Caryl Gardens, 1975

Myrtle Gardens, 1977

Sir Thomas White Gardens, 1973

I have always been somewhat bemused by the habit of naming Liverpool’s inter-War tenement blocks ‘Gardens’. A less appropriate word would be hard to find for those rather austere blocks. They do have their champions, amongst them architectural writer Owen Hatherley, whose recent book A Guide to the New Ruins of Great Britain, examines the legacy of the architecture and urban regeneration of New Labour. Travelling through Britain, he ends up in Liverpool where he compares the bungalow mentality of the Militant regime to the 1930s schemes designed by Sir Lancelot Keay, Liverpool’s City Architect and one of the leading planners in the country.
Hatherley complains that the great vision and confidence that took Hamburg, Vienna, Berlin and Rotterdam as its influences to create monumental architecture for the working classes had been reduced to uninspired suburban architecture that had been transplanted into key city centre sites. (Not just Militant – the last tenements were demolished in 2001 in Old Swan to make way for a Tesco store). The issues are never straightforward. Liverpool’s rapidly declining population had precipitated a rethink on housing requirements and the tenements were no longer popular with tenants (indeed I remember filming deliberately burnt out flats in blocks off Park Road where tenants were hoping to be rehoused in the new houses that were being built). Grand architectural statements are one thing – the wishes of the public are another, although it is constantly disappointing why small scale public housing is usually so drab and uninspiring. To quote Hatherley: “It leads to depressing juxtapositions – as at the point where the grand sweep of the major surviving thirties tenement block, St Andrew’s Gardens meets a piddling close of nineties semis, with the Metropolitan Cathedral in the background. The scale is preposterous, with the houses seeming to desperately want to be somewhere less dramatic ..”

When a garden is not a garden

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