Glorious or Trashy, the -Ism with Attitude ; as the V&A Hosts a Show, Corinne Julius Looks at the Origins of Postmodernism
Julius, Corinne, The Evening Standard (London, England)
[broken bar] RCHITECTURAL and design theory might seem a long way from most Londoners' lives, but what architects and designers argue about has a habit of coming to influence the nature of the city, its buildings and what's inside them. Postmodernism, which developed in the Seventies and flourished in the Eighties and early Nineties, has been one of the most reviled architectural movements, yet a highly influential one.
Ideas propounded by postmodernists and exploited (often very badly) by others have been absorbed across the built environment. Docklands developments are full of red and blue painted metalwork; classier projects such as No 1 Poultry by Sir James Stirling incorporate bright pink and yellow stripes into a strange, wedge- shaped structure with a facade of punched-out circles, squares and triangles; and Terry Farrell's green glass and stone MI6 monolith sits triumphantly at Vauxhall.
Postmodernism is a relatively recent phenomenon but the V&A has decided it is worthy of a major exhibition -- Postmodernism: Style and Subversion. Co-curator Jane Pavitt says: "Thirty years seems a good distance from which to view Post-modernism. It's enough but not too much hindsight. It's still something of a toxic subject. The verdict isn't clear cut as to whether Postmodernism is trash or glorious."
Postmodernism, an -ism with attitude, was the response of a generation of architects and theorists to modernism, with its mantra of "form follows function". Modernism, once seen as key to the creation of a better world, had become the house style of corporations and government. Postmodernists challenged the orthodoxies of modernism, rejecting truth and simplicity in favour of the artificial, the kitsch, the colourful and the patterned. Post- modernists wanted buildings and objects that expressed irony, wit, historical allusion and style. They played with different aesthetics and stuck them all together so that style wasn't just a look, it was an attitude.
In America, architects such as Denise Scott-Brown with Robert Venturi, Charles Moore, Michael Graves and even the archmodernist Philip Johnson came up with postmodern buildings ranging in look from fake Italian piazzas to skyscrapers with Greek columns and pediments. In the UK, postmodernism was promoted by Charles Jencks, who built houses in Cape Cod and London.PoMo (as Postmodernism is sometimes called) was popularised in its kitschest form by Sir Terry Farrell's building for TV-am (1981-3) at Camden Lock. Farrell converted an interwar garage by cladding it in an assemblage of styles and historic forms. He adorned the roof with the station's sunrise logo, art deco lettering and a blue-and-white eggcups.
This in-your-face approach extended to interior products. …