Saturday, 4 July 2009

Social Engineering Through Architectural Change

An excellent, and thought provoking, article by David Hamilton at New English Review

Since the end of World War Two, Britain’s towns and cities have been transformed for the benefit of local councils and commerce. Grievous damage was done by Luftwaffe bombs, but the Nazis were outdone in gratuitous destruction by postwar urban planners.

After the war, a sense of shame at our past and achievements became widespread amongst the intelligentsia, and led to an ineluctable weakening of our national identity. Our elites began wittingly or unwittingly to dismantle the very idea of England. Social engineering started to be used in architecture and planning as much as in education and entertainment. Its aim was to change the physical and mental environment, and thereby change people, who were seen as plastic and malleable. The theory was that planned council estates could change people for the better.

Marxism was fashionable and in 1938, Leeds City Council built Quarry Hill Flats to commemorate the Marxist insurrection against the government in Karl Mark Hof, Vienna in 1934. It was the largest housing scheme in the country and used the latest ideas and techniques. The flats had solid fuel ranges, electric lighting, the latest refuse disposal system and communal facilities. (However, the steel frame and concrete clad construction was faulty, and the flats had to be demolished in 1978.)

Park Hill in Sheffield was another Marxist utopian development. These flats were opened in 1962 and are now listed. They are representative of the “Streets in the Sky” fad. The idea was that of artificial “streets” built outside the front doors of tower block flats. It was envisaged that milk floats would go up in service lifts and on to the ‘streets’, make their deliveries and go back into the service lift and on up to the next floor. (Deliveries were stopped when a child was knocked over and killed by a float.)

In most of these schemes, there was great emphasis on pedestrian movement, as envisaged in Corbusier’s theoretic “Radiant City”or his “Unite” development in Marseilles.
The new town of Skelmersdale was designed to separate vehicles from pedestrians with a system of courtyard layouts and cul-de-sacs emerging off spine streets, which led to disproportionate costs in street cleaning, refuse collection, ground and street furniture maintenance and, particularly, policing. It was built on an old coalfield and around a series of deep clefts in the moor side that go down into the middle of the town, which means that extensive ground remediation and stabilisation was and is required for any construction.

It was built using innovative and experimental techniques – but these were deeply flawed, requiring expensive remedies. Many houses had central heating outlets in the ceiling. The fact that heat rises was ignored, so the bedrooms were heated moderately well but not the downstairs rooms. And it is possible to punch a hand through walls because the houses’ metal frames are corroded and the concrete slabs have collapsed.

Local communities were dispossessed for such gimcrack schemes. The theory was from the Corbusian model of “uniformity in the part, variety in the whole,” which was necessary to produce the “house machine” or “A machine for living in”? This phrase says it all: treating people as machines.

Continue reading here


Anonymous said...

A good article. Areas of architecture an dtown planing I have thought about in the past. Yes, and this destruction and 'development other wise known as 'regeneration' under the aegis 'sustainability' continues as does the forced compulsory purchase orders moving people out of communities so that the develop and the council can make large profits. The love affairs with modernism and the tower block still goes on to the point that in all this variety there is sameness such as one cant tell between a apartment block , office or bank or police station,university or prison.

Dr.D said...

This is a highly perceptive article, one that offers real insight into the problems that beset the nation. This makes it seem that the loss of sense of identity is almost an unfortunate accident, brought on simply by the need to rebuild a lot of cities after the war with only limited funds with which to work. It is always less expensive to build new, with the newer styles, than to rebuild on the old sites and in the older, more work-intensive styles. What a shame! A pox on the krauts. said...

It looks like all of Bomber Harris' staff and planners were transferred to new duties; doing to Britain what they had already done to Germany.

Anonymous said...

The following may have some relevance to the topic of design and structure. Two of the "45 declared Communist goals" refer to art...and building structure IS an art form.

22. "Continue discrediting American culture by degrading all forms of artistic expression. An American Communist cell was told to 'eliminate all good sculpture from parks and buildings, substitute shapeless, awkward and meaningless forms.'

23. Control art critics and directors of art museums. “Our plan is to promote ugliness, repulsive, meaningless art.

Abu Abdullah said...

So David Hamilton is Mister Fox, the guest writer for the Green Arrow blog?

Anonymous said...

One only as to look at so called 'public art' in the 'B of the Bang'sculpture in Manchester,this was rusting before it was put up,continued to rust, was very ugly, dangerous as sharp points that formed it structure began to fall off, there were endless law suits over it and finally this 'image of multicultural diversity 'art by committee' , a structure having all different pieces coming together and exploding outwards, has been finally demolished

misterfox said...

Mr. Abdullah(?),
These articles now get copied and pasted all across the internet and I have no idea under what names. Its happening to sarah now and most of the others.
For example, in a book that I highly recommend, "English Witness" by P.Scrivener, I found a passage of mine that had been taken from the internet and under another name.