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Laura Creighton
Laura Creighton
3 months ago

A friend of mine writes software for 3-D virtual reality for architects. A great deal of unhappiness can be avoided when the buyers can ‘walk around’ in the proposed structure before it gets built. I think it would be a very good idea to preserve some of these monstrosities as virtual buildings so that we can show them to architecture students with long lists of exactly what is wrong with them and why we hate them so much.

Roger Inkpen
Roger Inkpen
3 months ago

Yes – but the model needs to reflect the brutal reality, not the wonderful ‘vision’ inside the architect’s mind!

Laura Creighton
Laura Creighton
2 months ago

I was talking with my friend about this, and he says that the way to go is not with the sort of software he writes, but with the new techniques in making photography work for the sort of ‘virtual tours’ you can now get to ‘visit’ places you have never been. In his words:

There are some modern techniques to digitally preserve a building or landscape before it gets torn down. I am thinking notably about photogrammetry: taking photos where the depth of each pixel is also recorded. Typically this is done in all directions from one or many positions. From the data, it is then possible to reconstruct and render a 3D image in VR. It is like a photo album inside which you can walk. There are many companies around that are ready to professionally shoot photogrammetric photos, and indeed by now I think that it would be a shame not to do that for any important place before tearing it down. (The VR app will likely not work any more in 5 or 10 years with future headsets, so keep the raw photogrammetric data too!)

Hardee Hodges
Hardee Hodges
2 months ago

The large laser scanners do this quite well. Likely a good use for this building. Fine lessons on what not to do. Now sorry I never got a chance to visit in person.

Andrew D
Andrew D
3 months ago

The trouble with people is that they’re not worthy of the gifts that architects bestow upon them

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
3 months ago
Reply to  Andrew D

Spoken like a true architect

Andrew D
Andrew D
3 months ago

Or like somebody whose attempt at irony has clearly backfired in some quarters

Last edited 3 months ago by Andrew D
Hilary Easton
Hilary Easton
3 months ago
Reply to  Andrew D

It’s difficult to convey irony in writing unless you have a whole pamphlet, like A Modest Proposal, in which to do it. I have been caught that way a few times now and have given it up.

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
3 months ago
Reply to  Andrew D

Indeed

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
2 months ago

I thought it was obviously ironic, but hey…..

ARNAUD ALMARIC
ARNAUD ALMARIC
3 months ago
Reply to  Andrew D

Like Rossville & Divis Flats for example.*

(* Londonderry & Belfast respectively.)

Last edited 3 months ago by ARNAUD ALMARIC
Roger Inkpen
Roger Inkpen
3 months ago
Reply to  Andrew D

Quite. The plebs are sooo ungrateful 🙂

Hardee Hodges
Hardee Hodges
2 months ago
Reply to  Andrew D

Reminds me of some software developers who are never required to use the production they build. “Of course this is easy to use”.

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
3 months ago

I have lived all over Britain and have seen the following scenario repeat many times – it is very true where I live now.
There are two towns very close to each other. One has ‘always’ been Labour controlled. The council has been anti-business and seen shops as intruders. So, out-of-town malls have been encouraged and traders have moved out. Left behind is precisely nothing – just a shell.
10 miles away is a town which has never been Labour. Plenty of car parks in town and outside malls stopped. Result- a community which is a delight to visit.

Rob Wright
Rob Wright
3 months ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

Bury and Rochdale?

Dapple Grey
Dapple Grey
3 months ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

Yes, and also Labour controlled councils like the idea of anything that Tories don’t like. The Labour councillors may not wish to live in tower blocks but if Tory voters don’t like them, then that’s a good reason to build them.
In the 1970s there was a plan to build a by-pass through the park at Chatsworth past Baslow.
No matter that it would blight the beautiful park where people have enjoyed walking for centuries – the opportunity to annoy the rich Devonshires was too tempting.
In the event the financial crisis in the mid 70s put paid to the idea and after the fuss about a similar by-pass through the park at Petworth, the Chatsworth plan fortunately never resurfaced.

Last edited 3 months ago by Dapple Grey
ARNAUD ALMARIC
ARNAUD ALMARIC
3 months ago
Reply to  Dapple Grey

Not so fortunate Wentworth Woodhouse where the loathsome Manny Shinwell*authorised open cast coal mining up to the front door in the late 1940’s.

(* Labour Minister of Fuel & Power, 1945-47.)

Dapple Grey
Dapple Grey
3 months ago
Reply to  ARNAUD ALMARIC

Yes indeed – and it’s a shame that he died before he could properly be taken to task for that.

ARNAUD ALMARIC
ARNAUD ALMARIC
3 months ago
Reply to  Dapple Grey

Shinwell lived to over 101. There was plenty of time but a total lack of political will. Sadly, it was ever thus.

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
2 months ago
Reply to  Dapple Grey

I’m not a socialist, but I
think you will find it was actually Conservative governments who encouraged high rise system-built council housing on the grounds that it was cheaper.

And of course, Tory authorities have never promoted destructive road building policies, have they?! Horace Cutler’s GLC promoted a series of motorways which would have devastated inner London, which was only stopped by it becoming a political issue at an election.

Last edited 2 months ago by Andrew Fisher
David McMillan
David McMillan
30 days ago
Reply to  Andrew Fisher

Wasn’t the outbreak of war a contributing factor as well? Imagine a motorway running around Zone 1.

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
2 months ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

I’m not convinced this party political analysis holds much weight. I’m sceptical that any council ‘sees shops as intruders’ – perhaps you could give more details as to how this manifests itself.

Free marketeers generally support out of town shopping centres, which are privately developed – and very popular! But of course they can often greatly weaken the nearby town centre retail offer. The question then arises as to what extent should people in effect be forced, perhaps through planning policy, to use the latter, even where they would rather use the former? By the way I don’t have a car, but I can see the attraction of shopping in a controlled environment with plentiful parking.

Last edited 2 months ago by Andrew Fisher
Kathleen Stern
Kathleen Stern
2 months ago
Reply to  Andrew Fisher

Good examples of the two- Conservative Selby North Yorkshire and Labour Pontefract West Yorks. The former has 2 hours free parking,small& large shops,plus some slightly out of town shopping sites.It is thriving. Pontefract kept putting up parking prices & very ready to fine motorists on any pretext but also a large independent shopping centre and also an entertainment complex nearby with free parking and a mix of restaurants. The result has been lots of shop closures in Pontefract. Previously it was a popular place to visit. Both towns have impressive historic buildings but council policies have been very different.

Dustshoe Richinrut
Dustshoe Richinrut
3 months ago

Nice article. I thought at first that the accompanying photo was a water colour painting.

How big had been the library? The library I imagine had been excellent and handy for the local residents.

I think the Mott The Hoople/Bowie glam rock anthem from the early Seventies, All The Young Dudes, has a line in it that goes, “Is that concrete all around, or is it in my head?”
I think that outfit was singing about those New Towns. And in the song, they are a head-wrecking experience. Doolally they make you indeed! The New Towns, you know.

It’s as if greenery is for the well-off, and concrete ferries for the poor. Fabulous indeed! Nobody need ever go back to the pre-fab times.
When, if I recall right, the Jenny Agutter and Michael or Simon York characters in Logan’s Run escape the futuristic tunnelled- and domed-out city, they enter a universe of greenery (and encounter the Peter Ustinov character). I imagine the under 30s of the New Towns had a similar feeling of relief when they hit the wilds somewhere a little further out. (Perhaps there is an eccentric Ustinov character with his digs and set-up inside the locked-up Cumbernauld library?).

Could Cumbernauld have been turned into a vast movie studio. Hollywood-on-Cumbernauld?

Chris Bond
Chris Bond
3 months ago

Architects, as part of their contracts, should be obliged to live in their monstrosities for a year or two. And then return for another year or two after 10 or 20 years.

JR Stoker
JR Stoker
3 months ago
Reply to  Chris Bond

Erno Goldfinger did live in Bafrons Tower in the East End which he had designed. And many architects live in their own designed houses

Derek Bryce
Derek Bryce
3 months ago

In one respect I say good – it’s a dump and has been since the early 70s when I lived in ‘the Nauld’ as a wean. The bus station underneath the town centre has stank of the accumulated p!ss of decades since at least then but, nonetheless, for me it does have a certain nostalgia value: I went to playschool (now robbed of joy and called ‘daycare’) in there, loved the old Scan book shop and, even after I left, associate it with visits to my lovely grandparents who lived nearby. Not nostalgic enough not to say: ‘blaw the f***er sky high!’ though.
My parents’ first flat was in Cumbernauld in the early 70s – a maisonette, mind you! Oh, ‘ye widnae ca’ the queen yer auntie in there’, as far as my mum was concerned (at first). It soon became apparent that my bedroom was riddled with damp – flat roofs – and I can vaguely recall having some pretty psychedelic dreams for a 3-4 year old. I remain convinced I was getting high off the spores coming off the walls. They tore those deathtraps down sometime between then and the early 80s I think.
There were attempts to ‘remarket’ the town for a new economic age. The most hilarious was, “There’s a place where the sun is rising over [insert short term initiative here]. What’s it called? CUMBERNAULD!”

Last edited 3 months ago by Derek Bryce
Martin Adams
Martin Adams
3 months ago

In 1962 my mother brought me and my younger brother, then on holiday in Scotland, to see Cumbernauld, telling me that she was interested in the architecture and the social concepts it represented. That was quite heady stuff for an impressionable 12-year-old — but that was the way my mother was. Nevertheless, in some detail the visit is imprinted into my memory — though not for reasons the architects or my mother would have wished.
I well remember the greyness of the omni-present concrete in various surface textures; and I remember being struck by the way in which it was designed so that pedestrians never had to encounter a car. For someone brought up in a remote part of rural west Wales, it was utterly unlike anything I had encountered. But what lingers in the memory even more vividly was the arrival of a group of about a dozen boys, aged between 7 and 13 or so. One of the older boys proceeded to beat up another older boy, till the latter ran off.
However, it was not the beating that lingered in my mind. It was the way in which the younger boys then crowded round the victor, praising him and seeking his recognition. Even then, I realised that I had seen a prime specimen of the thug as hero.
I might have been wrong about the connection I made then, in which case I’m wrong about it now. The architects’ imaginations might have brimmed with Utopian ideals for the people who would live in Cumbernauld. But as my family group left, I sensed — instinctively rather than with understanding — a dispiriting correspondence between the brutal behaviour, and the physical environment in which it happened.

Last edited 3 months ago by Martin Adams
Derek Bryce
Derek Bryce
3 months ago
Reply to  Martin Adams

This, I’m afraid to say, sounds like everyday playtime hijinks amongst working class kids in West central Scotland of the time and less town-specific than you might imagine. As a softy myself, I was frequently subject to it.

Last edited 3 months ago by Derek Bryce
Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
3 months ago
Reply to  Derek Bryce

Ditto. Not just new towns, in Scotland anyway. I used to get beaten up for passing exams by kids that had no hope in education.

Derek Bryce
Derek Bryce
3 months ago
Reply to  Ian Stewart

Aye! that too. Your story reminds me of the crowd chant by Harvard students at college football (American) games against far more athletically able teams with lower academic credentials:
That’s jus’ fine,
That’s OK,
You’ll be workin’ for us one day!

Last edited 3 months ago by Derek Bryce
Brenda Holliday
Brenda Holliday
19 days ago
Reply to  Derek Bryce

My young English son was told by his peers when he went to school in Cumbernauld to “f—k off back to England”. When he responded in kind I was invited into the headmistress’ parlour and in front of her and another teacher brought to shame. I wonder if she is around and has ever reflected that there are two sides to every story. And whether those cowardly children who chose to give one side of a story now, as grown ups, think back to their behaviour. Not a good introduction to Scotland. But we stayed around and now have many good friends, both Scottish and English.

JR Stoker
JR Stoker
3 months ago
Reply to  Martin Adams

True enough; there were never fights or violence in the Georgian and Victorian streets of Bethnal Green

Andrew D
Andrew D
3 months ago
Reply to  Martin Adams

Has it become associated in your memory with A Clockwork Orange? Another heady mix of modernism and mindless violence, in that case filmed at Thamesmead.

John Riordan
John Riordan
3 months ago

The author is too kind. It beggars belief that anyone can have thought in apparent seriousness that this sort of living space was actually acceptable. The only way you could maintain such an idea is if you believe that the people intended to inhabit such places are somehow less than human, or deserving of a harshness to their existence that the central planners themselves very obviously never intended to share.

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
3 months ago
Reply to  John Riordan

He said his relatives liked it.

JR Stoker
JR Stoker
3 months ago
Reply to  John Riordan

A lot of people liked it. It was much better than they had had previously, no stairs, easy access to shops, modern facilities, easy access to both public and private transport. It is the failure to maintain and improve that has made it unpleasant; and that is only too common in state owned and controlled housing. Put into the hands of a tenant controlled cooperative; give them the money to reinvest that should have been spent over the last 50 years, and watch it become loved

JR Stoker
JR Stoker
3 months ago
Reply to  John Riordan

Erno Goldfinger designed two great towers in east and west London, they went through what Cumbernauld is going through now. But the inhabitants and admirers worked hard to sort out the problems and get investment into them, and now that are very popular indeed

Allison Barrows
Allison Barrows
3 months ago

“. . . brutalism, when done right”. Eeeep.
Masochist: Hit me.
Sadist: No.

AC Harper
AC Harper
3 months ago

We desire Utopia – but wouldn’t want to live there.

Michael James
Michael James
3 months ago
Reply to  AC Harper

Do the architects who design these utopias live in them?

Geraldine Kelley
Geraldine Kelley
3 months ago
Reply to  Michael James

Never, I think.I often walk past the late Richard Roger’s beautiful Chelsea town-house.He created horrendous and malfunctioning monstrosities but chose to live in the salubrious shelter of classic 18th century architecture.

JR Stoker
JR Stoker
3 months ago

Have you looked inside it? It as steel framed and modernist as you can get in a classical shell!

Andrew D
Andrew D
3 months ago
Reply to  JR Stoker

Yes, in a listed building too. There’s a story to be written about how he got away with it.

JR Stoker
JR Stoker
3 months ago

Very interesting article. As you say, most of everything disappears in the end; but it does not usually do so in the case of buildings when only 60 years old.
I have not been to Cumbernauld, and I should and maybe will, but I have been to many of these dreams of the 1950’s and 19060’s. A lot of whether they succeed or fail is not to do with the architecture, which well maintained is neither ugly nor hugely unpopular, but do with how it is looked after. Cumbernauld was a brave dream that has turned into a socialist slum. There is the problem, no sense of ownership, no budget to promote, repair and enhance. Look after such place, plant some greenery, give the inhabitants ownership and control; it will be good for another 100 years at least. In many ways, for all the reasons the original designers conceived, such places are the ideal way to live now
At the opposite end of the country is the Barbican, a similar scale, built in similar times; better design perhaps, but certainly unashamedly “Modern”. And adored by nearly all those who live and work there, who fight for its future and enhancement. Even there the local authority – the City of London – have tried to chip away at it, undermining the original vision, but the residents and supporters so far have mostly seen them off.

ARNAUD ALMARIC
ARNAUD ALMARIC
3 months ago
Reply to  JR Stoker

Precisely, and why the difference? As always class!
The affluent burghers of the Barbican are far better custodians than the feral footpads of Lothian. It was ever thus

JR Stoker
JR Stoker
3 months ago
Reply to  ARNAUD ALMARIC

The rich are obviously better placed to maintain property, albeit Barbican was built as council housing. But give any social group of people an interest in their homes through ownership and control, and they take care of them.

Alan Elgey
Alan Elgey
3 months ago

I went there in the early 70s on my way to somewhere hilly. I had never heard of it previously and I couldn’t believe how vile and dispiriting it was – and we were only there briefly didn’t have to live there. We took a different route home.
How good to hear it is going to be demolished; I hope those who live there are happier with the replacement environment.

stephen archer
stephen archer
3 months ago

I wasn’t convinced Daniel had set foot in Cumbernauld until later in his article. The town centre was not built above the M80, it’s a half mile or so south and the M80 didn’t exist in the 60’s. Why the blatant error?
I was brought up in East Kilbride, an earlier forerunner in new towns, 8 miles southeast of Glasgow and which didn’t suffer from the extreme box-like architecture as in Cumbernauld. The town centre there, built and further developed in patchwork fashion, has aged and is probably in the same state of affairs as Cumbernauld but it’s a common development in Scotland, even affecting Glasgow city centre and the self congratularly Style Mile which has lost a lot of its style and is no longer close to being the UK’s best shopping city outside of London.
East Kilbride was an OK place to grow up in, clean air and close to the countryside, with good schools and a positive outlook but largely lacking in character, heritage and social amenities, at least in the early years.
Tearing down the Cumbernauld centre is probably a good idea, but tearing down Glasgow’s best city centre shopping mall, the Buchanan Galleries, is currently being proposed by Scottish planners and mindless politicians. The only retail outlets left in Scotland will soon be the sterile and depressing retail parks open to the natural elements in which Scotland excels, ie. wind and rain.

Last edited 3 months ago by stephen archer
Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
3 months ago
Reply to  stephen archer

I always though East Kilbride was better designed than Cumbernauld.

I ended up moving to the new town of Milton Keynes, which despite the clever-clog middle class critics turned out to be a dream new town for me. I still miss it – parks running all the way through the city so you could commute by foot or bike; housing estates cut off from the fast main roads for pedestrian safety and quietness, with their own wee shopping centres and no rat runs.

Fantastically well designed new town that probably benefitted from learning from the mistakes of the previous new towns. I wonder what the writer would compare new town developments to in older towns; or is he some kind of fantasist that thinks everyone can live a bucolic life in the countryside.

Jorge Espinha
Jorge Espinha
3 months ago

Always a pleasure to read Daniel Kalder(DK).
It’s worth noticing what he doesn’t write. DK is Unherd biggest specialist in Russia and Ukraine and he chooses not to write a single word about it, therefore confirming that he really knows a lot about Russia and Ukraine.

Dapple Grey
Dapple Grey
3 months ago

Brilliant article.
Let’s hope it’s demolished before it’s listed. Maybe a section could be preserved and put on display like the Norfolk House music room in the V&A.

ARNAUD ALMARIC
ARNAUD ALMARIC
3 months ago

We are always building rubbish like this, and then hopefully demolishing them.
Does any one now recall the terrible Quarry Hill Flats in Leeds or the equally dreadful Aylesbury Estate in Elephant and Castle, London?
Now mercifully both are dust, but too many yet remain.

Richard Riheed
Richard Riheed
3 months ago

Good article. Have visited Cumbernauld and a few other New Towns. Pull them down and start again.

Christopher Barclay
Christopher Barclay
2 months ago

I’m guessing that Princess Margaret described The Centre Cumbernauld as “fabulous” after lunch.

Dapple Grey
Dapple Grey
3 months ago

Its replacement may be equally ugly and depressing – though I suppose it couldn’t be any worse.

Derek Bryce
Derek Bryce
3 months ago
Reply to  Dapple Grey

The add on bit the author describes, the Antonine, is as cookie cutter as any other big-box contemporary shopping centre, but was at least designed to optimise the making of money. This is why you’ll see a Tesco Extra, Costa Coffee, TK Maxx and other national chains there but not in the town centre itself, where the purpose was social engineering not the engineering of profit. Don’t get me wrong, it’s hardly Kensington High Street but is a marked improvement to the horrors next door.

T Doyle
T Doyle
3 months ago

As a person who lived in an award wining council estate I now have an innate hatred for socialism.

Mike Bell
Mike Bell
3 months ago

Your generalised statements about new towns are somewhat harsh.
If you went to Letchworth you would not be so damning and those who live in Milton Keynes like living there.
Near me is Bar Hill – a ‘new’ village organised with open space at the centre and the housing are ranged via a circular road from which the residential roads are radial.

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
2 months ago

I’d say this is too forgiving of the architects and planners involved. Jane Jacobs had long before written her critiques of planned cities and zoning. Living in a monstrous, impractical and inhiman building is one thing, an entire town quite another. Has any responsible architect passed the test of actually living in the places they design?

Last edited 2 months ago by Andrew Fisher
Alan Tonkyn
Alan Tonkyn
2 months ago

“My grandparents lived there in the last years of their lives and greatly preferred their Cumbernauld flat to the one they had lived in on Sauchihall Street in Glasgow.” This reminded me of the views of an elderly Singaporean I knew who looked forward eagerly to moving out of her ‘picturesque’ 1st floor shophouse dwelling in Chinatown into a modern flat in one of the Housing Development Board blocks. These blocks still look good and provide good amenities for their occupants. The difference between them and British horrors like
Cumbernauld is not just design: it’s also maintenance. Singapore looks after its built environment in a way we don’t in Britain. Their administration is so much more efficient and energetic.

Last edited 2 months ago by Alan Tonkyn
Allan Clyne
Allan Clyne
2 months ago

Bill Forsyth’s now classic (classic at least to Scots of a certain age) Gregory’s Girl in Cumbernauld.
He said, “because the film was about adolescence and about being young and the pains of growing. I thought to myself, why don’t we set the film in an adolescent town? I remember saying to someone, “Even the trees in Cumbernauld are teenagers so everything fits.”

John Deffenbaugh
John Deffenbaugh
2 months ago

Interesting article and thread of discussion. Let’s not quibble about the name of the road running through the town centre, but rather reflect on what was behind Cumbernauld. I lived in the south side of Glasgow in the late 1950s, and visited East Kilbride. In contrast to the tenement slums of Glasgow, EK was beautiful. So clean, orderly, modern. Who would not opt for that living? So it’s easy to criticise Cumbernauld town centre and New Towns in general, but they were the creatures of their time. Time has moved on and we now view them through a different prism. Yes, the town centre is a hodgepodge of a building, lacking coherency in the way it has evolved, and needs rebuilt. For instance, the St Enoch clock now has limited access on a dead-end corridor. And the sky offices are a carbuncle, but nonetheless represent a vision of their time. I would be in favour of levelling the shopping centre, but retaining some remnants of the original design, such as the sky offices – incorporate them into a new design. This could have been done in the new Gorbals by retaining Hutchesontown E and rebuilding around it – look what is happening to Park Hill in Sheffield. Out with the old and in with the new is often retrograde but, while we’re at it, why not rebuild the old St Enoch as they tear down its 1980s replacement? Urban vandalism continues, but wholesale replacement is not always the answer.

David McMillan
David McMillan
30 days ago

The author (or anyone interested in Brutalist architecture) might want to check out the old Council building in Croydon which has been very tastefully converted into modern flats. It has some incredible original art sculpted into the columns and walls. It feels like a real piece of history which has been functionally preserved.

ARNAUD ALMARIC
ARNAUD ALMARIC
3 months ago

The only good thing about Cumbernauld is that its very name sounds rather like that of Prince William Augustus, Duke of CUMBERLAND, the conqueror of Scotland* by his resounding victory at Culloden in 1746. Rule Britannia!

(* Otherwise known by contemporaries as North Britain.)