Ian Nairn who wrote passionately in the 1950s and 60s is unique in his generation, and not much appreciated by architects despite his great love for the subject. Nairn’s London published in 1968 is generally seen as his master work- but apart from the little-seen Nairn’s Paris there is his valiant campaigning work against urban mediocrity in Outrage and extensively in the Architectural Review.
There has recently been something of a Nairn revival, with publication of an interesting critical narrative on his work by Gillian Darley and David McKie Ian Nairn: Words in Place, and the re-publication of his1967 book Britain’s Changing Towns. I’m surprised I hadn’t come across this book earlier but find his evocative portraits of sixteen cities and towns absolutely gripping, written at a time when Nairn could still be positive about the transformations brought by modern architecture. And in particular his appreciation of the contemporary transformation of Birmingham, almost universally derided and since destroyed: 'The two-level roundabouts work very well...for traffic is up and pedestrians are down, taking possession of the whole ground except for the elevated roads. It feels oddly secure… The Bull Ring has indeed turned out to be a success. There pedestrians...are constantly participating in the traffic, feeling the slope of the hill, yet in complete safety…inside is Aladdin’s Cave, a marvellous interlocking design that takes a low-level bus station, a market hall and the ring road in its stride…'