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Old 19th Feb 2014, 12:08   #1
vencut2
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Default Bonkers, Brutalism & Bloodymindedness - Jonathan Meades

Jonathan Meades is back on TV at the moment and this time he’s talking about Brutalism. But if you turned on the telly for the first part of his (two-part) series expecting him to defend concrete high-rises and to set about those who refer to them as “monstrosities”, you’d have been somewhat disconcerted.

Some people find him rude and bellicose; I find him challenging, but that’s because my brain is always struggling to keep up as he races on, hurling multiple references to artists and authors into his stream of commentary.

Some of what I caught included a link between the mood of the 1860s (Modern Gothic) and the 1960s, and how we have veered from enthusiasm
to demolition to conservation in each case. (Victorian monstrosity -> concrete monstrosity.) He also sees the roots of Brutalist buildings in the bunkers and towers constructed by the Nazis.

As ever the visuals were interesting/ startling/ annoying and the programme included caustic comments about politicians and the unthinking masses. Why *should* buildings be beautiful, he asks? We don’t expect chummy cliffs and matey waterfalls, so why should all our buildings be cosy? And do not the greatest artists incite the greatest contempt?

This wasn’t a straightforward defence of Brutalism: he was, I believe, asking us to think about it instead of dismissing it, see it in the context of what has gone before, and consider our response to challenging buildings and art in general. In fact he was very rude about some early fans of concrete such as Reyner Banham – including one remark in particular, which I can’t remember exactly, but it involved trampling over his grandmother in order to cosy up to a trend.

I’ve recently read a new book about architecture in post-war Britain by John Grindrod called Concretopia. This is a very accessible tour with the author – a native of New Addington who wanted to understand more about the origins of many of the UK’s adventures in concrete - of places and projects around the UK, some more successful and some less so, including the Garden Cities, Cumbernauld, Milton Keynes, Croydon, the Elephant & Castle, the Bullring, and the Barbican. High-rise housing and unscrupulous developers/politicians also get a look-in. The general tone is friendly and it's as much a social history as a book about architecture.

I’d recommend this as a good place to start if you’re interested in finding out about the people and intentions behind such projects: maybe tackle Mr. Meades after that. But that said, oh the joy of *thoughtful* television, programming that makes my brain work. More please, BBC.

Here’s a link to the first Meades programme if you want to see it on iPlayer. It’s up for another week and a bit. Episode two will be broadcast on the 23rd Feb. http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b03vrphc
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Old 19th Feb 2014, 15:34   #2
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Default Re: Bonkers, Brutalism & Bloodymindedness - Jonathan Meades

Cheers, vc2, very interesting.
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Old 25th Feb 2014, 10:06   #3
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Default Re: Bonkers, Brutalism & Bloodymindedness - Jonathan Meades

I like the phrase 'Adventures in Concrete'. Ripping yarns for architects.
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Old 5th Mar 2014, 12:20   #4
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Default Re: Bonkers, Brutalism & Bloodymindedness - Jonathan Meades

Update: I've finally got round to watching the second programme on the Bonkers Bunkers tour. (Thanks for the encouraging comments about the first).

Meades starts part two by laying into Le Corbusier big time, and then defending his Unite d'Habitation in Marseilles as a springboard for architectural invention. As a model for social housing, however, it was often disastrous - he says because it was ineptly copied. The locals weren't keen, either, dubbing it La Maison du Fada - fada being a Provencal word meaning madman, apparently.

The programme includes a foray into the meaning of 'sublime' via Edmund Burke i.e. forces beyond human control, which can inspire overwhelming feelings of awe and terror. (Among the OED's many entries for this word is "That quality in nature or art which inspires awe, reverence, or other high emotion; the great beauty of grandeur of an object, place, etc." No mention of terror: but Meades quotes Burke thus: "Whatever is terrible with regard to sight is sublime." But I digress.)

In the UK the received wisdom ("Wisdom!" he splutters bitterly) has been not to appreciate the sublime aspects of Brutalist buildings but to prefer the cosy and comfortable. Meades, as you might guess, is not happy about this. A memorable scene has him in a tiger-striped onesie eating junk food while his voiceover intones that 50 years ago - when Brutalist buildings were being constructed in a spirit of optimism and as an "encouragement to betterment" - we did not wear children's clothes, eat their food or read their books. "The more they've been consulted as consumers, the more they've elected to be fed drivel!" he fumes.

In a passionate argument against the destruction of Brutalist buildings, Meades calls this "unreflective short-termism" and "legally sanctioned vandalism". He bemoans the culture that demands cosiness and comfort, that despises intellectual rigour and that is impatient "with anything that might be deemed difficult". The demolition of these buildings has also destroyed the embarrassing evidence of that optimistic age, the hope of which we have failed to live up to, he adds.

The programme ends with a look at the emergence of neo-Brutalist architecture and a series of photographers and artists who, by contrast, appreciate Brutalism (and by implication are not afflicted with the "defensive antagonism" that Meades says has sounded the death-knell for buildings such as the Tricorn and structures such as cooling towers. He thinks, by the way, that cooling towers enhance the landscape. Do you?)

And so the cycle of appreciation, demolition and conservation continues...
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Old 5th Mar 2014, 14:42   #5
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Default Re: Bonkers, Brutalism & Bloodymindedness - Jonathan Meades

I can appreciate the monumental and the brutalistic (I really like motorway flyovers) but the Tricorn Shopping Centre (which I saw in the flesh as it were) was just plain horrible. You can't keep everything. And no matter how you retrofit your nostalgia with concrete coloured glasses, and no matter how tastefully architectural photographers captured its many facets by raking sunlight, it was a horrible, cold, windy, dehumanising, depressing chasm. I wasn't saddened at all to see it go.

Cooling towers on the other hand are just brilliant! Long time ago I spent many a happy hour exploring a disused power station in Hull (I've still got some of the stuff I stole from it) and the echoes you can get standing in a cooling tower are just amazing. Far better than any cathedral I've ever been in. Mind you, that might have something to do with the fact that I've always felt constrained not to yell obscenities at the top of my lungs in a cathedral.
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Old 7th Mar 2014, 10:55   #6
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Default Re: Bonkers, Brutalism & Bloodymindedness - Jonathan Meades

Oh, yes, love a cooling tower (or several). Dad worked at West Burton power station in Notts, so they've always had a special fascination for me, but I love that silent power thing they give off. Driving past Ferrybridge the other week just made me remember it even more.



I think Daveybot is a big fan, too (unsurprisingly).
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Old 7th Mar 2014, 20:50   #7
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Default Re: Bonkers, Brutalism & Bloodymindedness - Jonathan Meades

Agreed, Junkmonkey. Admiring a cooling tower from afar (and I do) is rather different to negotiating the unwelcoming passageways of a deteriorating shopping centre, for example. I do think there's a particular case to be made for keeping cooling towers.

More than a decade ago I was in Nottingham's Castle gallery and admired a giant canvas featuring a couple of these structures so much I bought a postcard reproduction of it. It's now very much lost, and I wish I still had it. During a feeble attempt to search for it online I came across this cracker of a photo from the inside of one of the towers at the Ratcliffe power station:
By the way, it seems Didcot's towers will only be at home to admirers for a few more months: http://www.oxfordtimes.co.uk/news/he...ooling_towers/ Hope Mr. Meades goes along beforehand with his sunglasses and a placard or two.
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Old 16th Apr 2014, 4:44   #8
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Default Re: Bonkers, Brutalism & Bloodymindedness - Jonathan Meades

I'm quite a fan ofJonathan Meades and of Brutalist archietecture.

I'm probably one of the few people in Palmerston North who likes our local town council building's ferocious concretey beauty:



Sorry about stretching the thread - can't seem to make it any smaller.

Rather unfairly, the collection I borrowed this image from is called 'ugly New Zealand.'
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Old 6th May 2014, 14:47   #9
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Default Re: Bonkers, Brutalism & Bloodymindedness - Jonathan Meades

Postscript: I have finally got round to hearing Jonathan Meades on Radio 3's Private Passions (available as a podcast) from which I learnt a few things:

- he LIVES in the Unite d'Habitation,

- he went to RADA (which perhaps explains why his TV programmes tend to be theatrical performances rather than mere presentations), and

- he has a memoir coming out in a few days' time called An Encyclopaedia of Myself.

Off to the library I go...
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Old 18th May 2014, 9:56   #10
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Default Re: Bonkers, Brutalism & Bloodymindedness - Jonathan Meades

Does anyone know who first used the phrase "concrete monstrosity"?
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