Seventies

/ Chris Simmonds / Places to live

There are lots of reasons for looking back at the achievements of previous generations. It can be for fresh inspiration. Or it can be to find out how they reacted to circumstances that might inform our actions now. Another reason might be to distinguish the traces and origins of the influences not on what we might do but rather on what we see around about us now. What you find is that some aspects have ballooned into major current impacts others have withered leaving next to no trace whilst for some we regret the lack of take up of what seemed then good ideas.

So it is with looking back to the 70s. Two books offer a lens and way into the period. The Spirit Level by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett and Capital in the 21st Century by Thomas Piketty both in their own way pin point the period as that in which equality was at its height. The disparity of the Victorian age had been relatively managed down by the 20th century to this point of achievement before ballooning away to our current inequitable extremes.

In the context of this remarkable observation it was interesting to hear our colleagues reassess this period, amusingly one contribution quoted an article nostalgically 'I miss those days growing up in the 1970s'.

A range of parallel projects were discussed from Trellick tower now listed, to the aspiration and demolition of the Southgate estate by James Stirling which might have been listed if it had survived; the most remarkable synthesis of concrete nobility and British High Tech of Rogers, Foster and Farrell and Grimshaw; the geometric extremes of Robin Hood Gardens by the Smithsons and Alexandria Road by Neave Brown contrasting with Ted Hallenby's exquisite Lambeth low rise, Benson and Forsyth's garden pavilions at Branch Hill, the lightweight constructions of Walter Segal and Aldington and Craig's rooted contemporary vernacular.

Further afield Erskines Swedish social action found fruit in Byker Newcastle in an elaborate variation on grass routes schemes across the country from Black Road to Govan in Glasgow. There were memories too of the Whonorf car free aspiration on the continent and for the escapist the contrast between Maria Bottas argument for a rooted culture of his Ticino back yard in contrast to the invented escapism of Paolo Soleri's Acrosanti in the desert.

Reflecting on it, it was the end of the period that two contrasting visions of the future emerged, one Jeremy Dixons St Marks Road Housing and Frank Gehry’s own house extensions.

One established and reinforced a departure from experimentation by a return to the city as a structuring model, the other experimentation as a means to continue to adapt building on what we had. One clamped itself into the city the other used it as a launch pad. These two strands we still work with now, morphed, one led to the challenge of architectures role in creating connected cities and the other contributing to the city as entertainment.

What emerged in our discussion was to what extent the reaction to a period becomes the measure of a period whilst with the twin focus on the city and entertainment, what role has architecture had in contributing to or mitigating this burgeoning inequality?