Friday, 15 July 2011

The Ruination of England

The Ruination of England

Travelling around England gives you get a sense of how the spirit of the contemporary age is expressed in contemporary architecture, while history and identity are expressed in historic architecture. Nearly every English town or city has been ruined or seriously damaged by the local authorities. It was a tragic mistake to give local councils the power of compulsory purchase to demolish property and build some temporary shopping mall or office block. Most cities are now largely owned by the local councils who have taken property off private owners and are ceasing to be English: just ugly, incoherent muddles.

English cities are being turned into jumbles of buildings without harmony or balance; the buildings being erected have no relation to those around them and are unpleasant muddles. They present a physical expression of the loss of community in the country as a whole. Historic towns by contrast present their variety of styles within a balance and harmony.

Local people are being dissociated from their towns and cities by architecture that jars with its surrounds and offends our inborn need for harmony and balance; and, to the community, it deprives its need for the familiar and to feel they belong. Architecture is physical history and informs our sense of identity: who we are and with whom we belong.

Our Urbiscapes are being made incoherent and unwelcoming by new developments. Local Councillors have no order of priorities or a sense of the future and go in for short-term schemes that generate short term income for themselves, developers and national and international retail outlets. In 1982 the Leader of the Kensington & Chelsea Council, ordered the demolition of Kensington's Italianate town hall at 3 a.m. on a Sunday Morning. It was to be formally listed a Grade 2 building later that day. It was another act of municipal vandalism. The council leader has since died as did the town hall with its beautiful internal plasterwork. It could be rebuilt as its hideously ugly replacement which was the excuse to remove it has cost much more than originally suggested.

Sheffield people are warm and friendly but their city is ceasing to be theirs and is being re-created by local councillors. The election of local councillors is deceitful: they stand for election on local issues but as soon as they are in power act in the interest of outside developers and retailers. Sheffield is so incoherent and disjointed it should be renamed “Jumble City”. The people who pursue these “universal” styles overlook the history in old buildings and their importance for the identity of local people. You could be anywhere as local character and individuality are destroyed. Everywhere is being turned into incoherent muddles without local character.

Sheffield was world famous for steel and the fine cutlery made there. When it lost its industrial base much of its identity went with it but instead of creating something to be proud of, something to invigorate the lives of its dejected working people, the local council have made it look hideous and, rather than make people feel at home, they are repelled. Locals people feel rejected by their physical environment.

They build shopping malls and national retailers change local buildings to suit their corporate style and when they move on leave a city reduced in local history and needing more new developments.

There have been some foolish demolitions in Stratford upon Avon and amongst he historic gems are some repulsive concrete blocks, although it is not quite as bad as Gloucester. Stratford is world-famous as the birthplace of William Shakespeare there is a need for the town to look like it did when he was alive but often the wrong values obtrude and like Liverpool they start spoiling what they should conserve.
A great success in Stratford is the way national retail chains had to conform to the existing building. This is exemplary: it is an example of how our towns and cities can be conserved.

The appalling neglect by Liverpool councillors of the quaint and interesting Hackins Hey is a case in point, but the destruction of Liverpool's Overhead Railway was disgraceful. Don't forget it was Liverpool councillors who approved the demolition of the world famous Cavern! The local council system is appallingly destructive and wasteful and run by people who get so few local votes, often a mere 20%, that they have no legitimacy to ruin their towns and cities.

There is a successful new development at Salford Quays just outside Manchester. It has been created out of a disused quay on the Manchester Ship canal. They have attracted the major broadcasting companies head offices to their “Media City” and they have a gallery to the famous painter L.S.Lowry. They already had Old Trafford the ground of world-famous football team Manchester United.

My contention is that with a more traditional style of architecture it would look even more impressive. The individual buildings often make use of fine geometrical shapes and the Lowry Gallery has semi circles . In themselves these geometric shapes are attractive but they bear no relation to the inspiration for the building nor its function. If you walk through a historic town like Shrewsbury you have the finest Tudor street in England. When you turn the corner you come upon different periods but they are united and in harmony. Contemporary buildings are individual and not in harmony with their neighbours.

A cluster of buildings opposite The Lowry Gallery on Salford Quays look as if they are starting to fall down and bear no relation to the grand upstanding buildings once built that exuded confidence in our civilisation: more an outpicture of our collapsing civilisation.
 The buildings are disjointed and unconnected to one another. (3)

If you compare these with the great British style of Tudor, which often hung over the street, you see the difference between character and muddle. This fine Shrewsbury pub is an example. It hangs over the street but purposefully and was part of a street not individual and jarring creations.
I looked at Corve Street in Ludlow, Park Street, Bristol and The Shambles in York and found an essential balance in the streets. There are differences between the buildings but this created character not disunity and muddle. 
This balance has been maintained over the centuries. (4)

It is a new fashion to turn our towns and cities into confused muddles. Liverpool waterfont is one of the ugliest muddles I have seen. If they can do this to a World Heritage Site, then nothing is safe from these unrepresentative elites.

I got into conversation with a man in a pub recently and he posed the question: ”Apart from London where else could you take a beautiful woman?” The answer was “York”. He made an excellent point. York is an outstandingly beautiful and interesting historic town. It has a medieval town wall you can walk along and a fabulous Minster.

York has a long-term future but the myopic city fathers in Liverpool have gone in for short-term capital gain and thus dispossessed future generations of their birthright. They have followed a tendency to obliterate famous landmarks as with the obscuring of the Three Graces, which was a World Heritage Site, with ordinary, unexceptional skyscrapers. As is usual with British skyscrapers they are insignificant compared to American ones. 
 I took a photograph of this now ordinary waterfront from the Ferry across the Mersey in a raging storm but it shows clearly how it has been ruined by non-descript buildings.

I have often acknowledged to my American friends that the Skyscraper is an American icon and if I went to New York or Chicago would be very impressed by them; but, England has a different tradition and a different scale. Strangely the first steel structured building was built in Shrewsbury. It was difficult to get a photograph of this as it has buildings all round it. (3)

In 1796 Shrewsbury entrepreneurs Thomas and Benjamin Benyon joined forces with John Marshall of Leeds who purchased the rights to the newly invented flax-spinning machine. Ditherington Flax Mill was built near the canal. Because the woollen industry in Shrewsbury was declining there were plenty of skilled workers looking for work, excellent transport links with the canal and roads and a market for it’s products such as carpet weaving in Kidderminster and Bridgnorth.
The mill was designed by Charles Bage, who carried out the first ever tests on the structural properties and strength of iron, and built the first, third and eighth oldest iron-framed buildings in the world at Ditherington Flax Mill.

Mills at the time were five or six stories high and built of brick, stone and wooden floors and the dust given off by the spinning process and use of candlelight often caused fires. Many mills were burnt down. In Leeds during 1791 five mills were razed but Ditherington, built entirely of brick and iron, was the first fireproof mill.
Ditherington ceased production of flax because of competition from mills in Leeds and the mill was adapted it as a Maltings factory in 1897 whence it takes its most usual name.

Bristol is a fine city but new developments there are ugly, standard developments that you see all over the country. Like other enjoyable cities Bristol has appealing natural features like its Floating Harbour which goes half way into the city. Bristol is, unfortunately, following the fad for apartment blocks that are layered or serrated which are being slapped up all over the country.
 They look hideous from the start and will be unwanted slums in ten years.
I wish to make no accusations but I was told by a man who works on these type of apartments in another city that they are cheaply constructed and if properly examined would not pass health and safety regulations. Their flimsy walls are of Studboard and not substantial.

The justification is that they generate income but since when did buildings have to be ugly and dissociate people and undermine the urbiscape as a whole to generate income? The income generated mainly goes to national retail chains who dominate these developments and it is these the local authorities act as agents for in their towns and cities. This architectural deculturation of our towns and cities cause a sense of futility, of no future, as it removes a lot of the grounding people need to thrive. But the use of traditional buildings maintains the town’s core identity and gives local people a definite sense of belonging and well-being; a positiveness and a belief in the future which is lacking in our young people.

In much modern architecture, everything is streamlined - flat surfaces and geometric shapes without the ornamentation that lends character and beauty to so many older buildings. So-called ‘rational’ architecture eschews tradition and local and national vernacular styles and materials, leading to conformity and an artificialism that make people feel out of place. It is impossible to love tower blocks or office buildings, or places dominated by them.

This is not a matter of aesthetics; it is about our very identity, which is the reciprocal relationship between people and the places in which they live. Building on what we have in a similar scale and style maintains continuity and helps to focus culture and identity. National and local governments alike are destroying places that are sanctioned by time and use, where communities have grown up and grown together partly instinctively.

The natural bonding instincts are increasingly thwarted by buildings that separate people from one another and are not physically conducive to developing community spirit - the sense of belonging and of knowing with whom you belong.

The Canadian Innu, were moved by the Canadian government into specially built estates. The Innu were effectively forcibly transformed into Canadians, just as Britons are being forcibly transformed into ‘citizens of the world’. Like us, the Innu are having their past erased and are being offered nothing for the future – despair has set in, as it is setting in on Britain’s sink estates. One important difference is that the Innu have been dispossessed by a different ethnic group Canadians(Globalists) whereas we are being dispossessed by our own elected representatives(Globalists). As with our youngsters the deculturation of the Innu manifests in drug and alcohol abuse and petty crime. More and more of Britain’s young people are similarly aimless, lacking in self-respect, without tradition or a sense of being part of something. Many of them have likewise started to prey on their own people. There have always been people at the bottom of the pile, but they used to develop within a cultural tradition to which they belonged, albeit peripherally. Most Young people do not misbehave out of endemic wickedness, but because they have been decultured.

Thanks to a combination of social, cultural, political and environmental pressures, young people in this country have been effectively estranged from Englishness, severed from the civilizing structures that bolstered their ancestors. Buildings need to develop from traditions and renew those traditions with the sense of familiarity to helping civilise young people and minimise the vicious crimes we now have.

Local councillors are only elected by a minority of voters and are not therefore fully representative of the public. We need to campaign against the destruction of our towns and cities as well as many other things. It must be part of a British movement and informed and propelled by the “Intellectual Frontline” we already have.




(4) .
(5) .A Way of Life That Does Not Exist. 2003 Colin Sampson. (Verso)


Anonymous said...

I couldn't agree with you more. I remember standing in Bromly High Street and gazing at the long facade of Victorian shop fronts, but standing out like a sore thumb was one ugly square-shaped 1960's building which had been wedged in between two of the shops. It was probably built to replace bomb damage, but no effort had been made to blend it in with the rest of the surrounding architecture. That would never have happened in soemwhere like Germany, where their cities were rebuilt after the war to reflect what had been there before. I remember a guide telling me on visiting Aachen that they could have built Milton Keynes, but they chose not to.

The Watcher On The Wall said...

It's a tough one. Britain has always tended to display a frustrated tension between twee, cake shop "historic" architecture and postmodern creativity. [It's foray into Modernism in the 1960's-1970's was notable only for its truly awful cubist, tower-block "communities in the sky".]

Having "conserved" Scheduled buildings [most of which in their natural states were cold, jerry-built, unsanitary, sewage smelling, fire death traps hiding behind 22+ layers of paint - I know, I lived in one in the 1950's as a child] co-existing with Postmodern architects' fevered wet dreams is what is known in NZ as "putting a bob each way". To my mind, it's sign of wobbly self-confidence combined with local council idiosyncrasy.

The solution is found in places like Germany. Declare Scheduled areas that preserve the historic architecture for the tourists and those locals who care. And let the balance be allowed to be rebuilt as developers choose subject to planning permission.

alanorei said...

I agree with Mr Fox. I'm sending this from a guest house near Shepherd's Bush tube station. We had dinner this evening in the Westfield Mall, nice restaurant, nice meal but foreign-owned and staffed.

Westfield Mall is a glass and steel horror story or jungle and on a Friday night, heaving, all noise and no noise - a continuous din (though quiet where we had dinner).

The area, I must say, is about 60-70% non-white (50/50 black/Asian) and probably half the whites (about) are foreign whites i.e. EEuropean. The streets are filthy, not with refuse as such but horribly and I would guess indelibly stained. No police officers were visible.

That said, it did not seem like a lawless area and the guest house is of high quality, run by a very helpful non-white gentleman.

But this area isn't England, not any more, neither architecturally nor racially.

I find that sad.

Anonymous said...

Roger Daltrey of "THe Who" might agree with you?

Franz said...

@ Anon 9:11

Sad to say, but what you say about Germany is only partially true. Certainly Aachen is still a nice place. However, in other cities certain post-modern architects caused greater damage than Bomber Harris could ever dream of.

The whole Ruhr region looks like a Calcutta sewer these days. Not only the architecture but the inhabitants as well.

The only building activity that's going on there is the creation of new cubist office towers from where a rapidly growing bureaucracy gets to administer the squalor.

Funny thing: The last time I was at the Ruhr (Dortmund), I paused at a building site to listen to the dialects spoken there. I only heard East Germans from Saxony and Poles. They have to ship these over to the Ruhr because in that area hardly anybody can be bothered to work anymore. Life on the dole is much to sweet for that.

To think that only two generations prior they made steel there...

Anonymous said...

I too grieve at the despoilation of our landscape. Still, I can't forget a conversation I had with an urban planner. I lamented how what were once tidy and aesthetically appealing towns had become ugly, but he was having none of it. He sharply corrected me, reminding me that towns, if they exist at all, exist for purely commercial reasons. And though I'm horrified at his frankly mercenary outlook, I must concede that he has a point. But the exigencies of commerce can't alone explain why the urban fabric was once a coherent whole but is now an affront to the senses. You can still glimpse patches of what were once harmonious wholes in York or Chester, or even Bath, though in the case of the latter the architectonics is more a product of conceit than something that developed organically. Where there has been an effort to halt all development and preserve the landscape, such as in Bruges, the impression is overwhelming. One comes away shaking one's head at the human situation, since it is quite obvious that we are no longer capable of erecting buildings of such sublime beauty.

thereIsaidit said...

I visited Chester in the late 80's - is it still as unspoiled as then? I remember walking the city, its shops (with a second story), and the city wall.

Even then, I thought London had lost any sense of being English; I saw mostly Indians or Pakistanis.

Anonymous said...

You know just about everywhere I travel in Britain I can't escape fucking Asians from the Indian sub.

From Lands End to John 'O Groats they're there. From Graves End to Glasgow they're everywhere and in all the little villages in between.

They're a fucking plague - in very petrol station, post office, corner shop, supermarket, surgery everywhere and anywhere where retail is concerned.

What is wrong with white British people? Even the Poles I speak to can't believe it. They would not tolerate it over there they hate them as do the Russians.

Why is it so easy for Brits to
survive without work, fiddle benefits and all the rest of it?

If they weren't able to and had to work there wouldn't be this problem - the scourge of aliens from the Indian sub and Africa would be driven out!

Vita Brevis said...

I was driving from central London into Essex past Canary Wharf which was all lit up at night.

'Look at that' I said to my aunt from Texas, pointing to the cluster of skyscrapers, probably the most famous in Britain.

'Could be anywhere', she said, barely giving it a glance.

James Mathurin said...

While I am slightly perplexed by your insistence on local councils being blamed for skyscrapers, etc., which are typically constructed for large corporations, there were some interesting points in here.

I actually wanted to respond because I was visiting the Barbara Hepworth gallery in St Ives today, and it occurred to me that, at the time that she and Henry Moore were producing large-scale public sculptures, in a style that was quintessentially and idiosyncratically British, we were producing some of the dullest and ugliest architecture. Seeing as it relates to the issues you raise here, why do you think there was, and continues to be, so small a level of contact between the British art and British architecture of the time? After all, it's not as if we do not have the building techniques to take some of the Hepworth pieces (for example), and scale them up into quite beautiful buildings.

Oh, and also, I may have to use this quote the next time people on here are talking about the 'endemic wickedness' of various non-White Britons:

"Most Young people do not misbehave out of endemic wickedness, but because they have been decultured. "

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