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Shonfield book original, fresh and insightful . . .

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Letters

I fear your reviewer has undersold Kath Shonfield's new book, Walls Have Feelings (AJ 22.2.01).

Not only does the book have the best title for many a year, but it is also shockingly original in its critique of the theoretical and technical shortcomings of postwar welfare Modernism, and of Brutalism in particular.

The move to repetitive production and thin-wall construction created problems of weather exclusion, threshold definition, lack of feelings of interiority, etc. These were addressed by resorting to new gooey-gunky products which were magically meant to cover leaking roofs, warm up cavities, plug expansion joints, and the like. All failed.

Shonfield shows effortlessly that technological issues such as these are never neutral or scientific, but are always culturally and psychologically constructed. Her book does this by mixing historical analysis, working drawings, subjective readings of buildings and urban spaces in films such as Alfie, Repulsion, and the hysterical, previously-neglected Beat Girl (plot: teenage girl turns to drugs and sexual depravity because her architect father is only interested in replanning the city using cold, heartless high-rise blocks).

It is fascinating stuff, and while many of Shonfield's interpretations are openly conjectural, the text has a freshness that will interest anyone who has thought about post-war British architecture. I suddenly remembered that as a secondyear architectural student I was sent to record building failures on north London's Marquess Estate by Darbourne and Darke.

Among other things, I found metre-long stalactites of mastic that had oozed out from expansion joints in offset balconies above.

Having read Walls Have Feelings, I now realise that it was as disturbing and surreal as anything Roman Polanski served up on screen.

Murray Fraser, London

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