Tuesday, 14 July 2009

I Can Get A Witness

Dovecot Towers is on my mind. I’m making preparations for the book I plan to write, going through old posts etc, and a few weeks ago, I went back there.

To my surprise I found the return visit quite daunting. With the building looming up ahead, I imagined the soundtrack, with stag-parties, Sarah screaming, and the people who gossiped, played and argued on their balconies, never realising I could hear. I wonder how the other residents remember life there - after all, some people enjoyed happy days in Dovecot Towers. Occasionally, even I managed to raise a smile…

I was accompanied by Owen Hatherley, author of Militant Modernism, and responsible for the excellent Nasty Brutalist And Short blog – see links. Owen is a fan of brutalist architecture, which, in a column for Building Design, he defends with eloquence and passion. Personally, I’m not so keen, but Owen’s spirited advocacy could almost change my mind.

Owen is aware of Rentergirl, so I wondered what he’d make of Dovecot Towers. With the trained eye of a practiced architectural critic, Owen appraised the exterior. Here’s what he had to say:

“Dovecot Towers is tucked away in the back end of beyond - seemingly in an alleyway, without much hope of any light ever getting into the rooms. Then there were the grilles on the ground floor, which just made it seem like an industrial structure rather than housing - which, given the popularity of ageing satanic mills as yuppie flats, was probably the intention (also the reason for the cheap red brick, I suspect, although that looked like a bit of shallow dressing on a concrete frame), but combined with the dead flowers left for the suicide it all looked decidedly inhospitable. More than that, though, I remember that bit in the middle. Not really a square or a plaza, not a garden, just this odd bit of greenery that thought it was a feature of some sort. I can only wonder what it all looked like in the drawings...”

I agree with everything Owen says, except for one point. I don’t believe that Dovecot Towers was intended to reflect any style at all. It was - in more ways than one - thrown up. Architects speak of buildings having a dialogue with the surrounding area. In which case, what was Dovecot Towers trying to say? Then I saw the wilted bouquet. No green shots, just some half-dead lilies propped up and dwarfed by a shoddy, bleak and shabby buy-to-let disaster.

I’ve since learned that Davey might not have intended to die that night: he was threatening to jump, possibly to scare Sarah in the heat of the moment, and may have fallen, which for me makes his death all the more tragic. Coroners only record a verdict of suicide if there is conclusive evidence, like a note, so there was an open verdict. I heard from Sarah a while back. She’s determined not to be bitter and miserable (her words.) I also understand she’s doing voluntary work abroad.

As for William, my former landlord - well, I never did find out what happened to him.







Mike said...

Excuse me but what is going on here? I was under the impression that I subscribed to an occasionally amusing blog about the trials and tribulations about renting which I suppose necessarily included some musings on an ownership centric society.

But now I am being told that this was merely a warmup, a taster if you like, for a forthcoming book. A book? a book? what a whole one?

Even worse some character called rupert or tristan or something equally soppy, who is an advocate of brutalistic archetecture is now a central character in this right-on travesty.

I feel conned, duped and I don't think it is over stating the case to say even spit-roasted like some drunken third division WAG.

I urge you to reconsider, especially with regard to edward/peregrin etc.

Shoe said...

Isn't there some kind of cruel irony in the use of the word "brutalist" to describe not only the "design" (if that is ever a good description for the often hastily thrown-together appearances of these buildings) but the increasingly miserable lifestyles of occupants of such buildings. Good luck with the book Rentergirl!

RenterGirl said...

Thanks so much for your best wishes Shoe! There is such a story to tell, and well - I am a writer. It's what I do for a (meagre) living.

Mike: Owen is my witness to the bad architecture of that place, that's all. Don't worry. And for someone who claims to find Rentergirl 'occasionally' amusing, you certainly read it a lot. Regularly. Nearly every day, it seems...But you can stop any time you want.

Thanks for reading!


RenterGirl said...

BTW: the reason I have included a list of posts, rather than hyperlinks tosaid posts is that blogspot won't let me use hyperlinks. And with so many new people reading, I wanted to put the background in...

driver said...

I read a story that you previously had published [oh, and your newspaper columns] so I'm really interested in exactly how you'll tell this tale.

By the way the term 'brutalism' is often misunderstood. It's actually derived from 'béton brut' meaning "raw concrete" although the name has come to be associated with some idea about uncaring brutal architects.

You'll find that the good (usually early) examples were actually designed with some optimistic vision of enlightened, fully functioning communities while most of the rash of recent modernism-inspired developments are, as you say, just thrown-up to maximise profits rather than any passion for improving lives/communities. This could have something to do with the former largely being reserved for social housing/civic buildings and the latter more usually the work of private investors. The two patrons of these obviously have different agendas.

Anyway while brutalism, in its truest sense, has been out of fashion [resulting in the loss of many of the better examples of the movement], I reckon you'll find that the buildings are generally of a better standard to much of the stuff that now gets planning permission.

RenterGirl said...

Thanks driver. You are right about the meaning of brutalism; it is misunderstood. I think it is best used for structures intended for multiple occupation, like those massive and much maligned blocks of flats. Dovecot Towers isn't brutalist. It's got the newbuild signature design horrors, like the orange brick infill Owen mentions.

As for the story of my book, well I think it's the story of a building, and the effect it had on several lives. And of watching the property crash from the comfort of my balcony, and then being forced to leave because of that property crash. Incidentally: anyone see Freefall last night? Good, wasn't it...

Thanks also to everyone who has emailed support for my writing plans.

Becky said...

Aww Renter Girl, bit harsh on Mike I thought? I read his comment with my tongue firmly in my cheek and found it quite funny!

While I'm here though, I'm also looking forward to Renter Girl: The Book. And I'm still trying to work out where in God's Own Mancunia the wonders of Nice Heights can be found. We've been in new build Hulme purgatory for 2 years now and the idea of a concierge and a utility room has me drooling... (although we recently negotiated a £95 per month rent DEcrease in return for signing another 12 month contract - with a letting agent no less!)

RenterGirl said...

Oh, I am firm but fair. Well done with the renegotiation. That took, erm courage? The more I live here, the more I suspect that Nice Heights is fate making amends for Dovecot Towers, or something. I did get lucky. If it makes you feel better, it's a utility cupboard, not a room (useful nontheless.) There is no agency involved. Maybe that's why it's so great...Hope you're happy where you are!

Anonymous said...

I disagree with Mike. Rentergirl would make a brilliant book. There is a real story to tell about Dovecot Towers. I am a recent follower and hadn't read 'Death in the Dovecot' until last night. I was so moved by it. You ARE a writer and a very good one too. Best of luck with the book plans!


Helen said...

Can't wait to read the book version of RenterGirl!