new book examines the architecture of anarchist colonies

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Paul Dobraszczyk’s playful and slightly optimistic book is framed by two depressing episodes. In August 2020 and June this year, police raids took place to dismantle art installations in east London. The primary targets of these displays of state power – ballet dancers, singing model sharks, a delicate cloud of bamboo stalks and steel cables – hurt no one; the legal pretext for the raids, a mutilated mix of town planning regulations and emergency powers introduced under the guise of the pandemic, was fragile and unconvincing. The fact that the artistic charity that commissioned the installations is also co-editor of Architecture and anarchism lets us know that he’s unlikely to be unfriendly to their side of the story; despite this, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that building “without authority”, especially in an imperfect democracy like that of the UK has become, is to court violence. So why would anyone do this?

The main part of the book is a series of case stories of attempts by individuals and communities to regulate aspects of their own lives by taking control of their living spaces. There is necessarily a fairly wide range of humanities on display – squatters, hippie towns, desert cults, self-build co-ops, bums, climate protesters, beneficiaries – and the results they achieve vary accordingly. Appropriately for a tradition of taking utopian ideas and putting them into concrete form, we learn a bit more about William Morris’s 19th century paper dreams, and then pass by the funky geodesic domes of Drop City. , Colorado, the glorious chimeras of Constant Nieuwenhuys’ palace of endless imaginary pleasure “New Babylon” (designed from 1959 to 1974) and the only hardly less fantastic drawings by Archigram, to the plausible and fine speculative fiction of William Gibson .

Counter-cultural arty neighborhoods often function as gentrification shock troops

The theory is reduced to the strict minimum, but Dobraszczyk notes a distinction between the individual and the community, the “freedom of” and the “freedom of”. He points out that self-regulatory groups can be more or less ‘radical’, and therefore less or more engaged in the ‘mainstream’ world around them (countercultural artistic colonies often function as the shock troops of gentrification. , for example). He notes the irony that people who choose to live this way are much more likely to spend their days entangled in Byzantine planning and building regulations, and stuck in endless community meetings, than the rest of us. we.

With a book that leans wide rather than deep, there are bound to be some bickering about what’s inside and what’s outside. I would have liked to see Nubia Way, in south-east London, part of Walter Segal’s pantheon of self-builders: it was created by Britain’s first black housing co-op, against the will of the National Front. There are too many tangled tinkers of random disjecta and performatively fragile peri-apocalyptic huts for them all to have something unique to say. In the relatively small number of projects that are shaped by an overall aesthetic or stylistic intention, which I appreciate is not the point in the majority of cases, there is often a certain infantile quality: the “earthships” of New Mexico. and beyond, the Hundertwasserhaus in Vienna, the hobby huts of Lammas in Pembrokeshire. Although, it is noted, the latter have been shown to be vulnerable to fire – another example of authority and violence, perhaps.

Paul Dobraszczyk, Architecture and anarchism: building without authority, Antepavilion / Paul Holberton Publishing, 248pp, 180 color illus., £ 25 (bp), pub. September 1, 2021

Keith miller is editor-in-chief and editor for the Telegraph and a regular contributor to the Literary journal and the Times Literary Supplement


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