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Great Britain has just left one Union. But might the island’s future lie in another Union altogether, with its former colonial “kith and kin” in a trans-oceanic super-state with Canada, Australia and New Zealand?
Welcome to the strange world of the “CANZUK Union”, the name for a quixotic but apparently serious plan to reunify the white-majority “Dominions” of the British Empire under the flag of low taxes, strong borders and climate change denialism.
Artificial Islands tests this idea that Britain’s closest relations are in these three countries in North America and the South Pacific, through a thorough investigation of the townscapes and buildings of several cities within “CANZUK”. In this settler zone we can find some of the most purely modern landscapes in the world — British-designed cities that were built with extreme rapidity in forcibly seized territories on the other side of the world, created specifically to make the colonisers feel at home.
This book uncovers the secret histories of nineteenth- and twentieth-century British architecture in the Dominions — from Neo-Gothic cathedrals and parliaments, to rows of terraces and suburbs of semis, Edwardian baroque museums and classical war memorials, right up to post-war high-rise estates and Brutalist experiments.
Owen Hatherley writes regularly on aesthetics and politics for, among others, the Architectural Review, the Calvert Journal, Dezeen, the Guardian, Jacobin, the London Review of Books and New Humanist. He is the author of several books, most recently Landscapes of Communism (Penguin 2015), The Ministry of Nostalgia (Verso, 2016) and The Chaplin Machine (Pluto, 2016), the last of which is based on a PhD thesis accepted by Birkbeck College in 2011. A book on European cities, Trans-Europe Express, will be published in 2018.
“Owen Hatherley follows Rudyard Kipling in asking “What do they know of England, who only England know?” in this masterly, sharp study of cities of the former white Dominions. He shows that there is something important to be gained from studying them together. But that lesson is not that an empire of white capitalism is waiting to be recreated, but rather that there were separate but common histories of making white nations, of labourism, neoliberalism, of growing multi-ethnicity, and of beginning to come to terms with the legacies of these pasts. Strikingly, Britain is not even former-Dominion-leading let alone world-leading in any one of these. A rich cliché-busting book, a model of how to think critically about empire and its contemporary relevance.”