Reaktion, £14.95, 208pp. £13.49 from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030; Verso, £16.99, 369p. £15.29 from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030

Architecture's Evil Empire?, By Miles Glendinning
A Guide To The New Ruins of Great Britain, By Owen Hatherley

In a world driven by economic savagery, hearts of darkness more mendacious than Conrad's original, and a globalised Tourette's Syndrome of texts, Twitter and Facebook, is there any point in thinking seriously, rather than entertainingly, about architecture? It has become a whipped-dog subject, virtually devoid of manifestos, heavy on irony and bottom-line issues. Two engrossing books, one examining the pathology that has produced icon-mania, the other a vivid motormouth travelogue through 12 British towns and cities, try very hard to imagine that architecture's often servile 21st century inertias can be reversed.

Miles Glendinning, director of the Scottish Centre for Conservation, and Owen Hatherley, whose byline has added an intellectual chutzpah to the pages of Building Design magazine, are relatively young; and yet they read like passionately articulate Nam veterans reporting bitter truths from the architectural Hués and Da Nangs of places like Manchester, West Bromwich and Cambridge.

It is always a battle to create properly engaging architecture because the combination of design imagination and client profitability is a fundamentally autistic construct. The ability of architects to influence clients and planners is being profoundly eroded by Big Money pedalling trivialised socio-cultural "aspirations". It is not the most intelligent architects and cultural informants who decide our future urban tableaux, but Tesco, Urban Splash and their replicants.

Glendinning's polemic, Architecture's Evil Empire?, argues that the "spectacularisation" of architecture creates alienated places and people. Late 20th-century modernist architecture's failure to give form to a humane socio-industrial revolution collapsed in the 1980s and 1990s into a veneration of inherently capitalist design geniuses. Their arbitrarily flamboyant buildings have little social or historical integrity. Glendinning marshals his arguments deftly and his quoted material burns bright. Here's the architect Peter Eisenman: "We're at the endgame of modernism – you might say we're in the rococo period. Zaha Hadid, Frank Gehry, Jean Nouvel – everything is becoming more and more spectacular. And the problem with a society of the spectacular is that it creates passivity".

It's not architectural icons that Glendinning fears most, but the hidden iceberg of decadent causes and effects on which they perch. What he doesn't emphasise, and perhaps should have, is that many architects are surely bored or depressed about the meaning of design "creativity" in the 21st century. The uber-saavy Rem Koolhaas's response to the violent surf of corporatism and information is to generate equally complex storms of data and architectural form.

"The issue is much more one of planning rather than just architecture," argues Glendinning. "We need to establish flexible frameworks of planned coordination within cities and regions that steer between the alienating planning megalomania of Old Modernism and the scenographic fundamentalism of New Urbanism, with the aim of embedding individual developments in a sense of place". Alas, the physical form and cultural ambience of many places in Britain, as Anna Minton revealed in her recent book Ground Control, are already controlled by perceived security issues rather than a yearning for thoroughly considered architectural regeneration, or even basic urban civility.

Owen Hatherley is not entirely civil; he is restless and willingly fractured, intellectually and emotionally, he is a fulminating critic-cum-flâneur. In A Guide to the New Ruins of Great Britain, his loves and despairs generate stimulating ideas, chips from shoulders, and obsessively detailed descriptions of movements through the towns and cities he visited with his photographer, Joel Anderson. This is fear and loathing in Lost Albion riffed by a quainter version of Hunter S Thompson.

The writing is dense and chimerical – academic appraisal followed, for example, by thoughts about the Sheffield or Manchester music scenes, then a brilliant barb. Sample: "It's difficult to imagine what the ruins of New Labour could possibly inspire – but in places like the Green Quarter or Salford Quays you can almost hear the outline of it, the sound of enclosure, of barricading oneself into a hermetically sealed, impeccably furnished prison against an outside world seldom seen but assumed to be terrifying".

Hatherley's "new ruins" are the corrupted body-parts of Britain's trumpeted urban renaissance. "British cities," he says, "deserve better than to be reduced to a systematic regeneration formula of 'stunning riverside developments' and post-industrial leisure in the urban core and outside it a sprawl of distribution sheds, retail parks and reduced versions of the houses of 150 years ago". He occasionally blows a fuse. Can the landscape of Atterscliff really seem "sexualised"? And how, exactly, were the glassy arcades in some Yorkshire towns a "main reason" for the writings of JB Priestley, David Peace and Jarvis Cocker?

Nevertheless, many of Hatherley's combative conclusions – particularly on Manchester, Sheffield, Southampton and Newcastle – are interesting, if sometimes hazed by his grapeshot literary manner, and a tendency to present himself as a naughty class-warrior (most predictably in Cambridge). In their very different ways, these are two admirable books whose ideas ought to provoke fresh debate about our relationships with buildings and places. One must hope that ours is not already a land of terminally lost content in which, to paraphrase Hatherley's beloved Joy Division, architecture will tear us apart.

Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Oliver
filmTV chef Jamie Oliver turned down role in The Hobbit
News
The official police photograph of Dustin Diamond taken after he was arrested in Wisconsin
TVDownfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Arts and Entertainment
Clueless? Locked-door mysteries are the ultimate manifestation of the cerebral detective story
booksAs a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Arts and Entertainment
Tracy Emin's 1998 piece 'My Bed' on display at Christie's
artOne expert claims she did not
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
The Baker (James Corden) struggles with Lilla Crawford’s Little Red Riding Hood

film...all the better to bamboozle us
Arts and Entertainment
English: Romantic Landscape

art
Arts and Entertainment
Laugh a minute: Steph Parker with Nigel Farage

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Comic Ivor Dembina has staged his ‘Traditional Jewish Xmas Eve Show’ for the past 20 years; the JNF UK charity is linked to the Jewish National Fund, set up to fund Jewish people buying land in Palestinian territories
comedy

Arts and Entertainment
Transformers: Age of Extinction was the most searched for movie in the UK in 2014

film
Arts and Entertainment
Mark Ronson has had two UK number two singles but never a number one...yet

music
Arts and Entertainment
Clara Amfo will take over from Jameela Jamil on 25 January

radio
Arts and Entertainment
This is New England: Ken Cheeseman, Ann Dowd, Frances McDormand and Richard Jenkins in Olive Kitteridge

The most magnificently miserable show on television in a long timeTV
Arts and Entertainment
Andrea Faustini looks triumphant after hearing he has not made it through to Sunday's live final

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

    A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

    Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served
    Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

    Scarred by the bell

    The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
    Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

    Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

    Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
    Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

    Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

    Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
    The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

    The Locked Room Mysteries

    As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
    Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

    How I made myself Keane

    Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
    Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

    Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

    Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
    A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

    Wear in review

    A look back at fashion in 2014
    Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

    Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

    Might just one of them happen?
    War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

    The West needs more than a White Knight

    Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
    Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

    'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

    Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
    The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

    The stories that defined 2014

    From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
    Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

    Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

    Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?