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Utopia on Trial: Vision and Reality in Planned Housing [Paperback]

Alice M. Coleman

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Product details

  • Paperback: 232 pages
  • Publisher: Hilary Shipman Ltd; 2nd Revised edition edition (22 Nov 1990)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 094809625X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0948096259
  • Product Dimensions: 21.2 x 13.6 x 1.8 cm
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 387,490 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

An extraordinarily important and detailed body of observation of a thoroughness and comprehensiveness scarcely undertaken in Britain since the efforts of the Mass Observation. She offers detailed advice on how existing blocks of flats may be rendered safer, more acceptable and less brutal by design modification. (Jeremy Seabrook)

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Resembles Newman's Defensible Space. Ignores several elephants. 4 Mar 2013
By Rerevisionist - Published on Amazon.com
1985. The work was carried out over five years by a team directed by Professor Alice Coleman, London. There were five main members of the team, all women.

The title is supposed to include the idea of a trial: the defendants being the vision of planners - not the planners themselves (including architects, council 'officers' and so on), but rather the vision, a compound of the Garden City idea and Le Corbusier's still-futuristic visions as processed by post-1945 'socialists'. Fixed-size gardens, Radiant City, and roads in the sky as interpreted by the Ministry of Town and Country Planning, and the Ministry of Housing and Local Government. Her alternative, or at least contrast, seems to be a more-or-less free market model, with builders building what they find people want: 1930s semis emerge well from this.

In fact the book was a bit late - page 7 has a photo of a controlled demolition of a 10-storey Birkenhead block!

Coleman set out to find weak design points - 'design disadvantagement' features - and listed 15 of these, all architectural and, specifically, spatial - blocks per site, entrance types, corridor positions and whether they were observed, vertical routes such as lifts (elevators), interconnecting exits, and confused as opposed to clearly-delineated outside spaces.

Blocks in Hackney and Southwark, and, for comparison, Blackbird Leys in Oxford were looked at; 4,099 of these blocks, plus 4,172 houses. And a dozen other parts of Britain, plus Toronto, Puerto Rico and Hong Kong.

The basic idea seems to be pretty simple, in fact: if you have a place to live in, normally there are few ways to get to it, and out of it: a main road, a side road, a front door, maybe several floors; and maybe a back door or fire escape. The number of neighbours is not very great. BUT if there are several big blocks scattered around, and linked by walkways, there may be many ways of getting to several entrances, and many ways of getting to the apartment or maisonette. Corridors may be menacing or unobserved or isolated. So what? Well, IF there are burglars or other criminals or thugs, the living space is threatening and worrying. (This is quite apart from the issue of looking out of windows with precipitous huge drops down). She wrote: 'The architects who designed the inferior estates genuinely believed they were superior dwellings, and they certainly cost more than houses would have done.'

The solutions - removing walkways, having external balconies rather than interior corridors, blocking off vertical shafts, would make journeys home longer, of course, but perhaps that couldn't be helped. Houses were to have improved visibility by giving them bay windows, and doors with glass facing out, and fenced gardens.

There are several issues not faced by Coleman, possibly because the project was 'funded' by the Rowntree Foundation, basically a Jewish-controlled quasi-think-tank which had the pro-Jewish policy of damaging British society. There's no mention of such phenomena as Rachmanism.

In the first place, there's the issue of criminality: if nobody ever attacked or robbed anyone, a completely open-plan architecture would be fine. In fact, crime was rising all the time, and this of course was disproportionately due to immigrants. Possibly the architects preferred not to face such facts.

There's no consideration of the part that could be played by concierges.

Another very serious missing consideration is the freemasonry/ common purpose effect: if big companies can get big contracts on big sites which use relatively deskilled labour, they're onto a winner, from their point of view. Coleman makes the mistake of viewing demolition as 'financially disastrous'. This is true of income taxpayers and property tax payers, but not of the beneficiaries, who in fact can make much more money from bad schemes than good. Councils were actually offered a cash bonus - the taller the block, the more money. And the density was deliberately kept low.
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