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Concretopia: A Journey Around the Rebuilding of Postwar Britain Paperback – 8 Jul 2014

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Product details

  • Paperback: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Old Street Publishing (8 July 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1908699892
  • ISBN-13: 978-1908699893
  • Product Dimensions: 19.7 x 3.4 x 13 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (50 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 7,857 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

John Grindrod is the author of Concretopia: A Journey Around the Rebuilding of Postwar Britain published by Old Street in 2013, described by the Independent on Sunday as 'a new way of looking at modern Britain'. He has written for the Guardian, the Financial Times, the Twentieth Century Society Magazine and The Modernist, has co-written and edited a book about TV, Shouting at the Telly, and contributed to a book on music, Hang the DJ. He grew up in Croydon in the 1970s and has worked as a bookseller and publisher for twenty-five years. He runs the website dirtymodernscoundrel.com and can be contacted on Twitter @Grindrod.

Product Description

Review

'Wonderful . . . If you've ever wondered who gave planning permission for the serried ranks of concrete blocks you pass on the way to work, read Concretopia and lay the foundations of a new way of looking at modern Britain.'
INDEPENDENT ON SUNDAY

'Charming . . . Concretopia could pleasingly be read by anyone in Britain who lives in a postwar Modernist structure and has a love-hate relationship with it. Part-travelogue, part-history, Grindrod's account walks us through in touchingly precise detail the decisions that led to such buildings as the BT Tower, the Barbican, Coventry Cathedral and the blocks of New Ash . . . We don't think of architectural beauty as key to well-being and yet, as this book shows us, it profoundly is.'
ALAIN DE BOTTON, THE TIMES

'Concretopia is almost certainly the first history of the post-war modernist project in British cities and towns, and it is without doubt the first to try and address a non-architectural, non-specialist audience ... [It's] about the best history of the intersection of post-war architecture and politics (often with a small 'p' ) that you could hope for -- personal, erudite, even-handed and driven by a subtle, but still present underlying anger at the dismantling of the Welfare State under the dubious banner of 'austerity'.'
OWEN HATHERLEY

'Fascinating throughout ... does a magnificent job of making historical sense of things I had never really understood or appreciated ... This is a brilliant book: a vital vade mecum for anyone (not just students of architecture and town planning) interested in Britain's 20th-century history'
James Hamilton-Paterson, author of EMPIRE OF THE CLOUDS

'Fascinating . . . it's all here, from the Poulson scandal to abandoned ring-roads and vanishing industry . . . A great insight into the way things turned out the way they did.'
WALLPAPER MAGAZINE

'Timely and pertinent . . . Grindrod is inventive with words and frequently alights on delightful and perceptive images . . . Particularly fascinating are chapters on the rebuilding of Coventry; the development of the South Bank; the creation of the Barbican (using concrete expensively pitted by hand using pickaxes); the replacement of the Glasgow Gorbals with new estates; the hilltop city that is Park Hill, Sheffield, recently renovated; the sad demise of low-rise, family-friendly 'Span' housing; the devastating 1968 collapse of the system-built tower block, Ronan Point; and the the tale of architect-developer John Poulson, who went to jail for corruption over building contracts.'
SUNDAY TELEGRAPH

'Never has a trip from Croydon and back again been so fascinating. John Grindrod's witty and informative tour of Britain is a total treat, and will win new converts to stare in awe (or at least enlightened comprehension) at Crap towns and Boring Postcards...'
CATHERINE CROFT, Director, Twentieth Century Society

'With a cast of often unsung heroes -- and one or two villains -- Concretopia is a lively, surprising account of how Britain came to look the way it does'
Will Wiles, author of CARE OF WOODEN FLOORS

'A powerful and personal history of postwar Britain. Grindrod shows how pre-fab housing, masterplans, and tower blocks are as much part of our national story as Tudorbethan suburbs and floral clocks. It's like eavesdropping into a conversation between John Betjeman, J.G. Ballard and Jonathan Meades.'
LEO HOLLIS, author of CITIES ARE GOOD FOR YOU --...

About the Author

John Grindrod grew up in Croydon in the 1970s and has worked as a bookseller and publisher for twenty-five years. He has been published in the Twentieth Century Society magazine, has co-written and edited a book about TV, Shouting at the Telly, and contributed to a book on music, Hang the DJ. He runs the website dirtymodernscoundrel.blogspot.co.uk and can be contacted on Twitter @Grindrod.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By A. Skudder TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 21 Feb. 2015
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
A very personal and idiosyncratic book about Britain's post-war building boom.

Having been born in a new town, I moved to another one after a few years in London, and have visited a few others, so I found some chapters absolutely fascinating. They were not actually about either of the towns I lived in, but I'm pretty sure the issues were the same.

But the book isn't just about the new towns. Much as it would have increased the chances of me getting to read about Crawley or Basildon, it would have just been the same story over and over again. Instead, there are also sections about the precursors to the new towns (Letchworth), the inner city redevelopment of Newcastle, Sheffield and Glasgow, the Festival of Britain and the National Theatre, Coventry cathedral, the Barbican and the Elephant & Castle. Oh, and Milton Keynes, New Addington/Croydon and some places I had never heard of.

I liked the objective approach to the book. It seems that commentators on architecture or planning are either completely dismissive of anything made from concrete or completely brutalist, but this is a lot more nuanced, admiring what is admirable about, say the Cumbernauld town centre or Sheffield's Park Hill estate while not ignoring what was wrong with them

While this is essential for anybody living in a new town who wants to understand a bit more about how they came about I think it will interest just about anybody.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Rough Diamond TOP 500 REVIEWER on 16 Nov. 2014
Format: Paperback
Concretopia is a cleverly-structured and highly personal account of Britain's postwar redevelopment, from the breezy make-do optimism of the first prefabs to the squalor, hubris and corruption of the John Poulson era. It's a genuinely tragic story. It's hard to believe now that today's gang-ridden inner-city high-rise no-go zones were the product of an idealistic attempt to build a new socialist Jerusalem amidst the rubble of Britain's postwar devastation. John Grindrod does an excellent job of piecing together how and where it all went wrong - and, occasionally, where it all went right.

Grindrod has travelled the UK to visit many of the grand (and less grand) residential and commercial developments of the '40s, '50s, '60s and '70s. Many of the most striking moments of his book are his interviews with the people of who live and work there. This is grass-roots social history at its best, and really brings home the successes and failures of the mid-century generation of architects and town planners that so profoundly shaped today's urban and suburban environment. Grindrod's affection and enthusiasm for some of Britain's more unloved corners is such that it will make you start planning day trips to Coventry, Croydon and Cumbernauld. If you've enjoyed John Kynaston's histories of postwar Britain, and if your heart beats a little faster in the presence of immense slabs of pre-cast concrete, then this will be right up your street.

A big thumbs-up to Old Street Publishing for an excellent job on the paperback edition: nice crisp type, lots of well-chosen photographs and some really groovy cover art. Warmly recommended.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Steve Carleysmith on 28 April 2015
Format: Kindle Edition
A really good read. The interviews by the author are excellent and illuminating of the detail of the major shifts of design and construction in the post war years, while there is a good overview of what happened generally in the UK. This book rekindled my memories of these events at the time, and reminded me about my holiday job as a labourer at New Ash Green just as work was starting there - I must go back and see it now. A well written book that's informative, entertaining and more gripping than some good novels.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Mr. Jonathan Mengham on 8 Feb. 2014
Format: Kindle Edition
A fascinating review of post war 'modernism' in architecture and its failure and successes (though fewer of the later). Having worked for Milton Keynes development corporation for 20 years I see that it has factual short coming but never the less it is highly interesting and a thoroughly.
good read.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful By tallmanbaby TOP 1000 REVIEWER on 26 April 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Concretopia on Kindle

I was reading this, sitting in my garden, over the recent sunny Easter weekend, and there was something very apt about the uplifting story of Britain rebuilding itself after the second world war and the austerity of rationing, with nature coming into flower all around me.

The story is about buildings, both the big and famous like the Barbican and the small and everyday like housing estates. The basic message of the book is that there was a great deal more that was positive and good about what was done after the war, than was bad. The author is clearly one of the growing number of fans of Brutalist architecture, but this is often put in context by interviews with people who actually lived in some of these modernist monstrosities, and loved them.

The style of writing is very personal, interviews, reminiscences, research and personal opinions all just come tumbling out. Better to take it as what it is, than to try and treat it as an overly informal academic tome.

I found the book hard to put down, a long book, but packed with stories and incident. On Kindle there are a good selection of functional black and white photos and an index with hotlinks. A very well put together title for the Kindle and well worth the money.

I would only offer a few quibbles, first off the title is off-putting, the book is vastly more appealing than the title, I was a bit confused about the various developments on the London South Bank, the author seems to assume that we all know London well enough that these buildings need little introduction, and finally, the chapters seem to have been written, then plonked down.
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