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BOOK

REVIEW

Nottingham Transformed - Architecture and Regeneration for the New Millennium By Kenneth Powell.Merrell, 2006. 176pp.ú24.95

Kenneth Powell's book delivers the most thorough account so far of Nottingham's urban and architectural history.

He describes the lacemaking tradition, the industrial revolution and then how, in the 1960s, Nottingham's vibrant working class was eradicated by planning policies of Stalinist cruelty, in which 'a hardline approach was taken to slum clearance, though the outcome wasn't always what was hoped'.

That's a masterly piece of Powellian understatement - the outcome was a socio-economic disaster that leaves present-day Nottingham a socially dysfunctional, crime-ridden city. By 1980 the whole of St Anne's - a vast hillside and valley of Victorian terraces 'often of above-average quality' - had been demolished, and by 2000 'the problem areas, in terms of crime and antisocial behaviour, were often the housing schemes of the inter-war and post-war period'.

Despite his very good accounts of Nottingham's earlier Georgian and Victorian heritage, Powell's emphasis necessarily falls on these destructive planning policies.

The period photographs of 'lost' Nottingham - Victoria Station or the steep narrow streets around Drury Hill - record the death of a once beautiful and socially coherent city.

So when the book moves on to present a selection of current projects, we wonder what today's planners are doing to make good the damage done by their predecessors. But all we see is piecemeal, privately financed retail, office, and hotel developments, seemingly with nothing to link them together.

Powell does not discuss Nottingham's situation in a regional context; we are left wondering whether bodies such as Nottingham Development Enterprise operate in a vacuum.

The masterplans he does include - some quite shockingly superficial - are limited to the city centre, the railway station area, and run-down Eastside.

Some forthcoming schemes, like the Broad Marsh retail area, are so large that they too are, in effect, masterplans; but there is no sign that these ad hoc local interventions will mesh as a coherent urban strategy.

As for individual buildings, Powell's most interesting examples are cultural ones by good local practices like Marsh Grochowski, or Caruso St John's contemporary art centre. Some of the new university buildings are interesting (though quirky) and of past masterpieces, Owen Williams' 1930s Boots D10 Building remains a tremendous essay in structural and spatial innovation.

In contrast to the mindless pastiche that is wrecking what remains of Nottingham's historic core, Benson and Forsyth's proposed mixed-use development in Bottle Lane shows how designing in context can be innovative and dramatic.

As for the outlying areas and the disenfranchised people who inhabit them, nothing is said about what is being done to address their needs. We are left wondering whether Nottingham's planners know where the city is going, or if the whole thing is just being left to market forces.

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