Nairn’s Towns is a collection of writing by Ian Nairn at his acerbic best. As one of the few critics of architecture to eschew purely aesthetic modes of analysis, Nairn instead focused on the character and feeling of buildings and towns. This proclivity for affect is reflected by his praise for structures as diverse as Everton Water Tower, Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral, Sheffield’s Globe Works, Newcastle’s Victorian railway infrastructure, Charles Church in Plymouth and the entire Welsh town of Llanidloes.
Nairn’s original essays, written in the early 1960s, exude optimism about the future of planning and conservation but he is altogether more deflated when re-evaluating in his late-60s postscripts. The reissue by Notting Hill Editions includes insightful post-postscripts by Owen Hatherley, but the publisher has taken the dubious typographical decision of printing them entirely in italics, which, to be frank, is daft. Nevertheless, we must credit them for illuminating such an important work in the history of planning.
The BBC made a wonderful documentary telling Nairn’s story a few years ago called The Man who Fought the Planners which deserves an hour of your time if you’re interested in British planning history.