By continuing to use the site you agree to our Privacy & Cookies policy

Your browser seems to have cookies disabled. For the best experience of this website, please enable cookies in your browser.

Close

Your browser is no longer supported

For the best possible experience using our website we recommend you upgrade to a newer version or another browser.

Close

Obituary: T Dan Hooker, blues Modernist pioneer

T DAN HOOKER - the legendary blues Modernist and last of the ‘Thames Delta Brutalists’ - has died at the age of 92 after a long battle with obscurity

He will be best remembered for his 1965 hit Proposed Mathematical New Town Near Greenwich.

He leaves behind several women to whom he done unspecified wrong, and countless brainchildren, including a mysterious unfinished sketch for a ‘floating atheistic working-class city to be moored above Bath as both an idealised modern community and a lofted remonstrance’.

This theoretical project illustrated Hooker’s status in the world of epic space as a doomed visionary.

As he himself admitted many years later, getting planning permission for any floating city would be hard enough, let alone one above Bath.

‘The sanitary arrangements were sketchy, to say the least, man,’ he is reported to have chuckled.

In 1958, much of Britain’s new post-war architecture looked timid and provincial. With its snooks and tripery, its skiffled brickwork and New Elizabethan drapery-pokery, the built landscape seemed mired in nostalgia, a world away from exciting developments in Europe. There, architects were experimenting with Oxygenated Modernism: a new and shocking style, all backbeaten concrete and visceral walling.

Then came the Great British Brutes Explosion. Inspired by the global wave of raw petrified music, exciting new architectural combos appeared. The Kipling & Cavendish Modern Lookers. Sir Andrew de Montclerc & his Chartered Jelly Surveyors. The Fincher & Fincher Palladian Bluesdaddies. And in the vanguard, T Dan Hooker & the Draughtbusters.

Hooker and his fellow ‘betonistas’ ripped the scene apart with their flyovers and tower blocks and French cigarettes. Their plugged-in civic approach electrified a young generation of beatnik planners who’d seen nothing like it.

Hooker’s credo - ‘Fight Squares With Squares’ - later encouraged rebellious ’60s students to tear up the hippie rulebook and design everything to a 12-bar grid instead.

‘Think of an inhabited structure as a blues song…’ he memorably told the audience at the 1967 Architectural Association Folk Building Festival.

‘Make your first pencil line rough and honest, from the heart, maybe a little self-pitying. Unique, personal. Yet within the parameters of the style, so it’s generic…’

In the famous clip of his performance, Hooker’s prowling intonation is brilliantly backgrounded by Marty ‘Slim’ Panatella on syncopated slideshow.

‘So you want a unique, personal, generic first line. But also just the same as everyone else’s first line. This is blues Modernism, not bloody abstract painting. Something that sits nice on a four-beat system build plan, you dig? Of course you dig, ha ha, a foundation is absolutely vital for all art forms and nobody wants to see a good plan come tumbling down…’

Here Hooker breaks off to wail on a harmonica for a couple of minutes, the audience riveted and laminated with his audible, heartfelt saliva.

‘Then you make your second line - just repeat the first line. Exactly the same. Exactly the same. Then the third line, same length, make sure it rhymes, you’re done.

‘You be drawing the blues and no mistake, marvellous stuff and in the noblest of Vitruvian traditions. Say you’re doing a council block, keep it simple.

‘Repetition’s the key. You can have your main riff on the ground floor, put in a lift and then you can keep the riff the same but move up to the fifth, back down again, up to the seventh and back.

Repetition, basic riffs, solid structure, boom. Nota bene, no portable gas cylinders allowed ANYWHERE inside…’

But as soon as it had blossomed, blues Modernism faded and died.

A fickle popular culture had moved on from amplified Brutalism to so-called ‘prog architecture’ in the ’70s.

Now buildings were expected to walk, or squeak, and to be inhabited in drawings by men in flares and moustaches and severe women in weird costumes.

‘I guess T saw the writing on the wall,’ said former blues Modernist colleague Manny Boyes in a 1989 interview with Stomped Concrete Quarterly.

‘His built gigs always attracted a lot of graffiti. Then when the Tories got in it was all about the environmental determinism, man.

‘Cats saying our riffs leading young people astray and whatnot.

‘T quit the life.

‘Moved down to Hastings, became a driving instructor.

‘We lost touch.

‘Man, I guess we all lost touch…’

A memorial service for T Dan Hooker will be held next week at a South Bank undercroft.

Readers' comments (1)

Have your say

You must sign in to make a comment.

Related Jobs

Sign in to see the latest jobs relevant to you!

The searchable digital buildings archive with drawings from more than 1,500 projects

AJ newsletters