Context 163 - March 2020

56 C O N T E X T 1 6 3 : M A R C H 2 0 2 0 book has lots of photographs, both of the exterior and interiors, so we can really enjoy (or not) the buildings for ourselves. There are some positive interviews with residents. José Croft, living in Bloco Das Agues Livres (1953) in Lisbon, reports that ‘when you wake up you are in a good mood. I just love it’. And one can understand the initial enthusiasm of residents in Cables Wynd House (1963) for their indoor toilets and lifts after living in the slums of Leith. But the criticisms of this architecture came swiftly. One of the trumpeted strengths of the style was that it was unaffected by location, site or climate: it was a universally applicable style of architecture. It does this well. Open the book on any page and you will find it hard to guess where the building is. Of course this was soon identified as one of the style’s greatest flaws. Places, climates and cultures are diverse. Thousands of years of building have resulted in interesting vernacular architecture across the world that responds to this. To create a form of architecture that could sweep all that aside to be replaced by a single international style shows a peculiar totalitarian ambition. As Elizabeth Gordon suggested in her explosive 1953 essay The Threat to the Next America , ‘it contains the threat of cultural dictatorship’. Many residents of these modern estates now complain: the flats are cold, the walls are thin, the architecture is off-putting. One resident reports of Cite Radieuse by Le Corbusier, now a Unesco world heritage site, ‘I think that there are a lot of people who move here because of the prestige of living in a Le Corbusier building, but I don’t think they end up staying long’. In part, as a reaction to these buildings, the pendulum has swung back to building in a more traditional way, as at Poundbury. The trouble is that the copycat developments across the country are pale imitations, using stuck-on lintels and fake chimney stacks. Ask any resident of these houses and they are likely to be just as critical as those living in the modernist estates. Almost 100 years on we have not solved the issue of how to build good quality, cost-effective houses that nurture humans and create good communities. The book provides an interesting snapshot of modernist estates, some approaching 100 years old. All the buildings featured are now listed (or have the equivalent protection), so they are here to stay. But as a resident of the recently listed Cables Wynd House comments, ‘we were in support of the listing but a lot of people were opposed to it. Many people think it’s an eyesore and should be ripped down’. It was listed anyway, which made me wonder whether Elizabeth Gordon would consider listing a form of ‘cultural dictatorship’. Kate Judge, architectural historian The essential state No Little Plans: how government built America’s wealth and infrastructure IanWray, Routledge, 2019, 226 pages, 48 black and white illustrations, ISBN 978 1 138594 10 4 (paperback), £34.99 The idea that the state is an obstacle to economic development and progress has achieved a status close to received wisdom on the political right on both sides of the Atlantic. But in this book IanWray, a planner and visiting professor at Liverpool University, looks at environmental, infrastructure and information technology initiatives in the USA from the 19th century to the present. He shows that, from national parks to the development of the internet, the role of government in the USA has been essential. InWray’s view, and on the evidence he presents, the basic principle of neoliberal economics and politics, that the state should simply get out of the way, is demonstrably wrong. State intervention had liberal as well as conservative critics. Jane Jacobs attacked city planning in The Death and Life of Great American Cities in 1961. Rachel Carson in Silent Spring (1962) mounted a parallel attack on the effects of industrial and scientific progress on the natural environment.With the development of the civil rights movement and the counter-culture, the state was subject to attacks from both the right and the left. In the central part of the book Wray sets out a series of case studies of ‘American Advance’. The trans-continental railroads were dependent on government funding and land grants before they were justified by economic demand. The development of national parks had its intellectual origins in the philosophy of Henry David Thoreau and RalphWaldo Emerson and the campaigner John Muir, but was given political force by President Theodore Roosevelt, who trekked