Book reviews — November 2020
'The Alternative Guide to the London Boroughs', edited by Owen Hatherley
Published by Open House 2020, 274 pages, paperback, £14.99, ISBN 978-1916016910
This book was written because in 2020 the Covid-19 virus pandemic severely restricted the public taking part in Open House. People with a serious medical condition such as the editor Owen Hatherley, who received a government letter, were confined to their home and for most of us it was only possible to make short local excursions. The London that we were used to move about in was out of bounds.
The book's introduction is superb; Owen is really on form here. He had plenty of opportunity to think about this part of the book. Thirty three people mostly with an architectural or journalistic background were invited to contribute a chapter each, in the main about the area of London where they live. This publication is about London, but about the less familiar parts and in more relaxed times may inspire some GLIAS members to venture to places that they knew little about — and perhaps were not aware existed.
This work is literary rather than factual, musings and memories, you will not find a great deal here about buildings and certainly few details. It seems to be assumed that the reader is familiar with the buildings mentioned, it is the feelings these buildings evoke in the writer that are given free reign. Generally the book is about impressions and responses; one can sometimes tell as much about the author as the Borough they live in or the area they have chosen to describe.
The modernist Polish cultural centre POSK, 238-246 King Street Hammersmith W6 0RF, might be a surprise and somewhere for an outing when things return to normal. A whole chapter is devoted to this building. The book has no index but the chapters are listed at the front and the name of the Borough appears at the bottom of the page. There are photographs but their reproduction is poor.
Can this work be recommended to an industrial archaeological readership? It is predominantly about the 20th century post-1945 which will probably exclude many of you, and it tends to be writing around a subject rather than meeting it head on. It is a different kind of book — alternative.
However, it is about London and moreover the less familiar parts and is likely to inspire future outings. You might look at this book and consider buying it. Bob Carr
© GLIAS, 2020