John Grindrod’s “Journey around the Rebuilding of Postwar Britain” is an essential catalogue of municipal and some private attempts to resolve the issues of housing shortages, new places of work and commerce in the decades after the war. From initial prefabs to tower blocks and new towns it is a very readable account of postwar planning. What is particularly refreshing is the inclusion of real voices in the narrative that help to bring a fairer perspective to the all too easy critique of the architecture since the 1940s.

Each section of the book covers a specific aspect of postwar rebuilding either in terms of the best example of the first new towns like Harlow or the growth of system building that contributed to the high rises in places like Glasgow and Newcastle and the associated corruption that seemed to accompany the approach. It is a journey around a land of grand place shaping ideals largely formulated by the now extinct species of City Architects. It charts remarkable achievements brought about through public investment in a period of true austerity and as such is a sharp contrast with today.

Wherever possible the author includes quotes from residents past and/or present who speak of the reality of living in these places beyond the dreams, aspirations and profits of the people who created them. In most cases these testimonies portray positive aspects to life on the estate or in the high rise with brief mention of the cons that any resident would say of any place. After all is it actually possible to create utopia?

In the book’s conclusion, John Grindrod gives credit to the people whose interviews contributed to his research and his perspectives on these places. In this way the achievement of this book is to reaffirm the belief that places are about people as much as they are about buildings and spaces and to disregard places, ancient or new, is to disregard the people who live there.

Concretopia is a must read for anyone creating places for people whatever the scale.

When I address the Institute of Civil Engineers in May on postwar planning and the creation of the modern Bristol landscape I hope to provide similar new perspectives on our own concretopia.

Details of this talk can be found at https://www.ice.org.uk/events/making-the-modern-landscape-bristol

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