First published in 1964, Modern Buildings in London is a celebration of the city’s post-war architecture by the famously untrained critic Ian Nairn. Written ‘by a layman for laymen’, Nairn’s take on 260 buildings that were instantly recognisable as ‘modern’ includes descriptions of classic designs such as the Barbican, the former BBC Television Centre, as well as schools, ambulance stations, car parks and even care homes.
The last book in which Nairn approaches modern architecture as the site of potential optimism, this alternative guidebook maps out a lost London and shows Nairn writing at the pithy peak of his powers.
Ian Nairn (1930–1983) was a British architectural critic and topographer who made his name with a special issue of the Architectural Review in which he coined the term ‘subtopia’ to describe the areas around cities that had, in his view, been failed by urban planning, losing their individuality and spirit of place. In the 1960s he contributed to the volumes on Surrey and Sussex in Nikolaus Pevsner’s Buildings of England series and wrote a number of his own books, including Nairn’s Paris and Nairn’s Towns, both published by Notting Hill Editions. He also presented several BBC television series. His work has influenced writers as diverse as J. G. Ballard, Will Self, Iain Sinclair and Patrick Wright. A noted drinker, Nairn’s work is full of descriptions of pubs and recommendations for beers. He died in 1983 aged fifty-three.
Travis Elborough, described by the Guardian as ‘one of the country’s finest pop culture historians’, is the author of many books, including Wish You Were Here: England on Sea, The Long-Player Goodbye, Through the Looking Glasses: The Spectacular Life of Spectacles and Atlas of Vanishing Places, winner of Edward Stanford Travel Book Award in 2020.
A timely reminder of both the changing nature of aesthetics, how buildings shape a neighbourhood while also being a reflection of the wants and needs and vision of the future purveyed at the time. Camden New Journal