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4.6 out of 5 stars60
4.6 out of 5 stars
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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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on 17 January 2016
I downloaded this book to see what a book about concrete could be about. I expected it to be a dul

I downloaded this book to see what a book about concrete could possibly be about. I got a surprise. It is about the reconstruction of Britain's post second world war bomb out towns and slum clearance, covering a period from about the 1950's to the end of the 1970's. The author tells about why new towns were build, and designed the way they were. He also describes the ideology behind the town centres and some of the period's iconic buildings. It is story of the success and failure of these ideas. It gives an insight not only into the building boom and corruption of the time but also into the more noble ideology and hopes of town planners and architects who were trying to forge a better Britian. I for one denegrated the concrete of the era and despised the ugliness of most modern buildings. Since reading this book I have begun to look at modern architecture in a new way. I have now become more deserning in condemnation and praise because I understand better the aims behind the works. This change of attitude has made this book work for me, after all books should make us think, I think. I have also come to understand better what these buildings and centres were in reaction to, this is something I had never concidered before. All in all I was very suprised by this book. I would recommend it as a read for anyone, but if you are interersted in social history I woud certainly suggest you give it a read. It has a nice light touch of someone passionate about the world he lives in.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 16 November 2014
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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on 28 April 2015
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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on 16 February 2015
As a review of the post-war fascination with modern building methods, this seems very good. It takes the reader from the post-war need for speedy building of homes through the brutalist architecture fashionable in the sixties and seventies to more recent developments. It does not include everything (no mention of Thamesmead, even in passing), but it would probably have had to be twice as long to do so. It is a personal journey round the country visiting places as diverse as Cumbernauld, Coventry Cathedral, and Milton Keynes, meeting those. An enjoyable read.
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on 30 December 2015
This is a thorough explanation of what happened to Britain after the war. The writer was brought up in New Addington. I have been through it many times, have friends who live there and who used to live there. I've acted for many residents-some criminals, some not. It is concrete building at its worst. Yet some like it.
Of the other places mentioned in the book I've stayed in Parkleys.That's good because it has pleasant gardens and a sound maintenance scheme.
Too many post war buildings were flung up without too much thought, nor have they been well maintained. St Georges Walk in Croydon looks as if it hasn't been cleaned since it was built.
The author is sympathetic to concrete and to many of the architects. The Primary School at Hunstanton sounds a horror(freezing in winter, boiling in summer). He mentions this yet does not condemn.
We're treated to an account of Poulson and T.Dan Smith, the most flagrant abusers of the system.
For anyone who wants to understand the bad building and the good that they see around them in big towns and cities, read this. A significant book.
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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. A bit more signposting that something came up in an earlier chapter, or would come up again in a later one, would have made in a bit slicker.

Having said all that, if you have any interest in urbanism, architecture, housing, or the history of the postwar period, then this book comes highly recommended, and will whet your appetite to find out more.
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on 8 February 2014
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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on 5 February 2014
A pretty good history of British building development from those heady post war days to now. The easy style makes it easy to see what went wrong and indeed what went right. As usual, the dreams turn into nightmares simply through those two human frailties - greed and apathy.
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on 21 December 2013
As someone born at the start of the 70's I grew up in a time when new-build was all backward looking Barratt boxes. The modernism of post war Britain was already in place and was generally derided - I never understood how this far more inspirational phase of British development had come about. This tells the story in an accessible, engaging and entertaining way. Fascinating from start to end and full of wonderful stories and anecdotes from both residents and builders.
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