Nation Builders, BBC 4

This is going to be a short post, but I wanted to draw attention to a recent season of programs on BBC4, going by the title Nation Builders. For the last couple of weeks the BBC has been running documentaries about post War British building, including a program on Ian Nairn. Cassian Harrison, Editor for BBC Four, says:

Architecture remains one of Britain’s most influential exports, and yet it’s left us with a landscape that some think has been ravaged with carbuncles and concrete. This season will be a fascinating opportunity for BBC Four to explore the work of some of our most renowned architects in a unique season of programmes which explores the history and inspiration behind some of the world’s most iconic buildings, but also celebrates some of architecture’s less graceful creations.

The Man Who Fought the Planners: The Story of Ian Nairn, is an hour long documentary comprised of talking head interviews by the usual Nairn suspects such as, Jonathon Glancey, Jonathon Meade, Gillian Darley and David McKie, and Owen Hatherley . However it also includes interviews with his former colleagues at the AR, Observer and Times, along with his BBC TV director.

As well as the interviews it also contain plenty of archive clips from his various BBC series. To me these are the far more interesting aspects as much of the interview material is readily available to anyone who has read anything about Nairn’s work. Unfortunately Nairn’s TV output has only been shown in full one time since his death and as the 16mm of the shows still exist, I suggest it it either time the BBC repeated them, or the BFI put them out, either as a retrospective or as a DVD. Some of them do exist on YouTube if you search.

The program is still available on IPlayer for a short period of time, and acts as an excellent starting point into exploring Nairn’s work

As part of the season the also showed a new two part Jonathon Meades Documentary, Bunkers Brutalism and Bloodymindedness: Concrete Poetry

Unite D'Habitation
Unite D’Habitation

described by the BBC as a;

Two-part documentary in which Jonathan Meades makes the case for 20th-century concrete Brutalist architecture in an homage to a style that he sees a brave, bold and bloodyminded. Tracing its precursors to the once-hated Victorian edifices described as Modern Gothic and before that to the unapologetic baroque visions created by John Vanbrugh, as well as the martial architecture of World War II, Meades celebrates the emergence of the Brutalist spirit in his usual provocative and incisive style. Never pulling his punches, Meades praises a moment in architecture he considers sublime and decries its detractors.

Jonathan Meades delivers a unique and distinctive essay on the story of brutalist architecture across Europe. Meades asserts that modernist buildings, often maligned, are instead monuments to optimism and grandeur. The film draws on extraordinary buildings from all over Europe in a lavish, and sometimes surreal, visual collage.

Like all of Meades documentaries it will keep you on your toes as he throws scatter-shot references at you. The down side to this is his programs often feel like an exclusive club, if you haven’t widely read on the subjects of architecture, art and social history you can often be left behind. It may take several viewings to get everything he is saying. However as his programs are now on BBC4, it suggests that you haven’t found them by accident and are already interested in the subject. The program contains some incredible shots of architecture and his prose is always tinged with more than a little humor.

Meades published an excellent article in the Guardian as a sister piece to the program,
The incredible hulks: Jonathan Meades’ A-Z of brutalism (2014)

I really would recommend that you view these programs on the IPlayer before they are deleted (BBC sort out you online archive, 4OD manages to keep it’s programs accessible). To accompany the season there is also a collection of archive programs curated by Janet Street Porter available at Post-War Architecture.


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