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 consultant to the recent Ruins of serious Britain.

In A consultant to the hot Ruins of serious Britain, Owen Hatherley skewered New Labour’s architectural legacy in all its witless swagger. Now, within the 12 months of the Diamond Jubilee and the London Olympics, he units out to explain what the Coalition’s altogether diversified method of fiscal mismanagement and civic irresponsibility is doing to the areas the place the British reside.

In a trip that starts and leads to 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. all over the place outdoor the artificial Southeast, the development has stopped in cities and towns, which languish as they look ahead to the following bout of self-defeating austerity.

Hatherley writes with unrivalled aggression concerning the disarray of contemporary Britain, and but this continues to be a booklet approximately chances remembered, approximately not going successes in the middle of probably inexorable failure. For in addition to trash, historic and sleek, Hatherley unearths symptoms of the hopeful nation Britain as soon as used to be and tricks of what it will possibly become.
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Next to you on the other side is a bus station that has escaped from Tellytubbies, big, jolly and bulbous. Yet at the heart of Chatham is a development which raises some curious questions about the re-use of industrial sites. It’s a pregnant subject in this recession, with the scattered remnants of manufacturing in serious trouble, for all the noises about a return to ‘making things’. At first sight, Chatham Dockyard, disused since the mid-1980s, conforms to the standard post-industrial Urban Regen type, being turned over alternately to the creative industries (an art college), the heritage industry (several museums, ornamental ships) and the property speculation industry (newbuild flats that are ‘in keeping’, loft conversions).

The union had considered moving to the City of London (before deciding that ‘culturally, it didn’t quite fit’), but decided to stay near to other unions and to the termini for the North. But happenstance has meant that the new Unison building directly faces the old. Originally designed for the local government union NALGO, one of those that merged into Unison, Cole says of the old HQ now that ‘it was basically a concrete tower block’, although this is also a fair description of the most obvious element in the new Unison building.

From Chatham Dockyard you can see something just slightly more ambitious. In the foreground is an Odeon, using the same industrial Big Shed method as the old factories, then for producing, now for consuming; behind them you can see two skyscrapers. Well, almost skyscrapers, of a sleekness and finish that you don’t generally expect in an area more marked by concreteframed blocks with oast-house cowls on top. Both have curved, glazed façades, and are a fragment of the ‘aspirational’ side of the Thames Gateway’s property frenzy, the part that involves the perusal of Wallpaper* magazine and viewings of Grand Designs as much as of Location, Location, Location.

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