Read A New Kind of Bleak: Journeys through Urban Britain by Owen Hatherley Online


What happens when ruination overtakes regeneration? Following on from A Guide to the New Ruins of Great Britain, Owen Hatherley investigates the fate of British cities in the desolate new world of savage public-sector cuts, when government funds are withdrawn and the Welfare State abdicates. He explores the urban consequences of what Conservatives privately call the progreWhat happens when ruination overtakes regeneration? Following on from A Guide to the New Ruins of Great Britain, Owen Hatherley investigates the fate of British cities in the desolate new world of savage public-sector cuts, when government funds are withdrawn and the Welfare State abdicates. He explores the urban consequences of what Conservatives privately call the progressive nonsense of the Big Society and the localism agenda, the putative replacement of the state with charity and voluntarism; and he casts an eye over the last great Blairite schemes limping to completion, from London 's Shard to the site of the 2012 Olympics. Crisscrossing Britain from Aberdeen to Plymouth, from Croydon to Belfast, A New Kind of Bleak finds a landscape left to rot and discovers strange and potentially radical things growing in the wasteland....

Title : A New Kind of Bleak: Journeys through Urban Britain
Author :
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ISBN : 9781844678570
Format Type : Hardcover
Number of Pages : 434 Pages
Status : Available For Download
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A New Kind of Bleak: Journeys through Urban Britain Reviews

  • Anna
    2019-02-24 17:15

    Although I cannot be absolutely sure, I have a strong feeling that I’ve read Hatherley’s previous book, A Guide to the New Ruins of Great Britain. His distinctive narrative style seemed familiar in this sequel and it just seems like I book I’d have read if I found it. I’ve studied and worked in and around spatial planning, so the built environment is of great interest to me. In his previous book, Hatherley critiqued the New Labour approach to urban planning, both from a political and aesthetic perspective. In 'A New Kind of Bleak' he discusses the first two years of the Coalition and concludes that, many though the failings of Labour were, the current government are considerably worse. I enjoyed the way that Hatherley links planning and the built environment strongly to ideology and wider economic policy, as these linkages are important to explore. He also does this in a very entertaining manner. I read more than half of this book whilst unable to sleep and feeling quite sorry for myself. It was witty, interesting, and distracting company until I finally fell asleep at gone 6am. Of particular note were the chapters on the Thames Gateway (a truly depressing area), Oxford (to compare with Cambridge), and Belfast (the striking similarities with civic architecture throughout the mainland UK, despite Belfast being shaped by civil war). Hatherley is firm in his opinions, but also clear in explaining and justifying them with reference to a range of sources and international comparisons. Overall, he is very unimpressed by England’s urban environments, which often appear chaotic, hostile, and ugly. In terms of both form and function, Hatherley believes that Scottish cities are doing much better. I am not at all familiar with most of the cities he discusses, but his praise of Edinburgh certainly accords with my experience of it. It's also hard to disagree with his critique of the City of London, especially the damage the Shard has done to its immediate environs, which have become very difficult to navigate. Our built environment, especially our urban centres, convey important messages about the economy, society, and political priorities. Hatherley is especially skilled in reading this messages and after reading this book I am inspired to look for them, too.

  • Kyle
    2019-03-19 12:21

    you kind of had to be there. how many buildings, for instance, can be described as having "intricate brickwork" lol. still great. his final chapter on london and his chapter on belfast, where he discovers that low-level guerrilla war produced the same city as municipal neoliberalism, are the two standouts.

  • Lars Williams
    2019-02-26 15:29

    Owen Hatherley is an architectural journalist, urbanist, modernist, and socialist, who has been described as "the Pevsner of the PFI generation". This book follows on from his earlier work, 'A Guide to the New Ruins of Great Britain', and as in that earlier volume it is simply an account of his wanderings around the towns and cities of Britain, where he is occasionally impressed but more usually appalled by the products of the property-boom/'urban regeneration'/PFI-led frenzy of new building he encounters. He mourns the death of the post-war consensus, and the notion that societies might produce meaningful, public architecture, at a remove from the corrupting ideology of neoliberalism.I loved the first volume, 'A Guide....'. It might sound daft, but until I read that book I had never thought of buildings as having a political, social or even moral context. Owen Hatherley is a passionate and opinionated writer, and he makes what could have been a pretty dull subject came across as vital and important. It's no exaggeration to say that 'A Guide...' opened my eyes to the built environment around me, as well as igniting an interest in architecture in general, and modernism in particular.Because the first book made such an impression on me, it was inevitable that the second wouldn't have quite the same impact, and that proved to be the case. The first book was written at the tail-end of the New Labour era, and a large part of its energy came from Hatherley's righteous indignation at the moral bankruptcy of the Blairite regime. This latest volume is more of a muted affair - under the Con-Dem's reign of austerity, development has mostly stopped, the speculative property developers have gone back to ground, the glitzy urban regen projects have been indefinitely postponed. Because you get what you expect with the Tories, the anger at New Labour's idealistic betrayal has gone, and the polemic is toned down.The book is still hugely enjoyable, though. Once again, he puts forward a spirited defence of often derided modernist structures or examples of town planning, like Preston bus station, Coventry town centre, even parts of Cumbernauld. He is scathing of the throwaway post-modernist, and what he nicely describes as 'pseudo-modernist', architecture of the last decade or so. He describes the ubiquitous 'wonky roof' placed atop cheap blocks of 'luxury' new-build flats to make them look 'fun' as a 'Blair Hat', another neat phrase. He won me round completely by acknowledging the importance of Glasgow, which is the only city outside London that he visits more than once between these two volumes - he justifies this by dint of Glasgow's status as "the architectural, cultural, and, frankly, moral Second City of the UK." Who could argue with that?The only criticism I have of this book is one that applies equally to the first volume - the print quality of the (very few this time) black and white pictures is so poor that nothing would have been lost by omitting them entirely. I ended up spending a lot of time looking up pictures of the buildings he describes on the internet. Properly illustrated editions of these books might cost a bit, but they would be absolute classics.

  • Malcolm
    2019-03-13 12:39

    This is the second of Hatherley’s books that seems to draw his writings and commentaries elsewhere (such as Building Design) to provide us with a sceptical, almost grumpy reading of urban design and architecture in contemporary Britain. Like its predecessor, A Guide to the New Ruins of Britain, this is a travelogue – a little H. V. Morton, a bit Nicholas Pevsner and with a pinch of Orwell. Hatherley takes us through walking tours (mainly) of several to-be-expected and several surprising parts of urban Britain. There are three London chapters – The Thames Gateway, Croydon and The City, several other major cities zones – Birmingham, Bristol, Edinburgh, Glasgow, some not really Britain – well, Belfast, some not really cities – The Valleys (as in Wales), not cities but urban, and places the seem to get passed over in these kinds of discussions – Barrow-in-Furness, Leicester, Lincoln, Plymouth, Aberdeen, Preston and Oxford. Amid all of this there is a passion for the products of modernism, but even more passion for the contempt for the mess that urban Britain has become; the lazy or non-planning, the dull, uninventive architecture, the worse than weak design and the dullness imposed on cities by the Blair era alongside the destruction of urbanism resulting from the actions of the Lib-Dem (or as he prefers, the Tory-Whig) government. He may be a Militant Modernist (or at least that is what he has titled his first book) – which not to say that he is a militant proselytiser for all that modernism gave us (his effusive praise for Holyrood shows that), but a hunter for the wonders that modernism offered us and it seems at times on a quest for the residual utopian spaces in modernist design.This outlook, this urban quest leads him to some surprising conclusions – praise for Cumbernauld, one of Glasgow’s new towns, towns in the Welsh valleys and Lincoln – alongside correct condemnation, for the planning and design disaster that is Birmingham – not in its 19th century forms but its more recent muddle. Hatherley’s eye is sharp, more so than his tongue (or pen) but he is not averse to a harsh turn of phrase when needed – and his berating tone for some of the places I know is well deserved. His greater strength however is his ability to politically contextualise – not locally so much as nationally – the things influencing (in places even causing) the fads he finds so disconcerting; neither new Labour nor the Tory-Whig régimes emerge from this urban critique with much credibility, neither for that matter do many high profile architects.That said there are two things that frustrate me. First, as with New Ruins, the paper stock and poor quality photographs (Laura Oldfield Ford’s drawings fare much better) let the book down. Second, the races through 18 areas on 360 pages, and in many cases we little more than a paragraph per building; it all feels a little rushed and in need of more focus.This isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy it, but it might have helped to write more about less. Despite this, Hatherley remains one of our best critics of the contempt shown for urbanity, for design and for Britain’s residents by those who control, make and continually recreate the places we live.

  • Jennifer
    2019-03-16 17:19

    This was a heck of a slog, an awkward book, both in polemic and production. It was densely written and an uncomfortable size, shape and weight to hold... and truly dreadful, better off without, photo quality. I suspect it might have been an easier read for someone with formal architectural education, who might have been able to come up with more accurate pictures in their mind, and more familiarity with the references (although might we all need more of an explanation of what 'Blairite' rooftops look like - it seems his highest form of dismissal and often used). Perhaps too, easier for someone who has read Hatherley's previous book on 'the New Ruins'However, I found the book engaging enough, yes, it is sour but sometimes lipsmackingly so. I felt I could usefully have taken even more time over the reading and consulted that wonderful resource for images of the places he visits. I enjoyed his selection and some of the side comments - who he visited with (for example the Cambridge student with the access pass, or his Polish partner), the fact that he is a non-driver, the impact of his Crohn's disease. Undoubtedly it worked better for those places I have visited myself or seen images of. His chapter on Barrow-in-Furness was particularly interesting. Of some of his other locations, I felt I had a grasp so tenuous as to be non-existent.

  • Sarah
    2019-03-05 18:23

    I don't often give 5 stars. This one gets it for a number of reasons. First it was written recently and I love the raw feel that comes because the writer is living in the same world and same 'interesting' times as I do. Secondly I hear a lifetime's passion for the built environment - way beyond me of course - he reads buildings with an insider's vocabulary and a feeling for the way it all happened that surely must come from living and working in the business for decades and not from learning about it second hand. Thirdly the anger. Very entertaining in the sense that you have to laugh or you would be crying forever, especially with our own town about to be gutted by the greedy developers. And lastly leaving me itching to get out there into the towns and cities with my eyes wide open to try and see for myself. I will never have the knowledge and experience to see places with the author's eyes but I am inspired to look around me in a new and richer way and even if I have to be angry at a lot of what I see it's not worth missing the experience.

  • Chris Hamby
    2019-03-17 13:27

    I thought this was a great book, but it didn't quite live up to my expectations. I'm a long time reader of Hatherly's blog, and I was used to his rambling style and structure. It is, as the author admits in the introduction, a little indigestible, as urban walk after urban walk can get overwhelming. Read in chunks, however, this is a great survey of the contemporary UK's urban environment. I've never read a writer that connects architecture, urban design, and politics so eloquently and viscerally. My biggest gripe: as an American, I'm not intimately familiar with many of the cities Hatherly visits, and while he sets out itineraries, there are no maps or references to help orient the reader. What few photographs there are in the book are poorly reproduced and too dark. A shame, since the author is so evocative in his words. I read most of this book with wikipedia and google maps by my side.

  • Steven Pilling
    2019-02-25 15:17

    This is a sequal or companion volume to A Guide To The New Ruins. It may not be as good because Hatherley covers more cities and therefore it is not as detailed on individual places but it is fantastic. Hatherley is almost forensic in his writing, he is aware that the built is at least as important if not more so than the natural, he has a tone that is consistent and powerful on the places he visits. He recognises the importance of politics and of social change upon building and design, he is consistent in his findings and has an ability reminiscent of a modern poet to be factual yet evoke emotions in the reader.As polemic goes this is brilliant it is an essential read regardless of what you think you feel about town planning and architecture.

  • Simon
    2019-03-07 18:26

    His previous book led me to walking cities in a very different way and fuelled my eagerness to engage in architecture. This has just made me even more eager to do so. Bit disparaging about modern Bristol, but then rightly so. Excellent, excellent stuff.

  • Rob
    2019-02-22 10:31

    A sneak under the social fabric of our urban culture. Makes one realise how we're losing our way