraps from upended bins. And, from time to time, there are the faintly sinister silhouettes of other solitary, perhaps homeless, individuals – as threatened by your presence, no doubt, as you are by theirs. ‘However efficiently artificial light annihilates the difference between night and day’, Al Alvarez has commented, ‘it never wholly eliminates the primitive suspicion that night people are up to no good.’


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  • Reimagining Architecture and Cities: A Reading List

    As the housing crisis worsens, and the inequalities of the city become more pronounced, a radical architectural response becomes vital and necessary.

    In Last Futures: Nature, Technology, and the End of Architecture, Douglas Murphy maps the designs, dreams, and failures of architects, philosophers and planners from the 1960’s to the present day; introducing a world of apocalyptic industrialists, radical hippies, cybernetic planners and visionary architects, and exploring not just what to build, but how.

    Inspired by this, we present a reading list of books that propose new ways to reimagine the city, and underline the need for progressive architectural alternatives. 


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Other books by Owen Hatherley