John Grindrod - Concretopia (3 stars)

John Grindrod - Concretopia

An enthusiastic but not entirely convincing counter-argument to the popular Crap Towns books

(Old Street Publishing)

The recently revived Crap Towns books sneer at ugly modern architecture, but John Grindrod comes not to bury the postwar rebuilding of Britain but to praise it. For while tower blocks, prefabs and new towns have been unpopular with many traditionalists, including Prince Charles, Grindrod suggests that they were exciting projects built by visionaries and inhabited by pioneers.

The book takes him around the country visiting what’s left of these structures. Of particular interest here are chapters on Glasgow’s Gorbals, where he interviews residents who are still proud of the unusual ‘hanging gardens’ created to ease the city’s overcrowding, and on Cumbernauld, where Grindrod is stunned by the ambition of its architects to create something entirely new.

It’s not an entirely convincing argument: as he points out, many of these new builds were poorly constructed, with few amenities, and haven’t lasted well. And it’s not quite clear who this book is aimed at, as it’s not technical enough for real architecture buffs. But the author’s enthusiasm for a more idealistic age is appealing, whatever your view on concrete ‘carbuncles’.

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