The book is a collaborative effort between three artists: Peter Chadwick, author of This Brutal World (Phaidon) and popular Twitter feed @brutalhouse; Tara Darby, who produced all the newer photographs that accompany the book’s archival images, maps, and posters; and Ben Weaver, graphic designer and co-founder of Here Press.
“There was no other option, this was the team I wanted to do it with,” says Peter Chadwick, a “brutal architecture nut”, as Tara Darby describes him. He first visited Thamesmead 10 years ago, and for the last year has been returning regularly with Darby.
Both wanted to tell the human story as well as the architectural, though the latter is what Thamesmead is usually known for. So, as well as photographs of buildings, maps, and models, they included portraits that accompany first-person interviews, and landscape photographs of the river and surrounding greenery. “It’s a crazy place,” says Darby. “Because of its geographical location it feels like you’re on the edge of London, but then coupled with that you get this amazing feeling of nature.”
Thamesmead is built on land that once belonged to the Royal Arsenal, a site that was used to store military ordnance and ammunition from as early as the mid-1500s up to the Second World War. Between 1973 and 1985, when preparing the land for the development of West Thamesmead, the council discovered over 40 iron guns from the 18th and 19th centuries, some of which were of immense historic value and now belong in museum collections worldwide. Darby says there are still rumours today of hidden ammunition, and in one interview, an early resident of the estate recalls her son coming home with a grenade in his pocket.
The Town of Tomorrow not only touches on the history of the land before development, but also the people. Thamesmead was, and still is, a popular settlement area for travellers, and their lifestyle is very much part of the culture there, which can be seen in photographs of carriages, and horses grazing on the sidewalk.