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Not columnist's privilege but in fair defence

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Letters

Those who read my AJ column will know what I think of sycophancy. It is obvious therefore that I don't expect any special treatment of books I've written from the magazine I write for.

However, Austin Williams' review of my book Walls Have Feelings - architecture, film and the city contains major errors which, if not simply ignorant, one must assume are wilful (AJ 22.2.01).

Indeed, it is not just that the reviewer has apparently not read either the book or a complete chapter, he appears not to even to have scanned to the bottom of a page. Concerning the genesis of Brutalism post-war, Williams states that what is missing from the first chapter of my book is 'the fact that everything was in a state of flux at that period because of the underlying social dynamics', and that I 'choose not to see' that 'confused national identity played itself out in the arts and sciences', 'marvelling instead in the realisation that trends in one art form were mirrored in another'.

On the contrary, I state explicitly that the general theme of defence of the border provides a way of understanding concerns about form and architectural rules in parallel with 'the wider post-war political context of flux, uncertainty and change', 'a time of confusion, of shifting social and political borders' (page 10), and in the course of the chapter I discuss the aesthetics of both architecture and film in the context of Socialist Realism and changing views of the Soviet Union during the period.

He goes on to say that in my chapter on construction I reflect a 'precautionary approach to design innovation' and criticise 'the era of Modernist certainties now past'. I actually said that the Greater London Council belongs to this era (undeniable, surely), and go on to explore how fears of water penetration from that era have constricted constructional possibilities. I conclude that ditching the archetypal symptom of that fear - the cavity wall - could herald 'an alternative future for building construction: of invention, fun and decoration' (page 49) - scarcely precautionary.

I am familiar with the fact that journalists rarely read the books they review from cover to cover. However, the AJ has a justifiable reputation for fairness. It is not merely incompetent and shoddy in someone who is a professional journalist to treat painstaking, original work in this way, it is shabby.

Katherine Shonfield, London N1

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