72 people died in the fire of the Grenfell Tower in June 2017. With the fire being one of the most lethal public disasters to hit Western Europe in many decades, the photographs of this tragedy literally burned themselves into the memory of many.
Text: Owen Hatherley – 19.11.2021
If you traveled on the Westway during the second half of 2017, what you would see was the charred, blackened remains of Grenfell Tower – still standing but with shiny new cladding applied to the three-quarters of its surface that burned off in the fire. It is the image of a building of the welfare state destroyed by British neoliberalism. Its ramifications implicate the British state and the British economy in the most drastic, terrifying fashion. The simplest explanation for the disaster – made by politicians and journalists in the aftermath – was that this had something to do with the tower blocks themselves. In reality, the explanation is something much more political and general: a ruinous and ongoing building culture of outsourcing and subcontracting. Owen Hatherley takes the opportunity to sum up the transformation on British building industry that took place over the past few decades. Read his critics in our latest issue Umbrüche.