Echoes of A New Tomorrow: Life after Revolution in the Commonwealth of Britain

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Tommy4ever

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I think Commonwealth economic policy will probably ensure every house does it’s bit to support the British electronics industry, but aside from that I would say the World Cups probably help before we get to spacey stuff. Nothing like a football final to get everyone around the box.

Not to mention an ideal propaganda box!
 

DensleyBlair

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Amercia isn't going to like this. The world's sport ran by a group of communist associations, as are the Olympics, the worlds largest media network and so on. With the Pacific heating up, the last straw may well be the austrlaians moving further left as well.

Mosley’s “soft power + STEM” approach has been going pretty well so far. Tho the Americans have been pretty happy with their “gunboat + dollar standard” doctrine, so we’ll see whose comes out on top

Not to mention an ideal propaganda box!

Please Comrade, it’s called a commitment to education. :p
 

DensleyBlair

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I should also mention, for anyone who hasn’t got their ballot in yet, that time is fast running out to vote in the ACA’s. Deadline is Sunday evening (August 2), 8pm CEST which I think is 7pm for us UK lot. No need to vote for this work etc etc etc. Voting thread is here.
 

stnylan

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I do wonder if Mosely, by this actions, rather than removing his opposition is merely quenching it. The blade disappears into the fluid, and one thinks one is in charge - but what emerges is stronger still and may yet be turned against the one who submerged it in the first place.
 

TheButterflyComposer

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It's a fine day for discussing Communism.
 

DensleyBlair

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I do wonder if Mosely, by this actions, rather than removing his opposition is merely quenching it. The blade disappears into the fluid, and one thinks one is in charge - but what emerges is stronger still and may yet be turned against the one who submerged it in the first place.

Wonderfully neatly put. I think there is some truth in this analogy.

It's a fine day for discussing Communism.

Any day with a y in it is a good day for discussing communism.
 

TheButterflyComposer

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To bad questions are banned in moselys Britain.
 

DensleyBlair

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To bad questions are banned in moselys Britain.

Currently suffering through Any Questions on in the background, so right now I’m not entirely convinced that’s a bad thing.

(joke)

Anyway thank goodness the CPGB did away with the lords and saved us the trouble of former RCP goons on the red benches.

___________________

Having emerged from lockdown in rural Derbyshire I’ve finally made it to my dads for the first time since the New Year, so I’ve been taking a couple of days to unwind from the journey and enjoy the wonders of a Somerset summer. This afternoon’s job is painting the new chicken coop, but with any luck by the end of the weekend I’ll have found a window to sort out the next update. I think it’s about mid century architecture (bc obviously) but I could be misremembering.

I will also do @Nikolai a favour and repeat my call to vote in the ACA’s before the voting deadline tomorrow at (I think) 7pm BST.
 
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TheButterflyComposer

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I suspect there would be a renewal of interest in garden cities (so called), and a rejection of modernism, since it a) emphasises collectivism in everything including housing and transport (no roads for filthy cars) and b) isn't tainted by Italian facism the way the modernist movement is.

I suspect mosely might wobble on this issue though because on the one hand modernism looks great, is economic and matches his socialism in action stuff but on the other, the vast majority of the parties and goverment prefer the garden city. It also fits most british settlements outside of the largest industrial cities the best.

They could go for brutalism I suppose but with britian not destroyed by bombing, I can't see everyone agreeing to demolish everything on purpose and live in a concrete jungle.
 

DensleyBlair

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I suspect there would be a renewal of interest in garden cities (so called), and a rejection of modernism, since it a) emphasises collectivism in everything including housing and transport (no roads for filthy cars) and b) isn't tainted by Italian facism the way the modernist movement is.

I suspect mosely might wobble on this issue though because on the one hand modernism looks great, is economic and matches his socialism in action stuff but on the other, the vast majority of the parties and goverment prefer the garden city. It also fits most british settlements outside of the largest industrial cities the best.

They could go for brutalism I suppose but with britian not destroyed by bombing, I can't see everyone agreeing to demolish everything on purpose and live in a concrete jungle.


its not spoiling anything to say that there’s a Mosleyite wobble. Brutalism gives him what he wants politically, and when it’s done well (Lasdun, Neave Brown, Powell and Moya etc) I’m favourable towards it. It differs on a few counts, though. For a start, the Commonwealth did the bulk of its house building the in the Thirties so there’s a sort of Constructivist Modernism lingering from the CPGB days, and where blocks of flats needed to be built this was how they were expressed. Secondly, as you say, this doesn’t leave any great need for housing come the mid century, so Brutalist stuff are things like schools and civic buildings. The accompanying modernist stuff about cars and consumer goods is also sort of left as a bit of a fringe idea, which has been hinted in past chapters but is dealt with next thru those august figures Peter and Alison Smithson.

Garden cities I think would be revived, although I don’t think the quiet suppression of the dominant Fabian tendency in the 1930s will have done it much good in the short term. That said, I think it’s established (I’ll have to check previous canon) that provincial stuff even during the CPGB days was sort of “Tectonic Garden Suburb”. I’ll probably revisit this once the Sixties are out the way and British politics gets a little less chauvinistic.
 

TheButterflyComposer

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Garden City will become a lot more popular as soon as its done once. Probably for a university development in the north of England as the gov pushes higher education as a priority. As for city schools, they'll first be brutalist but parents and children both will want more garden schools in the future, both because they just look nicer and as necessity when environmentalism kicks off.
 

DensleyBlair

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Garden City will become a lot more popular as soon as its done once. Probably for a university development in the north of England as the gov pushes higher education as a priority. As for city schools, they'll first be brutalist but parents and children both will want more garden schools in the future, both because they just look nicer and as necessity when environmentalism kicks off.

I think we'll be able to have fun with schools and universities come the 1970s.

__________________

I've found some time, so here's the next chapter.
 
So Different, So Appealing: Architecture and Mosleyism in the 1950s

DensleyBlair

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ECHOES%20HEADER.jpg



SO DIFFERENT, SO APPEALING
ARCHITECTURE AND MOSLEYISM IN THE 1950s
JONATHAN MEADES

FROM CHILDREN OF THE REVOLUTION
CBC RADIO 4, 1979



I was born in 1947. I am not a child of the Revolution – not that one, anyway. While I may have left puberty just in time to join the luvdup generation running riot all through the long hot summer of ’69, the actual work of capital-R Revolution – changing the world and all that – was left to the adults of the 1920s. Caught somewhere between my father’s generation, and his father’s before him, the Revolution was a strange gap in my family’s history. My father worked at a biscuit factory, and he did go in strike in ’48, after Mosley decided he wanted a bigger slice of the pie – more out of obligation than red-blooded radicalism. Still, it’s all for the same cause, eh? Lift up the poor blighters and try and land a few punches on the rich blighters while you’re at it. Praxis at its finest.


The Commonwealth of my childhood was far from revolutionary. If Salisbury had been pulled in front of the People’s Court in 1956, it would’ve been curtains; guilty on all charges: boredom, backwardness and an uncomradely spirit. Sentence? A slow retreat into obscurity.


We did have a very fetching cathedral, with its famously tall spire. In times of yore, on festival days the peasantry would climb to the top and unleash various miseries upon the gentry below: dung, urine, spit. As an act of proletarian appropriation, it is not unfitting; the cathedral, one of the finest surviving examples of what came to be called, quite without justification, the ‘Early English Style’, was a glorious monument to the righteousness and the technical prowess of the English regime. This, of course, in spite of the fact that the Gothic style from which the Early English derived was shamelessly lifted from the French. Plus ça change.


Seven-hundred years later, we saw with amusing congruity the arrival of an almost identical idiom on Commonwealth shores. The French Gothic style had been repackaged by the English as their own, its paradoxical blend of breathtaking delicacy and robust engineering knowhow as much a testament to a higher power – the Christian God – as to the wealth of the medieval ruling class. As a child, although I lived in the shadow of Salisbury Cathedral, it was not this ancient majesty that impressed upon me the need of the English to display their power through their buildings. That role, the role of poltico-aesthetic instructor, fell to much newer constructions.



1950%20SALISBURY.jpg

Salisbury Cathedral from the air, c. 1950.


When I was 11, in accordance with the time honoured ritual, I moved from junior school to secondary school. My junior school had been in small Victorian building in the Medieval heart of Salisbury – a heady clash of styles, and more lay around the corner. My secondary school had once been an Edwardian grammar school, named in honour of one of the less notable British monarchs. After the Revolution, it was reorganised along comprehensive lines and given a new moniker, commemorating some local trade unionist or other in recognition of services rendered in the building of the new tomorrow. In order to accompany the swelling in numbers that came with the government’s reforms, the school complex almost doubled in size. A new wing, in a cod imitation of the avant-garde Soviet modernism that had so taken the Stalinist government, was tacked on rather gracelessly to the surviving Edwardian building. This made for a rather humorous, and not at all subtle, visual metaphor for the business of building a revolutionary Britain. Old institutions were updated with imported appendages, with the viscera left much the same as they had always been.


After about twenty years, the school decided that it could not carry on with this unwieldy accommodation between the old and the recent. A decision was taken to replace the unlamented old mongrel with a new building, made for purpose. It was to be a shining exemplar of modernity writ large across the South West, demonstrative of all that made Britain great in the 1950s.


What made Britain great in the 1950s was apparently the same thing as what had made Britain great in the 1250s. Or, for that matter, the 1850s. There is an incorrigible tendency amongst most leaders and bureaucrats seeking to monumentalise their position, with the notable exception of mystics and the religious, to try and impress two things upon a receptive public: one, how very efficient they are; and two, how in touch they are with modern tastes. This is what gives them their youth, which in turn is what gives them their relevancy.


In the Britain of Oswald Mosley, the Edwardian bourgeois dictator who turned 60 in 1956, the key to eternal youth meant importing it from either France or Sweden. Or maybe by lifting from the aesthetic–industrial complex of the former German Republic – the details are a little unclear. Mosley’s regime stayed youthful by surrounding itself with young architects – a young architect is about 40 – who were well informed about what was in vogue on the Continent. In line with British tradition, this would then be pilfered for the greater glory of the Commonwealth.


The favoured son and daughter of the Mosleyite architectural circle were Alison and Peter Smithson, the married couple who left the North in 1950 to shake up the architectural office of the London Regional Council. The Smithsons did not invent the predominant architectural idiom of Mosleyite Britain, but they did much to popularise it – and themselves with it. In 1953 the pair published an essay in the Architectural Journal that described their vision for the built landscape of the Commonwealth as adhering to a “New Brutalism”. What exactly they meant by this has been up for debate ever since, with perhaps the most instructive definition coming from the couple’s rather grand insistence that Brutalism was not a style, but an ethic. And what an ethic, emphasising functional utility and structural honesty; attempting the marriage of contextual sympathy with a devil-may-care forcefulness that said, Look at me, I come from the new world! This was to be a world of utopian social-ish paternal welfare, propelled by an invincible faith in the redemptive quality of modern consumer technologies, where a brutish austerity of architecture was offset by a surfeit of possibility in, that most treasured of things, ‘everyday life’.


If you believe the Smithsons’ mythology, largely of their own creation, you will be taken in by this world, where all it takes for class harmony is a fully automated kitchen in every house and an Austin A50 on every driveway. The Smithsons had a monomaniacal preoccupation with plastic. They were infatuated with the new possibilities it opened up for the manufacture of consumer goods, and through this infatuation they were perhaps convinced that the stuff would save the world. Their architecture, mercifully, left the plastic alone; although always associated in the public mind for their attachment to concrete – it is concrete that gets unfairly lumped in as the Brutalist material de rigueur, pretty much to the exclusion of all else – the Smithsons’ built output owes far more to glass, steel and Portland stone – the keystone of the London vernacular since at least the 17th century. So far, so English.



1954%20HUNSTANTON.jpg

Hunstanton School, Norfolk. Alison and Peter Smithson, 1949–54.


Except, of course, that it wasn’t. The peculiarly English bloodymindedness that saw the sublime austerity of the Brutalist take hold in the collective imagination of the Commonwealth’s young architectural class in the 1950s obscures the uncomfortably cosmopolitan origins of what was held to be our new ‘national style’. The pair lifted the phrase “New Brutalism” from the Swedish nybrutalism, which had been introduced to the world by Hans Asplund in 1950. This was brought back to Britain by a group of young municipal designers and town planners who admired the elegance and material economy of Asplund’s work. In this way, Asplund’s influence began to be seen in the community buildings of the Commonwealth three years before the Smithsons’ co-option of the New Brutalist mantle. For the most part, as had been my first exposure to the style – sorry, the ethic – it found an expression in a number of schools and colleges built in the south of England in the first half of the 1950s. Fittingly, then, the Smithsons’ first use of the term was in describing their school at Hunstanton in Norfolk, which was a peculiar building in glass and steel – in all likelihood drawn not from Sweden, but from the work of Mies van Der Rohe in 1930s Germany, and later in the United States.


Even this, inevitably, is not the end of the idiom’s origin story. Upon its completion in 1954, Hunstanton School was described as “the most truly modern building in England” – and not without justification. But here in England did not equate to English – not, at least, if you take a dim essentialist view of national identity. This peculiar new majestic architecture for the modern Commonwealth, a combination of well-meaning Scandinavian frugality and the austere economy of republican Germany, achieved its later monumentally – surprise surprise – via attachment to the emergent French aesthetic of the béton brut, ‘raw concrete’. It was the singular figure of Le Corbusier who gave Brutalism its brut. Having made his name in the Twenties with a series of Modernist private houses, of consistent elegance and dubious habitability, in common with most of the Great Men of 1930s Europe Le Corbusier aligned himself with the authoritarian in an attempt to achieve his most megalomaniacal projects. In the final years of the Third Republic, Corbusier approached Italian dictator Mussolini with a proposal to raze Adis Abeba and rebuild it in unblemished white European Modernism. In the years after the Anti-Fascist Wars, his encounters with Fascist autocrats having proved unfruitful, he turned to the Fourth Republic’s Ministry of Housing, and calling in a few favours he managed to secure a commission to design a block of social flats in Marseilles.



1952%20UNITE.jpg

Unité d'Habitation Marseille. Le Corbusier, 1947–52.


The paradigm shattering result ruptured its way into the global architectural consciousness in 1952. Officially the Unité d’Habitation Marseilles, the building was known to the local population by another name: la maison du fada, ‘the house of the madman’. As a young man, Corbusier had dreamt of building ‘machines for living in’, and with the Unité he took this creed to its incredible extreme; the building is a ‘radiant city’ in 18 storeys, home to 337 apartments, two streets of shops, a rooftop nursery, and even a hotel. Home to 1,600 people, about one tenth of the size of Truro, it was described by the architect in a letter to the French Minster for Urbanism and Reconstruction, the famous anti-fascist Claudius-Petit, as “the first manifestation of an environment suited to modern life”. Le Corbusier himself described his intention as being to “provide with silence and solitude before the sun, space and greenery, a dwelling which will be the perfect receptacle for the family”, and to "set up, in God's good nature, under the sky and in the sun, a magisterial work of architecture, the product of rigour, grandeur, nobility, happiness and elegance”. A compelling dream for sure.


In reality, Corbusier’s cosy relationship with Claudius-Petit allowed him some wiggle room in complying with building regulations, with the ironic result that the architect was given special dispensation to design units in the Unité below minimum space standards as set out by the socialist government. But who ever said politics should get in the way of a good story?


It is obvious to see the appeal in the French expression of an architecture that managed to be playful in its totalising ambition, and it is hard not to feel that, once again, the French sensibility injected a healthy dose of absurdity into the po-faced English moral quest for material economy. At a young age I myself benefited from this time honoured cultural exchange; in the days when the blessed Eurotunnel was still a glint in Bob Boothby’s eye, my parents would take me to France regularly, under the care of my mother’s father who worked for the ferry company. By the age of ten I was an unshakeable francophile, and I shared Chairman Mosley’s enthusiasm for the establishment of Eurosyn in 1957 – even if I thought that he was not radical enough in pushing for full British integration with the Continent. Only this, I decided, would cure once and for all the backward joylessness of Britain’s vestigial muscular-christian ruling class. Twenty years on, thankfully we have gone some way towards correcting this historical deficiency.


Looking back on the aesthetics of the last decade of Mosleyism, it is hard to ignore the centrality of the Independent Group of artists, architects and critics, who first came together as a collective in 1952. Obsessed with the disjecta membra of contemporary consumer society, these were people almost monomaniacally preoccupied by the social – but they were not socialists. In this sense, they were the perfect fit for the final days of Mosley’s Britain. A project that had started with the appropriation of a working-class revolution now sought to convince the working classes that their salvation – no quarrel, it seems, that they still required salvation – lay in the adoption of bourgeois shopping habits, and the easy availability of cars and household appliances.



1956%20HAMILTON%20APPEALING.jpg

"What makes today's home so different, so appealing?". Richard Hamilton, 1956.


The extent of the ambition of the Independent Group was made boldly evident in the title of their seminal 1956 exhibition, This Is Tomorrow. At a time when millions of European fellow travellers were divorcing themselves from the excesses of Soviet communism, and with the workings of the Syndicalist International coming in for their own critique, it was a peculiar moment to unleash an unapologetic apologia for the veneration of consumer society, particularly one so fascinated by the excesses of American everyday life. The Independent Group’s idea of a leisured life for all, powered by electrical goods and the luxury of personal travel, is attractive in its way; no doubt behind this conception of consumption politics there is a generosity of intention. Yet one cannot help but detect a note of irony when Richard Hamilton asks, in the title of his infamous collage, ‘Just what is it that makes today’s homes so different, so appealing?’ Life shown in the collage may appear exciting, but it is also austere, in the sense that its mechanical surplus feels more like an achievement than true comfort. And the house’s two beautiful occupants still have a woman in the corner to do the hoovering.


Hamilton’s world reads more like a parody of the Smithsons’ vision than a truly sincere proclamation of what an ideal living environment would look like. Perhaps this was his meaning all along. By 1956, the goods-powered easy-living progress promised by Mosley to the people of the Commonwealth seemed to be slipping out of grasp. Within the next five years, Mosley would be out of power and his legacy would become the subject of endless critique, revision and rejection. The Brutalist style endured, and divorced from the more quixotic elements of the Smithson philosophy matured into a noble, if widely misunderstood, language for the built environment. We have yet to find a better means of conveying the power, intelligence and sympathy of the Commonwealth’s town planners. Maybe at some point we will realise we no longer need to.
 
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stnylan

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I fear some true horrors of an architectural nature are about to be inflicted on a hapless British public, as if Mosely et al weren't bad enough :)
 

TheButterflyComposer

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Eurosyn is a pretty damn good name for the Red EU. I wonder who will be in it, aside from the obvious?
 

DensleyBlair

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I fear some true horrors of an architectural nature are about to be inflicted on a hapless British public, as if Mosely et al weren't bad enough :)

I don't think we'll be giving Betjeman a heart attack quite yet, but those unsympathetic to British architecture's mid-century legacy may wish to look away now. :p

Eurosyn is a pretty damn good name for the Red EU. I wonder who will be in it, aside from the obvious?

Thanks. It was actually one of the first things I thought of way back around this time last year, and as soon as the name came to me I knew I had to get the organisation into the story. Evidently more info is forthcoming, but it will just start life with the obvious members. After the Sixties it may change a bit/expand to include extra-European territories.

_____________________________________

Obligatory note to say that there are five hours left to vote in the ACA's. Voting is here if you are thinking of getting a last minute ballot in. :)
 

Le Jones

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A wonderful update @DensleyBlair, as ever your passion shines through (particularly on the architectural points). I have to quote Stuart Maconie:

"Unless you live on a Shetland croft or in a thatched Cotswolds idyll, there will be a tower block somewhere in your town called Rembrandt Court, Coleridge House or Johann Sebastian Bach Gardens. It will be covered in crude drawings of genitalia and the lifts will be out of order."
 

DensleyBlair

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A wonderful update @DensleyBlair, as ever your passion shines through (particularly on the architectural points).

Thank you my friend. And I do hope I’ve done Mr Meades justice. His broadcasts were pretty formative in my sixth form years.

I have to quote Stuart Maconie:

"Unless you live on a Shetland croft or in a thatched Cotswolds idyll, there will be a tower block somewhere in your town called Rembrandt Court, Coleridge House or Johann Sebastian Bach Gardens. It will be covered in crude drawings of genitalia and the lifts will be out of order."

Excellent stuff. If I’m not mistaken, this sounds to me like it’s from Hope and Glory. Very fond memories of listening to the audiobook years ago on holiday in Greece.
 

DensleyBlair

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A quick announcement to say that I have just finished writing up the big one, aka Mosley’s downfall. A few more twists and turns before we get there, but it feels mildly momentous officially being on the other side of it. It’s now full steam ahead into the carnage that is the Sixties, and then we’ll have to start thinking about the fabled Book Two.

The next update is a slight change of pace involving some minor espionage in the East End. This post is a shameless attempt to try and plug the gap so that the forthcoming chapter doesn’t get hidden at the bottom of the page. Either way, expect it up over the weekend.

Also I’ll take the opportunity to say thanks again to all who voted for this old thing in the ACAs. Genuinely chuffed to have apparently blagged my way into writing the third most popular AAR in AARland over the last six months. Very grateful for all the feedback, likes and so on. As many of you know first hand, it’s why we do this in the first place. Eight years since starting my first (similarly over ambitious) AAR, it’s heartening to still have an audience and a community. Cheers to you all.
 

TheButterflyComposer

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Burn the witch!!!

Hopefully got taken down by V and a stylish orchestra followed by fireworks.
 
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