Search - List of Books by Ian Nairn
Ian Nairn (1930 – 15 August 1983) was a British architectural critic and topographer.
Total Books: 7
He had no formal architecture qualifications; he was a mathematics graduate and a Royal Air Force pilot. In 1955 he made his name with a special issue of the Architectural Review called "Outrage" (later a book, 1959) in which he coined the term Subtopia for the areas around cities that had in his view been failed by urban planning, losing their individuality and spirit of place. The book was based around a nightmarish road trip that Nairn took from the south to the north of the country - the trip gave propulsion to his fears that we were heading for a drab new world where the whole of Britain would look like the fringes of a town, every view exactly the same. He also praised modernist urban developments such as the Bull Ring shopping centre in Birmingham, which eventually became one of the most unpopular buildings in the UK and was demolished in the early 21st century.
He became a well known journalist, writing for several newspapers and producing a series called Nairn's Travels for the BBC in 1970. He was a contributor to Nikolaus Pevsner's Buildings of England series, co-authoring Surrey and Sussex. His involvement in the project ended prematurely as he felt unable to work under the objective constraints the series required, and ceased work on the latter volume before it was completed.
Nairn's writing style is concise, and often very amusing, and he describes both his loves and hates, sometimes describing a passage between buildings rather than the buildings themselves, or a single detail, such as the elephant on the Albert Memorial that "has a backside just like a businessman scrambling under a restaurant table for his cheque-book".
He was fond, perhaps too much, of pubs and beer, and his architectural guides are full of descriptions of pubs, and recommendations of which beers to drink. This was part of his love of local and regional distinctiveness.
In his concerns about the encroaching blandness of modern design, he was the heir of literary men who had similarly been critics of the spread of an Edwardian suburbia, such as E.M. Forster ("success was indistinguishable from failure" there), and John Betjeman ("red-brick rashes"), and which fed into the Campaign to Protect Rural England among others. This strain of thinking was, however, to become largely concerned with conservation of the heritage in affluent areas, rather than with Nairn's urban fringe. And like Betjeman, Nairn fought against the forces of subtopia, the obliteration of British heritage - though the forces of subtopia invariably prevailed; one example, his defence of Northampton's Emporium Arcade - 'if they do pull this place down it'll be a diabolical shame.' It was demolished June 1972.
He died aged 53. 'As surely as town planners wrought havoc on his beloved landscape, Nairn destroyed himself. Consumed with a sense of failure, he sought refuge in drink and in his later years wrote almost nothing. He died of cirrhosis of the liver.' He is buried in Ealing, in a Victorian graveyard. Significantly perhaps, it is now one of Ealing's conservation areas - a posthumous victory for the passionate and angry Nairn.
In the 2005 film, Three Hours From Here Andrew Cross retraced the extensive journey across England that Nairn took in order to research and write Outrage in 1955.