Modernist Estates - Europe
The online platform, Modernist Estates, has for several years been an essential go-to source for those interested in the many excellent and often under-appreciated housing estates produced by 20th century architects, many on behalf of local authorities. Having previously published a review of UK examples, mostly around London, Stefi Orazi has now taken the format across Europe to 15 estates from Scandinavia to Spain, and covering a period from the early 1930s right up to the completion of Neave Brown’s Medina project in Eindhoven in 2002. However, in a pointed introduction, the author makes it clear that the European approach transcended geographical boundaries as evidenced by the inclusion of high quality estates in both Birmingham and Edinburgh.
This geographical spread and chronology is interesting as it reminds us that Modernism in these terms is much more than a stylistic label. Although the examples selected include Le Corbusier’s Unite in Marseilles and works by Arne Jacobsen, there are also projects by Aldo Rossi and Ricardo Bofill, architects who defy easy categorisation as orthodox modernists.
It is a fairly diverse selection, including several projects which many readers will be unfamiliar with. What holds this diversity together is a set of attitudes to the creation of dwellings by each architect, backed up by the kind of imaginative applied research that seems a neglected art nowadays when most new housing is market-led.
Each study begins with a concise but informative history of the project, illustrated with high quality new photography. However, what particularly illuminates this book is alluded to in the second part of its title the buildings and the people who live in them today. Interviews with present day occupiers cut through conventional academic analyses to reveal answers to questions that we would probably all want to ask: what is it like to live here, how successful is the community, how do the homes cope with young families, is the building fabric holding up, is statutory protection a blessing or a burden?
Overall, this is a very well-produced book, clearly conveying the value of the modernist approach in creating well-designed homes and civilised communities. With the examples featured largely the product of government initiatives of one kind or another, its arrival is well timed at a point when there is an increasing realisation that the next generation of new housing need not be left exclusively for the market to provide.