Carscapes: The Motor Car, Architecture and Landscape

Carscapes: The Motor Car, Architecture and Landscape in England
Kathryn A. Morrison and John Minnis
Yale University Press   438pp   £40

For J.G. Ballard the car park was the ‘true temple of the automobile age’. In Carscapes, the appropriately named Morrison and Minnis trace the ways in which the car has shaped Britain for 120 years.

The book neatly illustrates the concerns of early motoring: a design from the 1920s for a garage in London’s Soho called for a golf course on the top floor, while a another in Manchester had a ladies’ waiting room, billiards room for chauffeurs and a team of trained drivers on hand, should the car’s owner be temporarily unfit to commandeer his own vehicle. The book excels in showing how what might be considered intrusions onto the British landscape – huge concrete flyovers cutting through verdant countryside, brutalist multi storeys synonymous with blighted town centres – have in fact become part of the country’s visual landscape. Morrison and Minnis’ enthusiasm for their subject is reminiscent of Learning from Las Vegas, Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown’s 1972 book that extolled the vernacular architecture of Sin City.

If the casual reader of Carscapes can flick through a few pages and find a strange beauty in the honeycomb concrete form of the Welbeck Street car park (pictured above), then the authors have done their job.

Dean Nicholas is the website manager of History Today

Get Miscellanies, our free weekly long read, in your inbox every week

The world's finest history magazine 3 for £5