Municipal Dreams: The Rise and Fall of Council Housing – review

John Boughton traces the vexed history of social housing in this timely, persuasive study

In the Conservatives’ successful general election campaign of 1951, the party manifesto declared that housing was “the first of the social services”. Two years later, under the housing minister Harold Macmillan, the Tory government built more council homes in a single year than any government before or since. For Macmillan, as for politicians including Neville Chamberlain, Nye Bevan, Enoch Powell and the Victorian Lord Salisbury, public housing was a stepping stone to political fame, sometimes to the office of prime minister.

Times changed. At least since the time of Margaret Thatcher, the Tories have made themselves opponents of council housing and champions of private ownership. Until recently, housing receded from the centre of political debate. And I hope that the mediocrities who have sometimes been housing ministers in recent years never make it ...

Municipal Dreams: The Rise and Fall of Council Housing – review

John Boughton traces the vexed history of social housing in this timely, persuasive study

In the Conservatives’ successful general election campaign of 1951, the party manifesto declared that housing was “the first of the social services”. Two years later, under the housing minister Harold Macmillan, the Tory government built more council homes in a single year than any government before or since. For Macmillan, as for politicians including Neville Chamberlain, Nye Bevan, Enoch Powell and the Victorian Lord Salisbury, public housing was a stepping stone to political fame, sometimes to the office of prime minister.

Times changed. At least since the time of Margaret Thatcher, the Tories have made themselves opponents of council housing and champions of private ownership. Until recently, housing receded from the centre of political debate. And I hope that the mediocrities who have sometimes been housing ministers in recent years never make it ...

The British Mosque: An Architectural and Social History by Shahed Saleem – review

The architect and academic’s thoughtful survey explains why mosque builders in Britain generally stick to the tried and tested

“Mosque design,” says academic and Muslim convert Tim Winter, “has historically reflected the local cultures of the Muslim world. A mosque in Java bears no resemblance to a mosque in Bosnia, or a mosque in Senegal.” The question underlying The British Mosque, by the architect and academic Shahed Saleem, is, then, what one should look like in Britain.

There are an estimated 1,500 mosques in Britain, most of them built in the last decade or so. Some have become landmarks, their domes and minarets rising above the brick terraces of old industrial towns such as Blackburn and Sheffield, or cathedral cities like Gloucester and Peterborough, wherever there is a Muslim population large enough to support them. They are objects of speculation and debate, their interiors mysterious to many non-Muslims, ...

Building and Dwelling by Richard Sennett review – sharp insights

With more than half the global population living in cities, the author’s observations on urban planning and street life are timely and engaging

There is a thriving line of business, in publishing, architecture and academe, in talking about something called “the city”. It entails thick tomes, conferences in interesting locations, meetings with mayors and power-brokers, events posing as public debates that are in reality diplomatic rituals. This industry draws strength and publicity from the facts that more than half the world’s population now live in cities and that the proportion seems set only to increase.

These same facts also dissipate and confuse. If so much of humanity lives in cities, then to talk of them is to describe, almost, the whole world. “The city” becomes a term so extensive and multiple as to be meaningless or useless. What, for example, might a prosperous, static, historic city in northern Europe have ...

Book clinic: recommended reads on architecture

In the second of a new series in which we answer your book queries, our expert suggests architecture books for beginners

Q: I am very interested in architecture – could you recommend books in this area for a beginner?
Sophie Frank, Leeds

A: Rowan Moore, architecture critic of the Observer
First off, I’d say Experiencing Architecture, a 55-year-old book by a Danish architect called Steen Eiler Rasmussen, which beautifully describes the sensory and spatial qualities that make us like or dislike buildings. After that, the question is curiously difficult to answer, as architecture is such a multi-faceted, all-encompassing subject that anything purporting to give an overview is suspect.

Continue reading...

Big Capital: Who Is London For? by Anna Minton – review

This survey of the capital’s pitiful housing situation makes familiar but essential readingHow bad is the London housing crisis? Very, very bad. It’s not some la-di-da first world problem of privileged southerners moaning about living in Zone 3 of the London underground, or that they can’t afford, as Mummy and Daddy did when newlyweds, to live in Chelsea or Islington. It’s not about the streets where Paddington Bear might have lived getting sold to oligarchs and sheikhs and then left half-empty. It is about mothers sharing single-room flats with their children in satellite towns, unable to afford the train fares to see their relatives, go to work or make hospital appointments. It is about victims of people-trafficking getting moved from one illegal garden shed to another. Related: The great London property squeeze Continue reading...

East London review – a journey through Apple-tinted glasses

Charles Saumarez Smith’s ‘connoisseur’s’ tour of the East End is enjoyable but unashamedly whimsical Who will admit to being a gentrifier? Who will confess to being part of that rent-inflating urban scourge, over which so many hands are wrung, that lays a plague of artisanal bread and absurd beards upon the land, which like the enclosures of yore sends widows and orphans and honest craftsmen weeping into exile? Who will sing that they’re glad to gentrify? Charles Saumarez Smith, that’s who. The secretary and chief executive of the Royal Academy of Arts, owner of a double-fronted Georgian house in Stepney – before that a terrace house in Limehouse, bought in 1982 – lets you know in the very first sentence of his book on east London, with lack of cant, that he is not your traditional cockney diamond geezer. Continue reading...

What’s So Great About the Eiffel Tower? 70 Questions That Will Change the Way You Think About Architecture by Jonathan Glancey – review

These engaging essays on global landmarks show that our opinions aren’t set in stoneAll buildings are temporary, said the great architectural thinker Cedric Price, but some are more temporary than others. In other words, even something as enduring as the Parthenon and the pyramids will one day go. And even before they disappear, these seemingly fixed and eternal objects are in constant flux. Not only do they weather, decay and get altered, but they change in public perception. An eyesore can become a landmark, a pagan temple can become a church, a symbol of tyranny can become a popular icon. These paradoxical truths have allowed Jonathan Glancey, formerly architecture critic of the Guardian, to have a bit of fun. In What’s So Great About the Eiffel Tower? he finds 70 examples of buildings whose backstories are not as you might imagine. The title refers to Exhibit A ...

Rowan Moore’s best architecture books of 2016

Books about building for peace in times of war are among the standout volumes of the last 12 monthsMost of the time the pursuit of architecture is not as serious as its practitioners would like us to think. It can add to or detract from human joy or, by acting as the background of the events of our lives, impart a subtle influence to them. It is not generally a matter of life or death. Which makes two of this year’s books, about the relation of buildings to violent conflict, stand apart from the normal run of musings about the design of buildings. One is The Battle for Home (Thames & Hudson £16.95) by the Syrian architect Marwa al-Sabouni, who describes the political corruption of her discipline that she experienced from student days onwards, and the dismemberment of her home city of Homs through divisive planning that preceded and abetted its ...

Raw Concrete: The Beauty of Brutalism by Barnabas Calder – review

This celebration of all things concrete will please both its aficionados and those who find it hard to loveIn 1977, The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady was published, a book that was what it said on the tin: the 1906 nature notes of the art teacher Edith Holden, attractively repackaged. It was a hit, and for years afterwards other titles appeared using some variation or combination of country, diary, Edwardian and lady, decorated with imitations of Holden’s sweet sketches of flowers. There was also merchandise – tea towels, calendars, biscuit tins. The architectural style of brutalism, which lasted roughly from the 1950s to the mid-70s, may never attract the same readership, but there is nonetheless a burgeoning industry, following brave celebrations of the style in the writings and broadcasts of Owen Hatherley and Jonathan Meades, of books that wield the B-word: Brutalism: Post-War British Architecture; This ...

International Space Station by David Nixon review – logistics of floating in a tin can

A painstaking account of the construction of the ISS and the daily routine of the astronauts who inhabit it

The International Space Station, that $160bn assemblage of aluminium, titanium, steel and Kevlar in which the Briton Tim Peake is currently living 250 miles above Earth, is a masterpiece of architecture and engineering to rank with the Eiffel Tower and the Golden Gate Bridge. So writes David Nixon, an architect who himself worked on aspects of its design. In this he is following a tradition in modern British architecture, which loves to find inspiration for Earth-bound buildings in things that fly and orbit.

It is certainly a wondrous thing, a bright, white, multi-winged dragonfly wider than the Statue of Liberty is tall, whose multiple layers of protection and servicing serve to protect a home for a few human beings at a time, in surroundings of extreme hostility to life. It had ...

London, city of pleasure

Our capital, for better or worse, has become the pre-eminent global city, and from high culture to bars, spas and clubs, our pleasure industry is a driver of that prosperity. In this extract from his new book, Slow Burn City, Rowan Moore looks at London as a wonderland for all tastes, if not all pockets… Slow Burn City describes London in the early 21st century, the global city above all others, whose land and homes are tradeable commodities on international markets, a transit lounge and stopping-off point for the world’s migrant populations, all to an extent greater than anywhere else. It is dazzling and exciting but also struggles to deal with the pressures created by its success. It is unable to offer many of its citizens a decent home, and its best qualities are threatened by speculation. Modern London tests to the limit the idea that, when it comes to the ...

The best architecture books of 2015

A new warmth towards brutalism, handsome volumes on the Eames brothers and Le Corbusier, and George Gilbert Scott’s prodigious gothic output

A striking aspect of Elain Harwood’s Space, Hope and Brutalism (Yale University Press), a hefty survey of postwar British architecture, is that it isn’t about brutalism precisely, but about this and many other styles of architecture. So it seems that someone, her publishers maybe, inserted the B-word because they thought it would help to sell the book. Which no doubt it does. Because brutalism, once the encapsulation in three-and-a-half syllables of everything thought hateful about modern architecture, a word whose inventors didn’t even want to sound nice, is now exciting, sexy, intriguing. Which could have been predicted: baroque and gothic were once also terms of abuse.

Owen Hatherley has done more than most to bring about this reappraisal, and this year further pushed the boundaries of received taste with ...

Space, Hope and Brutalism: English Architecture 1945-1975 by Elain Harwood review – the romantics who reshaped Britain

This authoritative study of postwar architects reveals their grand vision

In about 1950, the architect Berthold Lubetkin had an arresting but rejected vision for Peterlee, the new town built for a mining community in County Durham. He wanted to run a main road through its centre, such that “young couples could sit on its banks watching the traffic, the economic pulse of the nation, with coal and pig iron in huge lorries moving south, while from the south would come loads of ice-cream and French letters”. His vision was not adopted, with the artist Victor Pasmore instead being invited to compose blocks of housing as units of mass and colour as if in a giant painting, with some help from inexperienced architects on the details. Pasmore’s involvement lasted until 1977, but his estates had their problems, partly due to skimping on insulation and roofing felt.

These are among the more ...

Gothic for the Steam Age by Gavin Stamp review – St Pancras architect finds a champion at last

George Gilbert Scott’s reputation suffered because of his prolific work rate, but at last he has found someone to speak up for him

The most poignant story in this book concerns its subject’s son, also called George Gilbert Scott, also an architect. Having abandoned his father’s gothic for the Queen Anne style, and his Anglican faith for Catholicism, he later left his wife and children for a mistress in Rouen until, suffering from alcoholism and mental disorders, he was sent to a hospital in Northampton, where his father had designed the chapel. He was, finally, forcibly confined to the Midland Grand hotel at St Pancras station, also by his father, and amid its polychromatic, foliated, quasi‑medieval wallpapers, died.

George junior’s experience stands for anyone who lived in the great asylum of Victorian England, for whom the architecture of George senior was inescapable. Gavin Stamp’s book tells us that he worked in all the counties ...