on Ian Nairn: The Architects’ Adversary

Ian-Nairn-006Jonathan Meades at Literary Review:

Ian Nairn famously made his name with an edition of the Architectural Review entitled 'Outrage', a noisy jeremiad against the uniformity, insipidity and imaginative bereavement of the suburbs he encountered on a long, dispiriting drive from Southampton to Carlisle.

That was in 1955. The date is significant. Building licences had been lifted only a few months previously. Materials were in short supply. Rationing, officially abolished the previous year, continued in effect. Construction was in the doldrums. Britain was not yet being remade. Architects were waiting to be called on. Nairn was only twenty-four years old. His widely disseminated vituperation against what he called 'subtopia' (essentially dull sprawl and characterless terrains vagues) was matched by a touchingly naive faith in the curative power of architecture, a faith that is perhaps easily professed when architecture remains on the page or a matter for discussion. It was a faith he was to lose. He felt betrayed by the men of clay in bow ties. In early 1966 he published a two-page article in The Observer entitled 'Stop the Architects Now'. Architects, he contended, more often than not delivered a 'soggy, shoddy mass of half-digested clichés' (plus ça change).

This prompted a number of enjoyably bitter ad hominem attacks from, inter alia, the old fool Lionel Esher (president of the Royal Institute of British Architects), the apparently rather dense editor of Architects' Journal and countless affronted dunces demanding they be told what 'qualifications' Nairn held to mete out such sweeping condemnation.

more here.