Serried Yuppiedromes

Owen Hatherley

One simple way of grasping the magnitude of what has happened to London over the last thirty years is to compare the introductions to the first and most recent editions of Edward Jones and Christopher Woodward’s Guide to the Architecture of London. In 1983, they wrote of a city in decline, its population down by about a sixth from its postwar height. ‘London is cleaner and uglier than it was at the beginning of the century; but it is still cosmopolitan, multiracial and – thanks to its scattered structure – easy to live in.’ As for its architecture, ‘in the last few years there has been little public building in London, giving a chance to reflect before the next wave of construction and destruction.’ The fierce polemics of the time – ‘urban v. anti-urban, romantic v. rationalist, and traditional means of building v. high technology’ – made for a more critical discourse on architecture than ever before. At the end, Jones and Woodward expressed the hope that ‘respect for London’s architectural traditions’ would define the new moment.

Thirty years later, in 2013, the calm, slightly rueful optimism has gone. London’s population is near its peak, its skyline mangled by ‘the erection of tall buildings, especially if they are of eccentric or self-promoting “iconic” design’, its scattered structure filled in through ‘central government’s quite gratuitous policy of “densification”’, ease of living made all but impossible for anyone other than the very wealthy, with a property bubble that ‘shows no signs of abating’. The images they use to illustrate this are two advertisements on the Tube: ‘Dystopia 1: London as Theme Park’ is an ad for the Oyster card that shows a skyline full of helter-skelters and ferris wheels; ‘Dystopia 2: London as Surveillance City’ is a reminder to get a TV licence, and shows an abstract cityscape of towers and terraces seen from above as if in a video game, with the legend ‘London is in our database. Evaders will pay.’ Something has gone horribly wrong, and the solace the authors find in the architecture of Caruso St John or Eric Parry does not make up for it.

No guide to London’s architecture has ever been so successful. Regularly updated from top to bottom every decade or so since its first publication in 1983 it obviously fulfils a need. There is no shortage of guides to London’s architecture – I can think of at least three in the last decade – but not only has it outlived the guides of the 1970s and 1980s, it will remain the standard. Yet it is also a deeply tendentious, particular and local guide, often more frustrated by the absence of a city that doesn’t exist than interested in the one it is ostensibly guiding you around. It appears to want to will into being London as a classical city, an ordered place dominated by the ‘great estates’ and the late 18th/early 19th-century attempt to urbanise them through decent, ordered, well-mannered (though often gated and private) streets and squares, with a clear discipline of civic frontages and functional backsides. Where the city falters from this image, they first try to admire instead its various transformations into the picturesque anti-urban utopia of the Arts and Crafts movement, the opulent polychrome fairyland of Mayfair and Kensington, or the fragments of ‘a benevolent Mid-European state’ in the interwar estates of Somers Town; but they are unable to follow with such confidence its partial postwar redevelopment into a city of towers and maisonettes in open space. This can make it a melancholic, even cranky book, though it is none the worse for that. Less attractively, Jones and Woodward’s guide is fixated with and indulgent of a few quite particular locales and their architectural attractions. It has always read as if it would rather be titled A Guide to the Architecture of NW1.

The structural approach that Jones and Woodward take in dividing up London is almost comic in its refusal to accommodate the city’s districts as they are actually experienced and lived in. A grid is placed over a map of Greater London. The ‘Inner’ grid is lettered from A to P; the ‘Outer’, from Q to X; these grids are then filled with sub-grids, possibly so you can find the precise location of an individual building on the map, though that’s not altogether clear. There are more than a few strange bedfellows because of this method: what appears to be a chapter on the City has seemingly random entries from Bermondsey butting in, while grid O – to take one example – consists of ‘Westminster Pimlico Nine Elms South Lambeth Vauxhall Kennington’ – a neighbourhood you probably haven’t met. The system can be maddeningly counterintuitive; you expect to be able to cover your grid on foot only to find that the building you wanted to see can only be reached by a tube or a bus journey, or by crossing the river. The left-to-right order of the Inner lettering means that Hampstead and Camden come at the very start of the book, which seems more a statement of position than a mathematical accident. The discipline has a rather modernist, alienating effect, working against the commonplace estate agent’s cliché of London as a series of ‘villages’. By contrast, the regularly updated historical introduction is one of the most elegant and comprehensive short descriptions of London’s development you are ever likely to read.

The grid overlaying this notoriously non-grid-planned city reflects the authors’ enthusiasm for the 18th century and a continuing tradition of rational, classicist urbanism which one might have thought had died out some time in the late 1920s, banalised by the combination of aridity and pompous excess in Edwardian and interwar imperial architecture. Jones and Woodward are masterful in capturing the appeal of the rational city as Wren, Hawksmoor, Nash, Smirke and Dance envisaged it, with its clarity, elegance, decorum and gentlemanliness; they are scrupulous in including the more recherché qualities of the Gothic revival, but you get the impression they would have preferred it had the revivalists let well alone with all those ‘savage’ impositions, symbolised by the Union Chapel’s polychrome monstrosity barging its way into the terraces of Islington. For them the 20th century isn’t merely the century of Lubetkin, Ernö Goldfinger or the LCC’s Architects’ Department, but also that of Lutyens, Giles Gilbert Scott, Charles Holden and lesser lights such as Edwin Cooper or W. Curtis Green. Practically every Georgian terrace they can find features in the book. They disapprove of the City’s ‘untidy and expanding cluster’ of skyscrapers, and are more pleased with the beaux-arts plan that defines the placing of skyscrapers around One Canada Square in Canary Wharf. In order to understand why this is so, given that London is defined as much by the Gothic and by the alleys, courts, random byways and general mercantile chaos of the medieval City as by the Enlightenment order of the great estates, you have to consider the very particular moment in which Jones and Woodward were originally writing.

The backbone of A Guide to the Architecture of London dates from the early 1980s, and carries a trace of the polemics and prejudices of the time – and with a handful of exceptions, Jones and Woodward don’t revise their judgments. They are intolerant of modernism’s effects on the city from the start. Of Lubetkin and Tecton’s Highpoint flats, they write: ‘They confirm the idea that this particular model of living can be successful when inhabited by the middle-class intelligentsia, but … it can be a wholesale prescription neither for the welfare state nor for the renewal of the traditional city as the 20th century disastrously demonstrated.’ That is a lot of weight for two blocks of luxury flats to carry. Anxious to work out where the rot started, they follow the interwar mansion blocks placed on Prince Albert Road along the northern edge of Regent’s Park – one of their more surprising inclusions – as they gradually abandon any sense of urbanity and order in favour of banal commercialism and architectural fads. If some ‘show that modern architecture is capable of consolidating rather than destroying the city’, others are ‘exclusively concerned with financial profit’. The sources of inspiration begin in 1920s Berlin and end in the Costa del Sol. The passage is a small masterpiece of architectural criticism, exact in its judgments and surprising in its choices.

Berthold Lubetkin’s Highpoint flats (1935-38)
Berthold Lubetkin’s Highpoint flats (1935-38)

They aren’t always so subtle, or so dispassionate. In one of the few judgments cut from later editions, condemnation goes into overdrive at nearby Gospel Oak, ‘included as representative of many well-intentioned architectural crimes inflicted on London since the war by the welfare state’, subjected ‘to the madness known as comprehensive redevelopment, believed in and subscribed to by almost everyone at the time’, when ‘artisans’ terraced housing’ was needlessly replaced by ‘almost every conceivable style of postwar housing’, all by now, we are led to assume, equally miserable. At Churchill Gardens in Pimlico, a cause célèbre when built and now listed, well maintained and well liked, they find a ‘particularly massive and bleak’ estate, which ‘conjures up the now familiar and haunting spectre of urban alienation’. Alison and Peter Smithson’s Robin Hood Gardens in Poplar is a ‘particularly depressing place to live in’, with an ‘almost manic system of walls and moats’, mainly an ‘example of the late modernist avant-garde determination to realise a theoretical position at all costs’. Even Camden Council’s rehabilitation of the terrace in the expensive, scrupulously made likes of Highgate New Town, Dunboyne Road or Alexandra Road is too ‘alien’ and ‘institutional’. The root of all this is found in the way Peabody’s philanthropic blocks of flats in Clerkenwell or Pimlico moved away from the street-facing terrace to internal courtyards, a ‘disastrous’ model when applied across the city, although it’s hard to imagine Victorian Peabody estates as anything other than at most a disavowed influence on modern architects.

This all reflects the time in which it was written, when welfare state modernism’s ‘failure’ was seen to be self-evident even, or especially, by the North London intelligentsia who were its first patrons. While Jones and Woodward are far from bigoted in their judgment of modern architecture – compared with such contemporaries as Alice Coleman, Simon Jenkins or Charles Windsor they are positively nuanced, and they wrote presciently of the social and architectural success of Goldfinger’s Trellick Tower in the early 1980s – their book also reflects a view that ‘almost everyone believed in and subscribed to’, which is that the traditional street, and only the traditional street, with all its parked cars and noise and clutter, can provide a viable housing model. This is a position now mainly taken up by marginal libertarians, such as the Policy Exchange-linked astroturf group Create Streets, who fairly obviously aim to give a fillip to the elimination of council estates via a claim that their spatial structure is inherently faulty. Yet the subsequent successes (in attracting the very rich, for one thing) of several places given sharply sceptical assessments here – the Barbican, Keeling House or the Brunswick Centre, for example – don’t lead to significant revision, and in this instance at least the authors can be proud of their honesty. It does suggest, though, that the architectural dogma of the early 1980s was no more scientific than that of the early 1960s. If anything, its pessimism and hints of Social Darwinism make it considerably less attractive. Explanation for this can be found in something that the book doesn’t give any obvious attention to: the careers of the two authors as architects. The blurbs over the years have always informed the reader of Jones’s role as one of the partners, with Jeremy Dixon, of the firm of Dixon Jones; Woodward, we are told, has been an architect in public and private practice and now writes architectural guides to European cities. There is a lot more to the story of both, and it is scattered across the book like clues in a detective story. Almost every project either of them worked on in the capital is in the book somewhere, but they don’t point them out.

Lasdun’s Keeling House (1955) and Macmanus’s Waxham, Gospel Oak (1969)
Lasdun’s Keeling House (1955) and Macmanus’s Waxham, Gospel Oak (1969)

Edward Jones was a member of a clique at the Architectural Association in the late 1960s known as the Grunt Group, so called because of its passion for the hard, stark, monochrome modernism of the interwar years. The group was inspired by ingeniously planned, formally laconic social housing such as J.J.P. Oud’s Kiefhoek estate in Rotterdam or Moisei Ginzburg’s Narkomfin flats in Moscow: a wilfully perverse ‘going forward by going back’ position polemically posed against the bulging, demonstrative forms of Brutalism or the pop-futurist fantasies of Archigram. This AA generation shared certain similarities with both the Italian ‘tendenza’ – the de Chirico revival school of Aldo Rossi in Italy – and the New York Five, particularly Peter Eisenman and Richard Meier, with whom they shared an interest in theory. Initially, Jones, together with Jeremy Dixon and Michael Gold, worked for the firm of Frederick Macmanus and Partners, for whom they designed a glassy, Mediterranean block of flats and shops in Clipstone Street in Fitzrovia, a hall of residence for Woolwich Polytechnic and two blocks as part of that comprehensive redevelopment of Gospel Oak. All these buildings have been in the guide at one time or another, although Woolwich Poly’s halls, noted for their ‘search for a lost objectivity’, were demolished between the 2009 and 2013 editions. It was the only design mentioned in the book for which Jones specifically credited himself. Their largest scheme was the entire district of Netherfield in Milton Keynes, where a rolling landscape was defined by a series of almost identical rationalist terraces, most long since heavily altered by their residents to disrupt that sweep and commonality. After the heavy criticism of these projects in the architectural and mainstream press, the Grunt Group turned to various forms of postmodernism, most successfully in Dixon’s case, through his direct adoption of suburban house typology – paired semis that abandon entirely the long lines of rectilinear terraces that previously defined his work – for schemes in West London and Canary Wharf. Dixon’s partnership with Jones has resulted in various elegant, well-mannered prestige projects since the late 1980s: most famously the Royal Opera House, but also the remodelling of Exhibition Road in South Kensington and the Regent’s Palace Hotel in Soho, all of which are fulsomely praised in the 2013 volume.

Woodward, meanwhile, first appears in architectural history as one of the collaborators on Traffic in Towns, the notorious Colin Buchanan report published in 1963. As a proposal for dealing with the death toll resulting from increasing car use, the authors imagined London redesigned to allow for the total segregation of people and traffic: the diametrical opposite of the ‘shared space’ at Exhibition Road, where pedestrians and cars are meant to use the same identically paved surface, apparently calming the anomic habits of drivers in the process. The book’s grand proposal was the total reconstruction of the area around Tottenham Court Road via a system of concrete street decks with motorways underneath. As an architect, Woodward is best known for his work as part of the Milton Keynes Development Corporation Architects’ Department. Forming a trio with the Americans Stuart Mosscrop and Fred Lloyd Roche, he favoured a clipped, sober modernism not a million miles from the work of the Grunt Group; devoid of rhetoric or melodrama, it was based on elegance of proportion more than aesthetic grandstanding, although here it derived from the all-glass postwar work of Mies van der Rohe rather than interwar European rationalism. Both the recently listed shopping centre and the similarly Miesian Milton Keynes Central railway station were designed by the team, both of them pure, blue, optimistic and in rather good condition despite the negligence of their owners. Given Woodward’s depiction of London as an essentially classical city, it’s no surprise that this attempt to create an entire city centre from scratch is deeply formal, arranged around squares and colonnades. Earlier, he had worked under Alison and Peter Smithson, the theoretically prolific and practically underemployed figureheads of the New Brutalism, and was one of the designers of Robin Hood Gardens, that ‘particularly depressing place to live in’.

What is obvious, then, is that by the early 1980s there was a lot the two architects felt guilty about. They had proposed turning Marylebone into a mega-Barbican, they’d insisted on ‘realising a theoretical position at all costs’ over and above the needs of working-class residents in Poplar, and they had collaborated in the destruction of Gospel Oak, to name just a handful of apparent offences. At this distance, none – save perhaps the unbuilt transformation of a massive chunk of Central London in the Buchanan Report – seems particularly heinous. Jones’s mini-Narkomfins at Lamble Street in Gospel Oak are today elegant, pleasant, quiet places to live; Robin Hood Gardens, however controversial it may still be, is indisputably preferable to the serried yuppiedromes being prepared for the site; and buildings by both from the 1970s have been listed. Their strange, disguised self-flagellation appears wholly unjustified. Their guide, though it seldom revises its judgments, shows more and more signs that they realise that – hence, presumably, the decision to excise the denunciation of Gospel Oak between the 2000 and 2009 editions. When the owners of the Milton Keynes shopping centre first proposed its demolition on the basis that it wasn’t ‘fit for purpose’, Woodward was quoted in the local press as saying ‘I would say that they [the owners] are not fit for purpose.’ In the current edition of the guide, the harsh judgment on Robin Hood Gardens isn’t reversed, but the authors do note that the demolition and redevelopment will lose the ‘open space that was the pride of the earlier scheme’. If it was the pride of the scheme, why didn’t you tell us about it before?

The very particular position the two found themselves in by the 1980s, as modernist classicists at a time when there was a demand that you take sides, meant that they remained sceptical, if open-minded, about the more famous contemporary responses to modernism’s failure – high-tech, postmodernism and, later, deconstructivism. They hailed Richard Rogers’s Lloyd’s building as ‘heroic and magnificently fallible’ (a very Jones and Woodward turn of phrase), had some kind words for Quinlan Terry (of his neo-neo-Palladian St Mary’s Church Hall in Paddington, they note that it is ‘eminently sane and practical’) and even gave admiring accounts of some works by Terry Farrell, such as the immense superstructure he placed over Charing Cross station, though CZWG’s less domineering pomo apartment buildings were more to their taste. The only postmodernist solution they rejected completely was the nostalgic ‘pixie style’ of 1980s developers’ housing, which they rather unfairly blamed on the Span estates of Eric Lyons. However, their sympathies evidently lay with those of their contemporaries who tried to continue some form of modern classicism – David Wild, John Winter, David Chipperfield, Tony Fretton, Georgie Wolton (an exceptionally rare woman in this group), the partnership of Alan Colquhoun and John Miller. In the 1970s and 1980s most of these could be found designing mews houses and studios in Camden, Hampstead and Islington, all of course included here. All were a cut above the usual intellectual level of 1980s architects; Colquhoun, who died last year, was a Marxist-inflected architectural historian of the first rank, while Wild and Fretton are both serious writers, and all of them avoid the barely literate grinning boosterism or mangled cybertheory usually expected from designers on word processors. In terms of what they built, the ideal is exemplified by a handful of attempts to give a modernist interpretation of London’s traditional built forms. Dixon’s semi-detached houses are one version of that; another can be found in two small projects by Colquhoun and Miller, one in Camden and another in Hackney, where an icy, high-style white-walled modernism, derived from the work of Adolf Loos and Giuseppe Terragni, somehow morphs into the typology of the London Victorian semi, for a clientele of Camden and Hackney council tenants.

Today, NW1’s role has largely been supplanted by E1, and the mews houses that pervade the earlier parts of the book have been replaced by small projects in the post-industrial interstices of Shoreditch, Hoxton and Spitalfields, for much the same clientele – media, academics, designers, architects. For Murray Mews in 1983, read Chance Street in 2013. In its combination of formal experiment and accommodation to the existing street structure, this is exactly the kind of contemporary architecture Jones and Woodward enjoy. A typical description from the 2013 edition is of Theis and Khan’s house and office in Bateman’s Row, whose position near the viaduct of the recently built London Overground means that trains thunder regularly past its ‘well-mannered façade’, ‘completing a scene recalling de Chirico’. The difference is that the houses architects were designing for themselves in Camden in the 1970s were remarkably similar to the housing they were designing for council tenants nearby, at the same time. The local authority as client has now almost completely disappeared. The projects of New Labour – replacement libraries, city academies, PFI health centres – are all that survives. The new architecture of the NHS is largely ignored, with good reason, though they stop to admire AHMM’s small health centre in Kentish Town. Libraries are a mixed bag. Alsop’s grand civic lime green library in Peckham is damned with faint praise (‘it carries a large reputation’), and of David Adjaye’s ‘Idea Stores’ for Tower Hamlets (in Chrisp Street and Whitechapel Road), they comment: ‘Those who have a problem with “library” might equally be worried by “idea”.’

Theis and Khan’s house and office, Bateman’s Row (2010) and Alsop’s library, Peckham (2000)
Theis and Khan’s house and office, Bateman’s Row (2010) and Alsop’s library, Peckham (2000)

Previously, the authors didn’t find much of interest in such places as Peckham and Whitechapel. Their prominence in the two most recent editions of the book is evidence both of New Labour’s programme of private-public provision and of the inexorable process of gentrification that began in the mews and squares of 1970s Camden and Islington. The orphan parts of the book were always the chapters on East, South and especially South-East London, about which there appears to be a hint of ‘not going over the river at this time of night’ hauteur. The Elephant and Castle and Walworth, where the Heygate and Aylesbury estates are currently subject to an infamous redevelopment/social cleansing scheme (in the face of much local opposition), are quickly dismissed. In fact, the majority of the built fabric of Southwark, Lambeth and Lewisham is implicitly damned in the introduction to grid P: ‘The urban picture is sad – at best a piecemeal catalogue of local authority housing fashions. The most unfortunate developments can be found south of the Elephant and Castle: the Heygate estate and the Aylesbury estate, north of Peckham Road.’ You can imagine Southwark Council and their developer mates reeling that one off at planning meetings, just to nip in the bud the idea that these places might have any intrinsic value. As architecture critics, Jones and Woodward are hardly at fault here: both estates are indeed mediocre, neither showing much in the way of ideas, elegance or individuality. None of these things was particularly preponderant either in the ‘artisans’ terraces’ that the young Edward Jones was forced to help sweep away in Gospel Oak; the real problem there was surely that a social fabric which, to a degree, ‘worked’ for its inhabitants was being demonised for aesthetic, pecuniary and pseudo-scientific reasons. So it is today, except that this time the result won’t be decent council housing but architecturally nugatory luxury flats. Similarly, the Elephant and Castle shopping centre is a desperately ungainly, unresolved piece of architecture, but as a living part of a city – an enduring remnant of the easy, multiracial capital of 1983, almost free of chain stores – it is vastly more important than the transformation-via-Carluccio’s of the Brunswick Centre.

More generally, their account of South London suggests they haven’t really walked it all that much. That’s a shame, because they might have found much to interest them. Take just one particularly unprepossessing South London burb: Eltham, which they visit glancingly for its 15th-century royal palace. For the 2009 edition, they returned to all the locations, and Woodward shot some colour photographs, which greatly improve the book visually; and in the new edition they note that Eltham Palace is worth visiting as much for the 1930s plutocratic interiors of its extension as for the medieval roof adjoined to it. But they’re still going to see just the one building, and don’t seem to have spotted much along the way. At one point they fasten onto an uninteresting Steiner Centre near Baker Street as an ‘example of expressionism’ in the capital, seemingly unaware that they can find a far more vigorous, original and powerful example in the form of Cachemaille-Day’s St Saviour’s Church in Eltham. Nearby, they would have found at the Well Hall estate an Arts and Crafts garden suburb of much greater spatial ambition than the suffocatingly twee cottages of Hampstead Garden Suburb. Opposite, they’d find a fine moderne cinema, which is significant given that elsewhere they lament the absence of ‘jazz modern’ from the city, seemingly without noticing the dozens of suburban cinemas and Co-ops that specialised in just that, from Kilburn through to Woolwich and Tooting. The two Granada cinemas in Woolwich and Tooting, whose ludicrous, magnificent interiors were designed by Theodore Komisarjevsky of the Bolshoi Theatre, are bafflingly absent, despite being among the most extraordinary architectural experiences available in the capital. When Jones and Woodward do venture outside of West, North, Central and a sliver of East London, it is often as if they’re using a guide rather than writing one. They’re outside the classical city here, in a suburban wilderness of well-meaning estates and semis, in which, apparently, ‘most Londoners now live, and in which most of the remainder would like to live’.

George Coles’s (former) Odeon cinema, Woolwich and Finch’s Lambeth Towers (1965)
George Coles’s (former) Odeon cinema, Woolwich and Finch’s Lambeth Towers (1965)

Few of these omissions can be down to the taste of the authors, so they are surprising. Less so is the absence of much in the way of Brutalism. This is for the most part the sort of architecture that Jones and Woodward, as architects, defined themselves against. Some examples are included because of their size and historical importance, such as the Alton estate or Thamesmead, which appears to have grown on them over the years (as at Robin Hood Gardens, they now point to the landscaping, a survival of that disappearing spacious London); because of their prominence, like the Southbank Centre, whose system of defensive bunkers and raised decks they find arbitrary and irritating; or because of reputation, as with the work of Denys Lasdun, whose cluster blocks in Bethnal Green or colleges for the University of London are evaluated as combinations of formal triumph and planning disaster. The bulk of it simply doesn’t feature. George Finch’s richly modelled, Gothic-skylined work for Lambeth Council – the Cotton Gardens estate, Lambeth Towers, Brixton Rec – is wholly absent. Kate Macintosh’s similarly craggy, extravagant Dawson Heights estate in Forest Hill or her Leigham Court Road sheltered housing in Streatham are missing. As for the gloriously aggressive, tasteless work of Owen Luder, such as Eros House and the Catford Centre, one shudders to think what the authors might have made of it. In this they are again products of their time; critics who are too young to have seen these being built can be much more complimentary, as Tom Cordell was in his recent documentary Utopia London. Other omissions – such as the complex, obsessive, monumental late work of Berthold Lubetkin in Bethnal Green and Bow – can also be attributed to the prejudices of the 1970s and 1980s, when it was widely considered that the architect had wasted his talent in arbitrary pattern-making.[*] Here too contemporary critics have been much kinder.

The state of contemporary London – pluralistic or chaotic, depending on how generous one feels towards it – is regarded with wit and some precisely applied venom in the 2013 edition. Renzo Piano’s Central St Giles and Shard are both given the sort of dressing down that would make an architecture student quit for good. The garish, clumsy melange of the former is the result of a ‘licence given uncritically by the local authority and excused by indifferent journalism’, its applied dayglo façades aiming all too obviously to ‘draw attention away from the bulk’ of a very large office building. The Shard ‘represents nothing but itself’; it’s the sort of symbolic edifice that is ‘rarely found in democracies’. They are no more impressed by other recent buildings by famous world architects: OMA’s Rothschild headquarters, with its contortions around and framings of Wren’s St Stephen Walbrook, shows that ‘as the disjunctions of scale in the City become increasingly violent, the residues of “heritage” are further reduced to isolated toys.’ Even schemes that one might expect them to approve of draw brackish responses: Maccreanor Lavington’s apparently impeccably rationalist new housing complex in King’s Cross, opposite Dixon Jones’s buildings for the Guardian, is a set of ‘puzzling compositions’ in a ‘bricky contemporary Dutch style’. About Richard Rogers’s One Hyde Park, their main comment is that ‘the developer’s name, Candy and Candy, is redolent of an Evelyn Waugh novel.’ It all seems to irritate them immensely, as well it might: the classical city they imagined is being abandoned in favour of one defined by congestion, chaos and demonstrative, distorted skylines. The lack of planning is glaring, but then they also ridicule the ‘let’s be like Barcelona’ school of worthy planning reform as creating little but densification and tat, particularly when clinging to the river – they obviously couldn’t bear to include most of this.

The enduring strength and weakness of Jones and Woodward’s guide is that it is very much the ‘architect’s take’ on the architecture of London. This is the reason every project by a major architect, no matter how minor, is included – if you want to see the worst work by Pugin, Norman Shaw or James Stirling, they’ll tell you where to find it. The only guide that is comparable in its erudition and openness – though diametrically opposed in almost every other respect – is Ian Nairn’s of 1966. Nairn’s London has been out of print since 1998, but Penguin plans to reprint it next year, so those who prefer prejudices to be firmly stated rather than presented as scientific, and who like useable walking instructions, Gothicisms, illogicality, alleys, Brutalism, industry, pubs and getting lost, will have the option of packing both guides. Perhaps no guide could encompass both sides of London’s personality, and Nash’s theatrical ensembles aside, Nairn never could really understand theappeal of classical London.

The impression given by the 1983 Guide to the Architecture of London is of a healthy if lugubrious city, a liveable place even if, as Patrick Keiller later put it, most of the interesting people there would rather be somewhere else. By 2013, we still have most of that city, but it coexists with and is distorted by an increasingly suffocating and dystopian capital, where space is destroyed, prices are insane and ‘evaders will pay.’ Jones and Woodward cannot be faulted for their dark appraisal of this alteration, and their guide is evidence for the proposition that London can be a planned, ordered, civilised and humane city. At the same time, some of the many reasons we have ended up here can be found in this book, not least the suspicion of the welfare state and the city it bequeathed, the continuing attempts to present architectural fashion as spatial science, and the needless guilt of architects who had their fingers burned trying to remodel the city for the benefit of the majority of its inhabitants rather than a tiny minority of rentiers. In 1983, appraising the Edwardian baroque County Hall that the London County Council built as its headquarters, now the home of Dalí Universe, an aquarium and a luxury hotel, they saw in its pompous Thameside bulk merely ‘an only-too-large symbol of local government’. They would have cause to miss it.

[*] James Meek wrote about Lubetkin’s work in the LRB of 9 January.