Context 165 - August 2020

58 C O N T E X T 1 6 5 : A U G U S T 2 0 2 0 consequences. Through each period of its history there are buildings that illustrate an awareness of current political and philosophical thinking from across Europe, and an aspiration or perhaps determination on the part of the community to be at the forefront of progress. The reader will be surprised and delighted to discover renaissance mansions, Parisian boulevards, and white cubist villas from the 1930s inspired by the Bauhaus and Russian constructivist turbine halls. There are flashes of brilliance, such as the Queensgate development by Alexander Ross and the arts-and- crafts elegance of Rossal byWL Carruthers. Other buildings, such as Balnain House or the Forbes Mausoleum, are mere fragments of a once vast merchant empire. Buildings that might otherwise have remained hidden and forgotten have had a new light thrown on them. Most of the buildings featured in the book are modest in scale. It would be unfair to draw comparison with the majestic palaces of London or the enlightenment splendour of Edinburgh, and to do so would rather miss the point. The author takes us on a detective adventure, revealing the clues to a story that would otherwise remain hidden from view. His approach transforms a collection of fine architectural buildings into an unexpected and compelling story about the evolution of people, place and identity. By examining groups of buildings, and interpreting their significance to the community in which they are found and their collective contribution to the evolution of place and identity, the author perhaps suggests a new approach to our understanding and appreciation of the built environment. It reveals a weakness in our current approach, where buildings are assessed for protection on an individual basis, and where their qualities are measured against criteria intended to provide a quality benchmark but fail to recognise their importance and value to the local context. The book is illustrated with large colour photographs of exceptional quality. The text is well laid out and as a consequence the format is attractive for reading at home. But the book might be a bit cumbersome for carrying around the streets, so it is accompanied by an app that can be downloaded to a smartphone. Using the phone’s GPS, the app can identify your location and tell you about buildings nearby; or the user can select a particular building from the index, which is grouped by historical period or location, and the app will provide GPS navigation to that building. John T Duncan, former conservation architect at Highland Council, director and trustee of Inverness City Heritage Trust and Highland Historic Buildings Trust A glimpse of the possible New Towns: the rise, fall and rebirth Katy Lock and Hugh Ellis, RIBA Publishing, 2020, 180 pages, 140 colour and black and white illustrations, hardback, ISBN 978 1 859469 28 6, £40 The heritage of new towns was celebrated in Context 162, which built on an increasing awareness of the importance of new towns in understanding the development of our own country and others, particularly in the years since 1945. This book traces the history of those towns in the UK from their antecedents in the garden cities through the post-war decades. It examines their current situation and their relevance today. It is a story of innovation in planning, landscape, architecture, and cultural and community development. The authors, Katy Lock and Hugh Ellis, both work for the Town and Country Planning Association. Both are keen advocates of new towns, and the ideas and aspirations that they stood for. Lock and Ellis are not naive about the difficulties facing new towns today. These include maintenance liabilities for extensive open-space networks, the legacy of experimental housing design (often including flat roofs) built under pressure for delivery, and a uniformly ageing population and housing stock. Managing these problems was not helped by the premature winding-up of the development corporations in the Thatcher years and asset-stripping by central government (the early new towns were highly profitable). The Cameron government brought in the infamous permitted change of use from offices to residential: the conversion of Terminus House in Harlow is rightly described as ‘a low point in English planning practice’. Similar conversions may be in prospect for Central Milton Keynes. The central section of the book sets out eight case studies, ranging from Harlow, one of the first generation of new towns, via towns in all the UK nations, to Milton Keynes, the last, most ambitious and greatest achievement of the new town movement. Some aspects of this picture are bleak but not universally so: the book shows how the private sector, local authorities and government agencies are rediscovering echoes of the innovative spirit of the early new towns to find solutions to their present problems. The authors decry the present situation of planning: reckless deregulation, a complete lack of strategic planning, with the partial exception of the Cambridge- Milton Keynes-Oxford corridor, and the lack of direction in government. Towards the end of the book there is a picture of Vauban in Freiburg. Vauban and Freiburg are magnificent. The energy, courage,