1 Sep 2019

Milton Keynes @50


Off my trolley in Milton Keynes (Boyd & Evans)

Milton Keynes is definitely weird. There are the concrete cows. Then there is the weirdness of driving through a city with a population of over 250,000 and seeing nothing but trees and roundabouts. And when you do eventually find the centre, ‘CMK’, there are the C20th ley lines and a sort of 60s Californian wackiness about the place. This contrasts with the purest modernist rectitude and the quality of detail in the early buildings of the Development Corporation. Unfortunately MK’s later years exemplify the architecture of neo-liberal selfishness and boorishness.


Or am I dreaming? 

MK is difficult to understand because it is not like a European city, more a scale model of Los Angeles or, in its more formal aspects, Washington D.C. It apes the American city with self-conscious referencing like its street naming – ‘North 8th Street’ etc. MK is the largest and last of the New Towns, designated in 1967 some twenty years after the first ones like Stevenage and Harlow. The zeitgeist was now not Atlee’s ‘winning the peace’ but Wilson’s ‘white heat of the technological revolution’. But the 60s were also a time of social revolution with increasing affluence, more leisure time and the explosion of youth culture. There was a mobility revolution too with the rapid growth in car ownership and the building of the first motorways like the M1. These three powerful dynamics came together in the planning philosophy behind MK.


Like no other – urban countryside

The first new towns had represented a huge social and planning achievement but for many architectural critics like Gordon Cullen their low density Scando-modernism was too bland and suburban. Later New Towns like Runcorn and Cumbernauld were bold in concept and challenging in design. But, as Otto Saumarez Smith explores in his excellent Boom Cities, by the mid 60s in a remarkably rapid volte-face planning and architectural theorists were already moving away from what he calls ‘the romantic ideal of high-density planning’ and towards the concept of more open and dispersed development. This shift reflected the influence of American planning and especially the ideas of the urban theorist Melvin J. Webber who imagined community not in ‘propinquity’ but facilitated by transport and telecommunications creating new opportunities for ‘voluntary association’. Flexibility was a keynote of these ideas, recognising the impossibility of predicting rapid social and economic changes.


A dispersed city of feedback loops, bubbles and boxes


Propinquity free: Correctly predicting an age of machines and screens

This was the era of ‘Non-Plan’, the libertarian ideas of Rayner Banham, Peter Hall and others which chimed with the new age of individualism and freedom of expression. Non-Plan was highly influential; Colin Buchanan in the 1966 South Hampshire study totally abandoned the celebration of urbanity and attacks on suburbia in his Traffic in Towns published only three years earlier. As Otto notes ‘I suspect it had something to do with planners realising their relative impotence and deciding to plan with the flow rather than against it’. He also notes that the late 60s was ‘a very brief moment when …. civil-servants, developers and politicians made a junction with the most radical of ideas.’ So, fifty years ago the scene was set for the commissioning of a radical utopian city, one which has been very successful in anticipating the wants of a future Britain, although possibly not in the way its visionary progenitors imagined. Some of the ‘unbuilt’ utopian projects were recently explored by the artist Gareth Jones in this excellent video Looking for Milton Keynes. There was always a tension between the almost hedonistic concepts of Non Plan and the paternalist origins of Planning. In a sense the MK masterplan was a last fling of old-fashioned planning before this was emasculated and privatised by Thatcher and her acolytes. And nowhere is this change more evident than in MK itself.


Where the grid is king – the boulevards


An American model

MK sprawls across 22,000 acres of what had been ‘good fox-hunting country’ in north Buckinghamshire. Halfway between London and Birmingham it was always intended as a major regional centre in its own right, not a satellite of either conurbation. But MK is quintessentially a creature of the M1 which forms its eastern boundary and the city is totally designed around cars. The masterplan approved in 1971 provided for a ‘relaxed’ grid of dual carriageways which follow the gentle features of the landscape running roughly a kilometre apart. These define (or isolate) about 100 distinct housing and industrial zones. The housing zones were intended to develop ‘organically’ but were not seen as separate or distinct communities; district facilities were shared and often placed on the edges between zones.


A city of multiple styles and theories – Magistrates' Court  

MK incorporated earlier industrial towns like Bletchley and Wolverton as well as many villages. The name Milton Keynes was, surprisingly, not invented but was that of the smallest of the villages. As Owen Hatherley observes the choice of name partly explains why MK is the most famous and/or notorious of all the new towns; it combines reference to John Milton, poet of the English Revolution with John Maynard Keynes, whose economic reforms helped prevent a second revolution. And presciently it also conflates JMK and Milton Friedman, respectively architects of the post-war consensus and the post-1979 apotheosis of capitalism.


Fancy a walk around miles and miles of car parking?

Usually we start our city explorations from the central station with a rough walking itinerary to cover the main things we need to see but deviate to explore the side streets following our eyes and instincts to find what looks unusual, interesting or particular to the place. You just can’t do that in Milton Keynes. The scale is daunting with CMK covering two grid squares and within this there is a further grid of dual carriageways. Those running east-west were eccentrically seen as modern ley lines,  named Silbury, Avebury and Midsummer Boulevards.


Disrupting the grid – slow hand clap for Intu 

The street blocks of CMK are massive and so are the building footprints. But the structures are low – the masterplan stipulated buildings should be no more than 6 storeys – and they are set well back from the boulevards behind heavily landscaped car parks. These car parks give an illusion of accessibility but we were nonplussed to find that, in this city entirely designed around cars, it was impossible to find anywhere to park. All the beautifully paved and landscaped car parks proved to be private, restricted or already full-up. Eventually we found a multi-storey in the newish intu shopping centre, a particularly hateful and disorientating mish-mash of retail design clichés. Extraordinarily this has been built right across the ley line of Midsummer Boulevard. When we finally escaped this ersatz-world we were completely lost and discovered that – actually - MK has no streets.


A misnomer – the civic centre


The restrained and internalised city

As Elizabeth Williamson says in The Buildings of England, CMK is not a city centre as such but like an out-of-town shopping mall and business park unconventionally placed at the city’s hub. There are the public buildings you would expect to find in a city centre but mostly these are indistinguishable from an office block, like the Civic Centre. Nearly all the buildings are internalised leviathans which eschew any relationship with the boulevards. And with a few notable exceptions there is no small-scale activity or interest to engage you, so no street life.


Pedestrian shelters striding across boulevard and car park


A parallel pedestrian universe, designed and built with care

There are hardly any pedestrians about but a lot of careful thought has gone into the design of the pedestrian facilities which are scrupulously detailed, including the famous Miesian ‘porte-cochere’. You can wait to cross the boulevards sheltered from the rain but, tellingly, these indicate no pedestrian priority over cars. Mostly the paving, street furniture and landscaping is well maintained, although this is not always the case – graffiti, vandalism and neglect is taking its toll. Rough sleeping is also evident; not what you expect in Utopia. At road junctions the segregated pedestrian and cycle network dips under the elegant and slightly elevated highway structures so you don’t walk through ‘underpasses’, rather in a parallel pedestrian universe. But you have to know where you are going because you can’t see where you are going – its a bit like a hidden screen page. And you are walking through and around all those bloody car parks, which is disorientating and very enervating. So not so great for exploring, as we found.


The Age of Aquarius at Campbell Park

The Milton Keynes Development Corporation may have been a child of the Age of Aquarius but it acted in a very traditional and paternalistic way. This was no prototype for the slippery and unaccountable public-private quangos of Heseltine and Blair but rather a public corporation with a sense of duty and clear social and economic purpose. MKDC employed Fred Roche as manager and a large team of architects led by Derek Walker. They were responsible for much of the early development and the carefully designed public realm. Leading architects and designers of the day like Ralph Erskine, Terence Conran and a young Norman Foster were also commissioned.


Sublime and eternal – The Shopping Building


If only most shopping centres were this serious 

MK’s piece-de-resistance is a striking pure Miesian mall, which was quaintly termed the ‘Shopping Building’. It was designed by Stuart Mosscrop and Christopher Woodward of the MKDC team. At the time of its completion, 1979, it was the largest shopping complex in the country but it was not conceived as a mall, rather a 650 metre long Galleria inspired by Milan and the Crystal Palace. The C20th Society calls it ‘the most distinguished twentieth century retail building in Britain’ and the Buildings of England says ‘this is still the best-looking if no longer the biggest shopping centre in Britain …. sleek and almost seamlessly detailed with no histrionics and no kitsch’. The shopping centre is arranged along two parallel ‘streets’ which are flooded with daylight from generous clerestories. The structure is a standard steel frame in regular bays and the materials are simple and consistent – painted steel, glass and travertine. Within the tall glazed malls are full height trees, sculpture and stone seats. The effect is of an extraordinary simplicity and tranquillity with the loud demands for attention of retailing kept subordinate. The usual shop fronts are all there but, unlike the adjacent intu centre where novelty is so tediously in your face, here things are almost too understated. The interior of John Lewis, for example, lacks any sense of drama or presence. It faces onto a large covered space, Middleton Hall, which is used for exhibitions and events but was empty and rather desolate when we were there. Queens Court is an attractive open space between the malls, now given over to the food offer. City Square, which originally provided the setting for the west entrance, has been largely obliterated by a 1993 extension which, unlike the original, has dreary claustrophobic low ceilings.


Listed in 2010

The ‘Shopping Building’, now branded thecentre:mk, was listed in 2010 despite the objections of the owners, who feared this would impede plans for further extensions. This does not appear to be the case. Various changes have dumbed down the original design and detail. The latest is to plonk a multi-storey car park in front of it in order to provide a ‘full car to mall experience' FOR FUCK'S SAKE! As an interesting coda, when the adjacent intu shopping centre was built blocking the axis of Midsummer Boulevard, the Council insisted that the structure should allow the boulevard to be re-instated if required and now wants to do this to provide a new ‘public transport spine’ through CMK.


The abandoned Food Centre

Across Midsummer Boulevard is the ‘Food Centre’, completed in 1989 by MKDC. This is designed on similar principles to the Shopping Building but lacks its clear plan and quality of materials. Although infinitely better than most new retailing it has been abandoned by Waitrose et al and now awaits its fate; ‘regeneration’ by demolition. It will be replaced by a tower of up to 16 stories providing 900 flats and the obligatory vibrant ground floor uses including retail and leisure.


Exciting and unloved – The Point


Trying to create streets in Milton Keynes – like a theme park

The Food Centre sits between two leisure complexes. The interesting one is ‘The Point’, a ‘constructivist’ pyramid of neon-lit steel beams encasing mirror-glass cinemas and café-bars. designed by BDP in 1985. The Buildings of England says it looks self-conscious. I think it is still futuristic and exciting. The other leisure complex is a newish open ‘street’ of bog- standard pubs and restaurants, TGI Friday, Slug & Lettuce et al, all wonky angles and gimmicks and no fun at all. It may be jumping on a Friday night but is deserted on a weekday lunchtime.


The spirit of MKDC ...


... is still alive at MK Gallery


City Club: where automation creates a new leisure society


The MK Theatre complex: feeling very cultured now

The nearby Gallery has recently been revamped and extended by 6a Architects. As well as making an architectural statement it manages to add some life with a lively café spilling into the street. The architects were inspired by the unrealised utopian concept of  the ‘City Club’ – part of the imagined future where automation would create a new leisure society. These ideas are expressed in the building as a red caged box enclosing a large mirrored ball – a grid and a circle representing city and landscape, apparently. The constructivist design is attributed to Foster’s prototype system-build office in MK and the vivid colours reference the early work here of Conran Roche. The extension to the original gallery is a simple corrugated aluminium wrap. Fran Williams in the AJ says ‘one perceives it as stripping back the ideals of utopia to very basic levels.’ A nice touch is that the City Club ideas are also used to create a playground for children. The original gallery was designed by Blonski Heard in 1999 as part of the MK Theatre complex. With its simple, powerful concrete columns, wave form roof and unifying canopy the complex is true to the original serious purpose of MKDC although executed after its demise.


The Public Library on Silbury Boulevard


A celebration of youth and modernity over nostalgia – Boyd & Evans' mural


I get it now: let's skate around the city all day with our Walkmans on

The Public Library on Silbury Boulevard, designed by the County Architects Dept in 1979, is classically inspired Modernism clad in dark red brick. The Buildings of England says it has cultural gravitas but the main interest is the ‘super-real’ mural of Boyd & Evans (1985). This is intended to portray the spirit of MK and evokes innocent slightly dreamy summer days and a celebration of youth and modernity over nostalgia. But there is a dark cloud over the idyll – Mrs Thatcher waves from a balcony with Arthur Scargill behind.


OMG, people interacting


A new city spilling out from the former

Despite having most of the facilities of a city CMK conspicuously lacks city life. However, you will find this in abundance in the souk-like open air market in the very shadow of thecentre:mk, partly using the undercroft of the elevated boulevard. MK’s population is surprisingly diverse and many recent arrivals seem to gravitate to the market. Organic, vital and chaotic, you can get anything here and there is a strong sense of community interaction in striking contrast to the rigidity and reserve of the rest of CMK. Of course, the theory was that the flexible structure of MK would allow the city to respond and adapt to future changes in technology, the economy and society. But the masterplan proved to be a strait-jacket. The cult of the car and an obsession with big projects left little room for the small scale or for individual initiative but these find expression in the souk. Worryingly the Council have recently appointed architects to ‘rethink’ the open-air market. Greig and Stephenson were behind the reinvention of Borough Market, which is very nice, but MK’s market does not need gentrifying; it is fine as it is and best just left alone.


Station Square: A grand modernist aspiration ...


... but there's naff all going on

At the west end of the Midsummer Boulevard ley line is Station Square designed by the MKDC architects in 1982. Owen Hatherley calls it ‘gobsmacking …. one of the most remarkable Modernist set-pieces in Britain’. The vast plaza is flanked by three perfectly detailed Miesian blocks. The scale and purity of the concept is indeed gobsmacking and since the main-line station concourse is immured within the central block this is the first of MK you will see if you arrive by train. But the station itself is something of a disappointment compared to, say, Coventry further up the line and it has no external expression other than a projecting canopy with the BR logo on it. Elizabeth Williams says Station Square is a ‘sophisticated and coolly dramatic composition that, because of its position makes no impact as the termination of an important vista.’ It is an excellent introduction to the grand aspiration of the new city but also illustrates the problem in translating them successfully to human scale. Nothing goes on in the plaza; even Greggs was closed when we were there.


Out of town, in town


Embracing the horizontal – Midsummer Boulevard


The Central Business Exchange: Like a planetary colony ... 


... or is this the air conditioned future?


Achingly ugly, but useful for navigating the MK grid

What you find between Central Square and the Shopping Building (which is what you really come to see) is essentially a very big and pretty dreary in-town business park, albeit disciplined by the grid of boulevards and the trademark high quality landscaping. The big office blocks are at best unassumingly dull but more often than not apologetically swathed in brick respectability with a hint of po-mo. All hide behind acres of car parking and landscaping and are entirely introverted, private places. There is nothing much to say about them. Some of the earlier offices have a coherent modernist ethic, like those on Avebury Boulevard now occupied by the University of Bedfordshire. (Milton Keynes’s new university, MK:U, is to be designed by Hopkins). The Central Business Exchange on Midsummer Boulevard includes a public arcade and is more interesting than it initially appears as to the rear you find quite a grand tropical palm house. The bizarre, ungainly dome of the City Church at least functions as a landmark for orientation when navigating the business district.


The Hub, a break from the horizontal


Bland but refreshingly urban

Milton Keynes, conceived at a time which might be seen as the apogee of post-war optimism, was begun during the uncertainties of the 70s and largely constructed under the terrifying certainties of Thatcher. Funding for public housing (originally intended to be 50% of all housing), was drastically cut, and henceforth market forces ruled. But MKDC survived Thatcher to be abolished in 1992, twenty-five years after its inception. Its quango successors cared little for the masterplan’s prescripts and indeed seemed to want MK to be as ordinary, nondescript and undemanding as somewhere like Basingstoke. Building heights shot up with new buildings now ‘addressing the street’ in the approved Urban Renaissance manner. Glenn Howells’ ‘The Hub’ on Witan Gate includes a fourteen-storey tower, currently the tallest in MK, grouped with other slightly lower blocks around a plaza with fountains, a few trees and mid-market restaurants and hotels. Although ordinary almost to the point of blandness and looking exactly like what you would find in Big City Brum, it does work as a place and has quite a lively and urban feeling, a relief in oppressively un-urban MK.


Lush – Campbell Park

What does make MK special is the lushness of the landscaping. An overriding concept of the masterplan was to create a new type of urban landscape, a ‘City Forest’. About a quarter of the city is parks, open spaces and river valleys with lakes and the Grand Union Canal running through. Over twenty-two million trees were planted. Campbell Park, immediately east of CMK and accessed by a very elegant pedestrian bridge across the sunken expressway, is a really outstanding city park and one of the Development Corporation’s greatest planning achievement. What is extraordinary is the extent of the view across a valley from the crest of the hill adjacent to CMK which seems like endless rolling country. But within this the city is hidden.


A city hidden by trees – Fishermead Boulevard


Beautiful bridges and anonymous places

The City Forest is actually one of the main reasons why MK is so anonymous and difficult to relate to. Everything looks the same. The grid roads go on and on and whilst you can admire the landscaping and the elegant pedestrian bridges you have no sense of where you are. You count progress via the the road numbers, like motorway junctions – V for vertical (north-south), H for horizontal (east-west). Signs direct to non-places like ‘East Milton Keynes’.


Fishermead, generous but isolating

Since the grid roads are so heavily landscaped as to entirely disguise the city it is really difficult to explore the housing zones. The grid structure makes it impossible to understand the city as a sequence of history, places and spaces. We only sampled a few suburbs, starting with Fishermead, right next to CMK and one of the earliest housing schemes. It was designed by Derek Walker. The houses, mostly in formal terraces, are sound but unremarkable. However the plan is a triumph of theory over common sense. The idea is that of the ‘London square turned inside out.’ But the ‘squares’ are at the back of the houses beyond their fenced off gardens. This makes for very awkward communal space and it is evidently a problem rather than an asset. What seems so strange is that the houses actually face very broad spaces which should have been proper squares but are actually occupied by useless ceremonial boulevards with access roads to either side. The cult of the car at its zenith.


Humanity needs maintenance – Eaglestone


Definitely no propinquity here – Heelands

Across the expressway is Eaglestone, an estate designed by Ralph Erskine. It has neither the scale nor the drama of Byker, but shows the same humanity and thoughtful detail. Sadly although some of the houses have been renovated the majority are in quite bad repair. The public realm and landscaping, typically very generous in public housing of this era, is also very neglected with rubbish strewn everywhere. The backland car parking lots feel very threatening. It is really sad to see housing of this quality treated so badly. Of  course the social democratic vision behind the estate's design was   trashed by the iron-lady's ideology. An astonishing 70% of 'right to buy' houses in MK are now private rental, creating a huge crisis for the Council. We also visited Henning Larsen’s Heelands housing north of CMK, laid out as a series of cul-de-sacs off a very legible spine. The layout and design of the terraces is thoughtful and seems to work well, although a lack of maintenance was evident here too.


Mistakes and positive intentions at Oxley Wood

Most of the new housing of recent decades which we glimpsed from the grid roads looks very ordinary. The big exception is Richard Rogers’ Oxley Wood. These are the famous £60k ‘Eco-houses’ sponsored by John Prescott who was brilliant compared to the current tragic lot but was also accident prone. The construction failures were the result of the usual problems: contractors cutting corners, lack of training and inadequate site supervision. The failures of system building of course delighted political and aesthetic conservatives but the problems now seem to have been successfully resolved.


The modernist suburb, sadly uncommon in Britain

Thank God for Google directions or we would never have found the Eco-houses. They are in an otherwise thoroughly depressing Wimpey estate. The Rogers designed housing however is bright, cheerful and uplifting. With their stark white panels, bright red roofs and angular shapes the houses really look like what you might expect in a futuristic new town - an IKEA version of Stijl. However he location on the very edge of this dispersed city is anything but 'Eco', although we did see a bus limping through the estate.


Mies van der Bus Station, 1982–3, grade II listed 


A masterpiece, but in the wrong place

The early decision of the masterplan to go for dispersed development based on the car dictated an unsustainable future. Although there are 170 miles of cycle and pedestrian routes (Redways) linking the housing and employment zones these are little used. Only 3% of work journeys are by bike compared to 70% by car. The grid layout means that bus routes are tortuous and slow. None of MK’s bus services are frequent (meaning at least every 10 minutes) and the majority are hourly or worse. So it is unsurprising that bus use is very low. In Reading, similar economically to MK but with a conventional radial plan (and an enterprising municipal bus company), bus journeys per head are nearly four times higher. The failure to plan for an effective public transport system is poignantly illustrated by the example of its ‘former bus station’. This achingly beautiful, perfect Miesian pavilion with its flat roof almost floating above it is listed. But it is not used because it is too far from Central Station, so the bus companies use bog-standard shelters outside the station instead.


The Cambridge – Milton Keynes – Oxford growth corridor 


Yeah I'm worried too (Boyd & Evans)

Although this is such a car-centric city, Central Station is strategically very important to MK. The city is a branch of the London economy and the West Coast main line is its umbilical cord, carrying a massive outflow of commuters to Euston. As the recent New Economics Foundation report shows, the real rationale for HS2 is to release capacity on the WCML for more commuter trains from MK and other outer south-east into Euston. The ‘Cambridge – Milton Keynes – Oxford growth corridor’ is another mega-project, again billed as a ‘once in a generation opportunity.’ The concept is to facilitate the ‘agglomeration’ of the economies of the two university cities with MK so as to create a single labour market and ‘knowledge intensive cluster’. Oxbridge housing is limited and ridiculously expensive. At present east-west commuting hardly exists but building a new expressway between Oxford and Cambridge would open up new, cheaper, housing options for the boffins. This new  motorway will have a massive impact but is being introduced stealthily. Grayling recently announced spending of £1.4 bn for a short new section of dual carriageway in Bedfordshire which will complete the route between Cambridge and MK. This then justifies the building of the rest of the expressway to Oxford although the costs and environmental impact are unquantified. Given what we know about the climate emergency and our commitments to reducing CO2 emissions, how can massive public funding of new roads to facilitate long distance car commuting make any sense?


Like an Oxbridge suburb already

The huge irony is that the ‘Varsity line’ between Cambridge, Bedford, Bletchley and Oxford was closed in 1967, the very year MK was commissioned. The railway line is now to be reinstated between Oxford and Bedford but a completely new alignment for the railway will be required eastward to Cambridge, conservatively estimated at £2bn. Good value you may think compared to the costs of the planned expressway, and obviously an essential part of the national rail network. But the government have not committed to completing this East-West Rail project.


Keep thinking about that Air 'All I need' video by Mike Mills

MK is a one-off. It breaks all today’s planning taboos. The dispersed low-density layout seemed to be the future in the 60s, but the plan was not adapted to address sustainability even though such concepts were already well established in the 70s when the city was built. The masterplan did however fit only too well into Thatcher’s regressive vision of the ‘great car economy’. Arguably MK is successful today precisely because it eschews the European city values of Lord Rogers’ Urban Renaissance in favour of the car-centric American model. But are its business parks and shopping malls fed by cars or its low-density car dependent suburbs that much different from what planning is presiding over in most cities today? Those cynically titled ‘sustainable urban extensions’ of the volume housebuilders to be found on the periphery of most of our towns are in reality deliberately separate, inward-looking and car dependent, just like MK.


The playful, leisurely city? (Boyd & Evans)


Or an endless car park?

So, MK was indeed the future. The few people we talked to all seemed to like living there and it is consistently rated as one of the top performing cities for business and job creation. However, when the Today programme did a vox pop about MK’s success the main thing people singled out for praise was that you can get out of it very quickly. As with Garden Cities, you can see why families like it, but imagine your younger self and how stultifying it must feel to live in a non-city like this.


Where MK gets it wrong – unsustainable transport


Where MK gets it right – biodiversity 

Given England’s myopic lack of regional planning and idiotic failure to address sustainability and the climate emergency, economic growth will inevitably continue to gravitate to MK and the motorway corridors of the outer south east. MK is set for significant further expansion. Is it possible that it can be modified for a different, more sustainable utopian future? It may be that MK’s congestion free ‘relaxed grid’ can be more easily adapted to self-guided electric cars than conventional radial roads. More significantly it may prove a test bed for demand-responsive electric minibuses which could make public transport a viable option. The segregated Redways may come into their own with electric bikes taking out the slog of lengthy cycle commuting. The market will certainly densify CMK with more residential development, so the issue is to concentrate on design quality and diversity of residential options. Building on some of the endless surface car parks would be a start. And MK’s prescient ‘urban forest’ and extensive parks provide mitigation for climate change.


Maybe there's room to play

We found Milton Keynes less interesting than we had expected. For a city conceived of as embracing a future of massive technological and social change it turns out to be rather dull, suburban and introverted. Urbanists of course hate it. The late Francis Tibbalds called CMK ‘bland, rigid, sterile and totally boring’. Notwithstanding the exceptional Modernist icons, few would disagree. It was always the ideas of the masterplan that were the most interesting; their realisation was largely a disappointment. But maybe the masterplan will prove more versatile and durable than urbanists like us expected.


A city unafraid of design concepts


N.B. With thanks to Gareth Jones for his talk earlier this year at Loughborough University titled How to fabricate the ideal city, using the 1976 Habitat Catalogue and the Milton Keynes Infrastructure Pack