Saturday, December 15, 2007
Over at the Times, a review of Gavin Stamp's Britain's Lost Cities puts the blame for the destruction of old British urban architecture -- long blamed on the Blitz -- squarely upon the shoulders of city planners:
The religion of the motor car changed all that. Councils dismembered their cities to build ring roads, flyovers and car parks. They used any excuse for demolition — that old buildings had a limited life; that Victorian architecture was at best unfashionable, at worst sinfully ugly; that the mess left by Luftwaffe raids needed tidying up.
The Nazis became convenient scapegoats for plans already under way. Coventry's medieval Butcher Row was razed in 1936, four years before the first bombers flew in. It had become, the Lord Mayor sniffed, “a blot on the city”.... Stamp tells a tale of neglect, incompetence, philistinism and sheer bloody-minded malice, encapsulated in a comment by Herbert Manzoni, the City Engineer and Surveyor of Birmingham from 1935 to 1963: “I have never been very certain as to the value of tangible links with the past,” he said in 1957.
...Their legacy is the desperate sense of loss engendered by Stamp's book, with its 200 stylishly presented archive photographs. I lost count of the number of pictures of smart, historic, charming streets captioned: “Every building in this photograph has since disappeared.”