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In June of 1955 the Architectural Review published Outrage, an issue edited and almost single-handedly produced by Ian Nairn. The issue started with a prophecy of doom, of death by slow decay, of Subtopia: ‘a compound word formed from suburb and utopia, i.e., making an ideal of suburbia’. Nairn demonstrated the UK's subtopian sprawl by tracing one road from Southampton to Carlisle, before heading to the Scottish Highlands, exhibiting his findings through mugshots of offending lampposts, arterial roads and garrotted trees. His captions spat venom at public authorities, detailing the nature of his grievances in a catalogue that diagnosed the suburban seepage as an ‘ordered demolition of the English landscape’.
Outrage complemented the humanistic campaigns and picturesque principles that the AR, and then-editor Hubert de Cronin Hastings in particular, had been championing. Chief amongst these was Townscape, a campaign developed over 30 years by Gordon Cullen, that offered an alternative to the iconoclastic urbanism of CIAM. Cullen was also a skilled draftsman, and illustrated Outrage; at the time of his death in 1994, Norman Foster wrote of his drawings that ‘they influenced the way that generations of architects not only expressed themselves but also the very way they thought.’
Since 1955, Outrage has reappeared at various moments as a recurring feature, occasionally positioned opposite Delight, and from 2015 has maintained a position in every issue of the AR, as a continuing campaign against the most egregious of architectural misdeeds.
This extract comes from the conclusion of Ian Nairn’s ‘Outrage’ in the AR June 1955. His manifesto for ‘the main-in-the-street’ is a searing critique of suburbia – or ‘Subtopia’ – which is as relevant now as it was when it was published