the recent death of derek walker, the chief architect of milton keynes, has finally given me a pretext to make this blog entry which has been sitting on my phone for 18 months! in fact my musings were prompted by iqbal aalam's photos of milton keynes 1970s architecture, his comments and my own remembrances of the period.
i like the idea of milton keynes as originally envisaged, a city based on the grid, a city as network imposed on preexisting settlements and countryside as a new idea. the early buildings by the development corporation can be read as symbols of this, making manifest what would otherwise remain hidden or only felt in the new geography of distributor roads.
most of the original architecture is relentlessly orthogonal, gridded surfaces in tiles and mirror glass. much of it is under threat as people forget about or reject the almost mystical devotion to the idea of the grid that motivated the original designers. it should be appreciated as a matter of historical style, as much as we appreciate victorian floridity or georgian classicism. milton keynes represents a technocratic pastoral ideal, the mindset and lifestyle of 'tomorrow's world' and the bbc micro - as if postmodernism never happened. the technomysticism was also manifest in the now demolished bletchley pyramid and the ley line alignments of the city centre. no doubt pink floyd's 'dark side of the moon' was on the design studio turntable.
somewhere in this is the lost dream of a rational and balanced society, of public and private sectors working together on common goods. the grid in this world belongs to the public sector not the private. it lays the ground rules and mediates between competing interests. it opens up the spaces but sets the boundaries. the gridded buildings that sprang up in existing towns and villages were manifestations of the new order, mushrooms springing from the underlying threads.
milton keynes was part of a 1970s british vision of soft technology, of grids and mirror glass emerging from or consumed within lush landscapes, of the greening of buildings with earth blankets and solar orientation. perhaps the most extreme and poetic projects in this vein came from archigram in their last years, where hedgerows were infrastructure and office buildings became hills. even foster got in on this, with the insulating grass roof at the willis building - and what is the symbolism of the endless green carpets in his 1970s work?
there is an ideal early 70s occupant for these places, in their 20s, unisex flared jeans and feather cuts, educated at a new university, liberated, forward-looking. classless of course, free of historical baggage. ecology, astrology, computers. ley lines and punchcards. in the event there were too few of these people to sustain the technopastoral lifestyle intended for places like netherfield.