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Ian Abley Martin Pawley in the editor's chair at Building Design magazine in 1982, which he held for two years
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1. Jonathan Glancey, 'Martin Pawley', Obituaries, The Guardian, 11 March 2008, p 42

2. Jonathan Glancey, 'Pawley's prescience on the city', BD, 14 March 2008, p 36

3. Martin Pawley, Terminal Architecture, London, Reaktion Books, 1998

4. Thomas Sieverts, Cities Without Cities - An interpretation of the Zwischenstadt, London, Spon Press, 2003

5. Martin Pawley, Theory and Design in the Second Machine Age, Oxford, Basil Blackwell, 1990

6. Peter Reyner Banham, Theory and Design in the First Machine Age, Oxford, Architectural Press, 1997, first published 1960

7. Ricky Burdett and Deyan Sudjic, The Endless City: The Urban Age Project by the London School of Economics and Deutsche Bank's Alfred Herrhausen Society, London, Phaidon, 2008, posted on www.urban-age.net

8. Fondazione La Biennale di Venezia, Cities - Architecture and Society, 10th International Architecture Exhibition, 10 September to 19 November 2006, directed by Ricky Burdett, two volume catalogue, Venice, Marsilio, 2006

9. Global Cities, London, Tate Modern, 20 June to 27 August 2007, exhibition curated by Ricky Burdett, posted on www.tate.org.uk

10. Urban Task Force, Towards an Urban Renaissance - Final Report of the Urban Task Force, London, Spon Press, 1999, chaired by Lord Richard Rogers

11. Jean Gottmann, Megalopolis: The Urbanized Northeastern Seaboard of the United States, Cambridge, Massachusetts, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1961

12. Martin Pawley, The Private Future - Causes and Consequences of Community Collapse in the West, London, Thames & Hudson, 1974, p 29 and 198

13. Martin Pawley, edited by David Jenkins, The Strange Death of Architectural Criticism - Collected Writings, London, Black Dog, 2007, with a foreword by Norman Foster

14. Martin Pawley, 'The Sand-Heap Urbanism of the Twenty-First Century', chapter 13 in Ian Abley and James Heartfield, editors, Sustaining Architecture in the Anti-Machine Age, Chichester, Wiley-Academy, 2001, p 152 to 161

15. Martin Pawley, in his keynote speech at the inaugural audacity conference, Building Audacity, The Building Centre, London, 10 July 2000, posted here

16. Martin Pawley, 'Sustainability - A big word with little meaning', The Independent, 11 July 2000, posted on www.findarticles.com

17. Robert Bruegmann, Sprawl - A Compact History, Chicago and London, University of Chicago Press, 2005

18. Peter Hall, Ray Thomas, Harry Gracey and Roy Drewett, The Containment of Urban England, London, George Allen & Unwin, 1973

Volume 1: Urban and Metropolitan Growth Processes or Megalopolis Denied

Volume 2: The Planning System: Objectives, Operations, Impacts

19. Martin Pawley, Home Ownership, London, The Architectural Press, 1978, p 138

20. Martin Pawley, Architecture Versus Housing, New York, Praeger Publishers, 1971, p 123

21. James Woudhuysen and Ian Abley, Why is construction so backward?, Chichester, Wiley-Academy, 2004, p 286 to 288

22. Colin Davies, The Prefabricated Home, London, Reaktion Books, 2005

23. Martin Pawley, 'Triumph and Tragedy on the Home Front', in Ian Abley and Jonathan Schwinge, guest editors, Manmade Modular Megastructures, Helen Castle, editor, AD magazine, Chichester, Wiley-Academy, January/February 2006, p 54 and 55

24. David Jenkins, 'Martin Pawley', Obituaries, The Guardian, 11 March 2008, p 42

25. N John Habraken, Supports: An Alternative to Mass Housing, London, Architectural Press, 1972, first published in Dutch in 1961

26. Martin Pawley, 'The Time House', in David Jenkins, editor, The Strange Death of Architectural Criticism - Collected Writings, London, Black Dog, 2007, p 27

Manmade Modular Megastructures Why is construction so backward?Sustaining Architecture in the Anti-Machine Age






Martin Pawley

Martin Pawley - Straight to the point

Martin Pawley died a week ago, on 9 March 2008. His great ability was to get straight to the point, which often included pointing out, invariably with great humour, that others had no point.

Martin PawleyHe exposed the pointlessness of much architectural discussion, while struggling to critically understand seemingly nebulous and apparently contradictory events and trends. Martin was good at doing that for a period of 40 years. He made criticism look easy to those who only knew him as a writer and speaker, but his clarity required the quickness of insight that comes from hard thinking, underpinned by a principled willingness to offend.

Those who couldn't take his criticism while he was alive will no doubt soon be repeating Martin's ideas as if they were their own, without proper credit. Or will spin the arguments Martin made, and misquote him, in an effort to make it look like there never was a disagreement. Or, perhaps most effective of all, those Martin criticised will never mention him again, and will persist with ideas they know privately he had discredited in public.

Jonathan Glancey has fond memories of Martin. Yet Glancey, who now occupies the job of architectural critic at The Guardian that Martin gave substance between 1984 and 1991, has started diminishing him to '... a mischievous fellow'. Less than a show of affection in an obituary, Glancey seems only to remember '... a delightful man,' with '... an infectious giggle and a sense of the absurd.' Martin's pointed criticism of the New Urbanism of Prince Charles and the "Urban Renaissance" of Lord Rogers of Riverside are being trivialised as a contrarian opinion that Martin would defend '... to the utmost, even to the point of tears.' (1)

Martin Pawley in the Guardian obituary 11.03.08

Martin's "vision" of life in the newly decentralised non-agrarian landscape was merely "romantic" for Glancey, (2) and therefore safe. Those who imagine Information Technology offers a tele-network fix for society are "romantic", but Martin was never a digital vulgararian, as Terminal Architecture made uncomfortably clear. (3) True, Martin may have advocated spreading out horizontally, and particularly against efforts to force urban compaction, but he was very much for spreading vertically at the same time, and in the sort of "clumpy" ways that Thomas Sieverts equally brilliantly, but quite independently, considers in Cities Without Cities. (4) Outwards and upwards was Martin's view too.

In the obituary in Building Design, (2) at least Glancey acknowledges that things seem to be going the way of the disurbanisation that Martin recognised and anticipated in Theory and Design in the Second Machine Age. (5) Published in 1990 that book properly stood Martin on the shoulders of Peter Reyner Banham, with his Theory and Design in the First Machine Age. (6) Martin was 20 years ahead of most commentators on the city, who cannot credibly argue today for urban cramming.

The crammers can hardly now ignore the aspirant industrial populations generating swathes of development outside of historic city cores around the world. Some go to extraordinary lengths to talk up the compact city in the twenty-first century, even while their statistics force them to recognise The Endless City. (7) Ricky Burdett is most adept at producing and presenting vast amounts of information, on a huge scale in Venice, (8) and in an edited version at London's Tate Modern gallery, (9) which show how preoccupations with city "centres" are seriously outdated. Yet densification and containment are still said to be necessary for an "Urban Renaissance" in Britain. (10) Martin knew urban cramming was urban design nonsense. After all, Jean Gottmann had shown that compact cities were a thing of the past in 1961. (11)

Space and privacy have always been expensive scarcities in the urbs, but today public life is also thin on the ground, and revealed as nothing to do with mere proximity. The idea of urb and suburb seems wholly inadequate. Everywhere is some kind of park punctuated megalopolis with a more or less mobile citizenry, which tends to lack a subjective sense that they could be the polis, wherever they find themselves with others. Martin saw this trend as an increasingly technologically enabled privatisation of life, and was sceptical to the point of dismissing the possibility of, or even need for, a reversal of the popular withdrawal from public interaction and intervention.

For Martin The Private Future was a consequence of '... the advent of consumer societies, in which the worker not only produced goods and services but provided part of the market for them.' Social class would be less important than family prosperity. While '... the growth and development of communications media into a network that embraces almost every person in the Western world can be seen as symbiotic with the whole process of privatisation.' (12) He looked forward to an erosion of British class distinctions, and withdrawal into a private life of consumption within the industrially produced home.

This thinking followed from The Time House, which was Martin's diploma thesis at the Architectural Association, and published in the September 1968 edition of Architectural Design. Thankfully this original writing, along with many other fine selections, has be made available by his good friend David Jenkins, who completed Martin's collected writings as his health failed. The inspirational Black Dog publication is titled The Strange Death of Architectural Criticism, which was the 1998 title of one of the 505 columns Martin produced as an unbroken run for the Architects' Journal, from which, at Paul Finch's suggestion, the collected writings were drawn. (13) I can't recommend this book enough. It reminds me of how I looked forward to reading Martin's column in the weekly AJ.

The Strange Death of Architectural Criticism - The Collected Writings of Martin Pawley

However a line of argument that started with The Time House ultimately led Martin to argue for greater connectivity and immobility, as he saw the processes of production and consumption advance through the networking of telecommunications and computing power. (14) In this Martin was at odds with audacity. That quibble didn't matter when Martin was far more interested in arguing that sustainability is another way of deciding who is in charge. (15) The point he made in his keynote speech at the conference that launched audacity in July 2000 was printed the next day in The Independent:

'In its present form, "sustainability" is neither a creative nor a technical vision. All that is known about it is that it is a good thing. In reality it is certain only for its own end - that development should evolve in such a way that development can continue; it knows nothing of the means. And such finalism, in the end, offers no answer to anything.'

He sensibly warned too that '... before long, "sustainability" will no longer be a meaningless word, but a matter of regulation that will constrain designers everywhere.' (16) Since we had much more to agree about in our criticism of the moralising rhetoric and regulatory imposition of sustainability and community, he generously supported audacity when we needed it most. I am sure he also liked our enthusiasm for the political prospects of a more populous world. The transformations he had anticipated in the late 1960s and early 1970s had to be seen in more than East/West or North/South polarities by the early 1990s, let alone the start of a new century. More than novel digital connectivities audacity argued for greater physical mobility and a faster pace of material development, not less.

We were concerned that development must be morally qualified and certified by someone as "sustainable", and that "sustainable communities" were equated with "social inclusion" and physical immobility. That sounded like a threatening denial of the promise of the "machine age", though Martin made it clear he never liked our phrase the "anti-machine age". (14)

Community does not follow from urban compaction. Let alone sustainability. Martin knew that before most. Compact city fans in 2008 grudgingly accept Martin's prescience about the dispersed future of cities, (2) and are coming to terms with "sprawl". (17) Dispersal was an historic process that Martin knew could not be contained. It is certain that by 1973 the post-1947 attempts at urban containment were recognised as failures by more than Martin alone, (18) and were leading to all sorts of political and economic contraditions. Martin died in the year when those contradictions became palpable, though he had seen them as early as his Home Ownership of 1978:

Home Ownership'The means by which home owners derive wealth from their dwellings developed over a number of years but were thrown into sharp relief by the events of the 1971-73 gazumping boom; at which time they became so universally obvious that the nature of demand for owner-occupied housing underwent a massive change as a result... the period began with a market in which new houses were worth more than existing houses and ended with existing houses worth more than new houses.' (19)

Martin located a shift in housing priorities in the early 1970s, as housing became more important as a financial transaction than as a useful place in which to live.

The turn of the planning system, first to community in the late 1960s, and then to sustainability in the late 1990s, provided an ideological justification for the retreat from producing industrial volumes of new housing. While planners and developers fight over the value of planning gain, which comes from a new home costing far less to build than it can be sold for on the market at values comparable to existing housing, it is the wider waged and salaried population who are paying the price.

Britain’s housing is valued at much more than the cost of construction because of the manufactured scarcity in land made possible by the national denial of development rights that dates from 1947.

Housing production on an industrial scale would threaten the residential property market in existing homes, 70% of which are now in owner-occupation. That is something that the Treasury cannot politically entertain today, and according to Martin, has not been able to since the early 1970s. That was when the "housing market" came to mean the "existing housing market". The need for a manufactured scarcity in land for housing reduces planning to an instrument of the Treasury, using the language of "sustainable communities" to operate a system of planning approvals that the financial and development sectors have become dependent upon.

Architecture Versus HousingIt was not a contradiction for someone like Martin, obviously interested in housing production, to be concerned to explain why there were obstacles to that production being industrialised. In 2008 the situation has turned desperate, and the state has to support sections of the financial sector when house price inflation, already disconnected from wages and salaries, looks like it might turn into its opposite. Under those circumstances development of an inadequate supply of new homes to be sold for two or three times more than they cost to build is politically inconsequential, and house production activity can be allowed to fall again.

There may be a lingering rhetorical commitment to raising housing production, but house price inflation is what matters. As early as 1971 in Architecture Versus Housing Martin had appreciated that '... in the context of an inflationary spiral sufficiently alarming to discourage reasoned thought', ideas for advancing housing production '... can make little headway'. (20) It may soon become evident that at times of no house price inflation, or when the market is falling, it becomes even harder to advance housing production.

In Why is construction so backward? we tried to argue that headway in housing production could only be made if land ownership meant a freedom to build. (21) By removing the denial of development rights, housing production could be encouraged. That meant the residential property market would find it almost impossible to operate as an inflationary spiral when people were free to build a new home on low value land for little more than the combined commercial costs of site preparation, the building itself, and associated professional services.

Then manufacturing homes that could be ordered out of pattern books might drive costs down in competition with more laborious techniques and organisation. Martin liked that enough to provide the foreword to the book. House prices might be reduced, but not through advances in production technique and organisation alone.

In 2008, a mere 4 years later, we may see both stagnant or falling exchange values, and fewer useful new homes being built annually.

Glancey thought Martin '... a bundle of contradictions'. (1) He is likely to have mistaken his own inability to understand Martin's ideas for some unspecified contradiction. We can all have contradictions in our thinking, and they are better challenged while we are alive. Unlike most architectural journalists Martin spent a great deal of effort in sharpening his thinking, to make coherent sense of the world and the ways in which it was changing. Or failing to change.

He wrote his intellectual effort down to earn a living. But also so that those who read avidly to develop ideas with the purpose of acting on them could argue with him. Now that he is gone we can only stand on his intellectual shoulders, but in doing so he has provided a much better view of the relationship between architectural thought and action. In 2005 Martin was keen to recommend the Prefabricated Home by Colin Davies, and, by way of a warning, as '... required reading for every prefabrication tycoon.' (22) Martin's health was deteriorating, and that is the double meaning behind the title for his review of Colin's book in AD magazine - Triumph and Tragedy on the Home Front. (23) AD magazine had published The Time House.

The Strange Death of Architectural Criticism - The Collected Writings of Martin PawleyIf you are coming fresh to Martin Pawley you could do no better than start with The Strange Death of Architectural Criticism. (13)

As David Jenkins recounted in The Guardian, (24) Martin Pawley made the most of his 70 years from 21 March 1938 to 9 March 2008. From his late twenties he got straight to the point of issues that most architectural "thinkers" don't recognise as contradictions, let alone make sense of.

My favourite example of Martin getting straight to the point is from The Time House, in which in 1968 he introduces John Habraken's ideas of "supports" from 1961 to an English audience, (25) and reveals the simple choice architects make between functional fixity and flexibility:

'Functionalism was originally a morality for environment in that it sought to establish correct conditions for use rather than usefulness itself... Faced with the constant modification of structures whose "immutable" function changed overnight, the functional theorist was obliged to don an ill-fitting suit of clothes called flexibility. Every functional environment today is obliged to be able to become anything else - or nothing - instantly. Otherwise it is useless.' (26)

He was most interested in the utility of design, and the making available of that utility to more people. If only we could address the issue of improving the usefulness of housing through production, to be paid for out of household income. Martin knew that when housing is judged by what it can be bought and sold for, the uselessness of housing can be accepted as it becomes unaffordable.

Taken together, Martin's collected and uncollected writings make the point that the "Urban Renaissance" in pursuit of "sustainable communities" is little more than the creation of a British market in unaffordable useless housing. Now taken to the point of tears.

Martin Pawley's office

My condolences to Phillipa Morrison, Harry, Oliver, and Bart.

Ian Abley 16.03.2008

Martin Pawley - 1938 to 2008

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