In the first half of the 1980’s a number of British suburbs were the scene of a series of uprisings. Fueled by a dissatisfaction among mainly immigrant residents, and oftentimes ignited by incidents of (allegedly) racist abuse by the police, the riots (the inquiry into the 1985 riot in Broadwater Farm, Tottenham, avoids the term and speaks of ‘disturbances’) signaled the end of an era of social modernist experimentation that led to the construction of a large number of housing estates all around the country. Not very surprisingly, the estates were also heavily criticized in less violent ways during that period: Alice Coleman’s 1985 book Utopia on Trial discredited modernist housing to such an extent that a planned exhibition of Le Corbusier’s work was cancelled because of a lack of sponsors willing to connect their name to his UK legacy shortly after the book’s publication.
And because things that move are much more interesting than reading texts: Handsworth Songs, a documentary by the Black Audio Film Collective. Directed by its founder John Akomfrah, it documents the tensions that ultimately lead to the 1985 riot in the suburb of Handsworth, Birmingham, that left two people dead. Sparking a series of 1985 uprisings, Handsworth had also been the scene of another (smaller) riot four years previous – something that makes one wonder about Birmingham’s riot-prevention program (especially after seeing this).