Making Dystopia: The Strange Rise and Survival of Architectural Barbarism by James Stevens Curl - review by William Whyte

William Whyte

A Plague on All Your Glass Towers

Making Dystopia: The Strange Rise and Survival of Architectural Barbarism


Oxford University Press 551pp £45 order from our bookshop

Few readers of Literary Review, I fear, will have benefited from the remarkable education in life provided by the hit 1980s cartoon series ThunderCats. Those who did will instantly recall the central character, Lion-O, hereditary king of the ThunderCats, possessor of the Sword of Omens and the Claw Shield and leader of those few – Cheetara, Panthro and the rest – who escaped the destruction of Thundera, seeking to make a new life on the hostile, barren surface of Third Earth. And who could forget Lion-O’s greatest opponent, Mumm-Ra? An undead demon sorcerer, wrapped in bandages and haunting the ominous Black Pyramid, his party piece was the resurrection of terrible powers in response to the rasping incantation ‘Ancient Spirits of Evil, transform this decayed form to Mumm-Ra, the Ever-Living!’

Now, for anyone previously unaware of this televisual treat, here comes the spoiler. Lion-O wins. He always wins, in every episode. The viewers know it is unavoidable. Mumm-Ra knows it is inescapable. In their heart of hearts – if they have hearts – the Ancient Spirits of Evil must know it is inevitable. Yet Mumm-Ra keeps coming back. Neither death nor certain defeat can keep him down for long.

Reading this book is not unlike watching ThunderCats. It offers a curious resurrection of arguments first made almost a century ago and is primarily directed against a group of architects and writers almost all of whom died a generation ago. Less a work of history than one of historical re-enactment,

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