MILITANT MODERNISM by Owen Hatherley

September 17, 2011 § Leave a comment

This may be the only book you’ll read dedicated to the Southampton city council architects department. Which is a shame, because according to Owen Hatherley, who grew up on a Southampton housing estate, its postwar buildings are “excitingly modern” and evoke the “glittering towers of science fiction”. Bombed-out British cities like Southampton offered modernist architects a chance to realise their utopian dreams of a socialist new society. But their concrete cities in the sky have fallen out of favour, unlike other socialist structures such as the NHS. Hatherley’s book is an intelligent and passionately argued attempt to “excavate utopia” from the ruins of modernism and to oppose the trend in public housing towards a Disneyfied pastiche of pre-industrial architecture, as at Prince Charles’s Poundbury. Hatherley’s exhilarating manifesto for a reborn socialist modernism is inspired by an admirable desire to reawaken our sense of the utopian imaginary. His rallying cry is suitably Brechtian: “Forwards! Not forgetting.”

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