Stevenage and Harlow to Milton Keynes – Heroic architecture or a concrete mistake?
The history of New Towns in this country is fascinating, from the pioneering and inspired work of Ebenezer Howard in Letchworth and Welwyn Garden City to the post war towns like Stevenage, Crawley, Harlow, Peterlee, Basildon and Milton Keynes through to more recent planned new developments such as Poundbury outside Dorchester and Cranbrook outside Exeter. Always planned with the very best of intentions, invariably opposed by local residents and inhabited by ‘early adopters’ during the pioneering early stage, these towns have all developed a character and reputation of their own.
This talk will consider the origins of the movement through an examination of Howard’s pioneering ideals which lie at the heart of the movement. With these ideals and history in mind the focus will move to the post war towns. Starting in 1946 with Stevenage the governments New Town Act of the same year created sweeping powers that saw a wave of towns being built. Now over seventy years old these towns have found a maturity and personality of their own, with the benefit of hindsight the legacy of these idealistic designers can be fully understood.
These towns contain some of the best architecture of the immediate post war period and have town planning innovations that had a long-lasting impact on the built environment in this country. The most creative architectural minds of the time came together to create towns which are now not always as loved as they might have hoped. Through an examination of these architects, the political thinking that brought about the towns, the views of the residents and many period and contemporary images we will explore these towns and perhaps find a love for the architecture and planning.
The idea of new towns remains as important today as it ever has, the competing ideologies of the various interested parties always leads to a heated debate. Today few months seem to go by without some government announcement or other relating to new planned towns or suburbs. Always contentious and attempting to address an ever growing need this is a talk that always generates debate and differences of opinion.
Most people will have visited a new town at some time or other, many of us have lived and worked in them. Today more and more people are considering their preservation. This is always a popular talk and I hope I can share my enthusiasm for postwar planning and architecture with as many groups as possible and perhaps help you to see Stevenage and Basildon in a new light.