Reformation, Counter-Reformation and Metropolitan Form

Paul Knox


D31T55 The cityscape of Croydon, south London, as the golden rays of dawn break through the thick grey clouds.

The cityscape of Croydon, south London, as the golden rays of dawn break through the thick grey clouds.


The complacent middle-class attitudes of the inter-war Britain were replaced by a ‘postwar consensus’: a determination to break with the past and a conviction that centralized planning – which had served the country well during the war – was necessary to forge a new, more prosperous and more healthy society. A Labour government swept into power in 1945 with a mandate to implement a comprehensive program of civil reformation and social engineering that included the establishment of a ‘cradle to grave’ welfare state and the selective nationalization of major industries and utilities (including coal mining, the steel industry, electricity, gas, telephones, the railways, road haulage and canals). It was nothing less than a secular Reformation. London, having been contained and reframed in the postwar period that also saw the addition of a progressive dimension and Modernist aesthetic, has been altogether remade since the mid 1970s. The building boom of the 1960s came to an abrupt halt in the early 1970s just as a series of national and international disruptions set in motion a fundamental change in the political economy of the United Kingdom. The postwar consensus built around reciprocity between society and the state was overtaken by a new politics. The secular Reformation that had created the welfare state was arrested by a counter-Reformation founded on competition and self-reliance. The anatomy of the metropolis reflects the cumulative impact of this shift. By 2000 London had spread beyond the Green Belt, with an officially recognized Outer Metropolitan Area that includes Chelmsford, Guildford, Luton, Maidstone, Reading, and Southend-on-Sea. Internally, Greater London has meanwhile been remade as a decisively polycentric region with a complex mosaic of suburbs, commercial centres and employment hubs that have diversified hugely in character.



Knox headshot copyPaul Knox is University Distinguished Professor and Senior Fellow for International Advancement, reporting directly to the university President. Between 1997 and 2006 he served as Dean of the College of Architecture and Urban Studies. Recent books include Atlas of Cities (Princeton University Press, 2015); London: Architecture, Building and Social Change (Merrell, 2015); and Palimpsests: Biographies of 50 City Districts (Birkhäuser Verlag, Basel, 2012).