Brutalism. The idea of the very basic of material quality displayed in grand ceremony, exhibited proudly in bold, uncompromising forms. That’s what draws me to this style, and why I love everything to do with this architectural utopian (or dystopian) dream. There is something visceral about these vast swathes of repeating concrete patterns, of the overwhelming mass and the underlying spirit of connection to others around you.
For as long as I can remember I’ve been drawn to Brutalism, like I’ve been drawn to Lighthouses. Unlike lighthouses, whose sole purpose is to save lives, the Brutalist architecture movement was designed to enrich lives, give people the feeling of a better future and bring about socio-economic change. This book, Lost Futures, explores the concept of social enlightenment through living standards, in a post-war Britain.
Presented beautifully in a small-format hardback book, “Lost Futures: The Disappearing Architecture of Post-War Britain” is a great testament to the hopes that were pinned on the redevelopment of the bombed, crushed towns and cities after the War, as a way to build on the momentum of victory, and capitalise on that spirit to create a true vision of peacetime social equality and change. Architects were charged with bringing about this social change through grand masterplanning. They saw a chance to regenerate areas of poverty and, with great towering “streets in the skies”, give everyone a chance of a better future. Through the beauty of engineered physical space would the inhabitants of these buildings be inspired into leading better lives.
What surprised me reading through this book was the concept of the City Architect; people who had the sole purpose of creating the masterplan for a whole town or city; a vision of a better way to present and arrange buildings to give the day to day lives of ordinary people a whisper of magic, a feeling of fortitude and placement in the world; of hope. For all intents and purposes, a meaning to their existence. Such is the grand schemes and ideas presented in the book, that were taken through to execution, albeit on most accounts, under severe financial restriction and pressure. This book not so much celebrates these buildings in their design successes, much as it catalogues their various, often commonplace design flaws that lead to their ultimate demise.
The book itself is interesting and engaging, the typography and layout really do look like they follow the Josef Mülller-Brockman guidelines as laid out in his great book “The Grid". It’s a very Swiss style of layout, I think, and every page is set out precisely and neatly; all paragraphs line up at the bottoms, all pictures are purposeful and support the text that describe what impact each of these wonderful buildings brought to the area, and to the history of this country. There’s some interesting historical stories too, like Glasgow’s regeneration plan that, thankfully, didn’t make it all the way into reality. This plan would have razed all number of historical gems, like the unfortunate Glasgow School of Art.
Despite the utter tragedy of the Rennie Mackintosh wonder-of-the-world, and the current finger-pointing stalemate that prevents the fire-destroyed building rising from the ashes (for a second time), it doesn’t bare thinking about, that all of these fantastic historical statements would have been flattened to make way for some new-fangled vision of a future that a small group of people decided upon. That’s the tragedy, in a way, of reading this book. The majority of these sentinels of future hope have been demolished to make way for car-parks and shopping centres that now lie desolate and abandoned. Not sure what is to be learned here but I really enjoyed reading it!
That’s a sentence!