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Katherine Shonfield

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An odd similarity looks set to emerge between now and the 1930s. The legacy of that period of mass building stays with us in the suburban form of the privately financed single family house which is spreading over the remaining gaps in south-east England. Despite an era of more sophisticated government posturing, the sole cause of any substantive change between the '30s and the present day is successful penny-pinching by the mass housebuilders.

At the same time, there are signs within the enthusiasms of the profession itself - from the end-of-the-year student shows to the work of the Peabody Trust - that the forms of experimental mass housing have once again become a preoccupation. And it is this conjunction, between an experimenting profession working on the sidelines and an indifferent, privately-based housing industry, that is so typical of the 1930s.

What is different, however, is that architects then had not been through the perceived failure of mass housing design in the postwar period. It is depressing that housebuilders have learnt almost nothing from the past half century. But it would be more depressing if we, as a profession starting to think we can really contribute to the everyday, domestic world, were to imagine we need do nothing but pop back in time to a Modernism cleansed of post-war guilt.

Another feature of the '30s was a disingenuous belief in the inherent value of innovative design, meaning:

The public does not know what is good for it and has to be educated to understand what is so wonderful about what we are offering.

Inhabited architecture should never be revisited except to be utterly condemned or entirely celebrated. Specific lessons should never be learnt.

The poor are a legitimate playground for experimentation by the rich, meaning us.

Still sound familiar?

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