All you need to know about Postmodern Architecture: Less is a Bore
You might be shocked and possibly even outraged by the buildings in our new book, but you really won’t be bored
Leaf through the opening pages of some modern architecture books, and you know what’s coming next: spread upon spread of artfully crisp buildings, built from spotless glass and perfect concrete by committed post-war progressives, always photographed in their prime, on near cloudless, perfect days. A handful of these sorts of places look lovely; a town or two is pleasant enough. But an infinitely repeated style, free from all ornamentation, idiosyncrasy or deviation? Might that get pretty boring, pretty quickly?
Our new book, Postmodern Architecture: Less is a Bore isn’t like that. In fact, you really don’t know what’s coming next in this exquisitely curated collection of Postmodern architecture, which showcases the movement in all its glorious array of vivid non-conformity. There could be a fake Italian piazza filled with faux ruins, a corporate headquarters shaped like a wicker shopping basket, a Japanese house that looks like a face, or a London office block that simultaneously brings to mind both the 1990s and the ancient world.
There are the kinds of buildings you might expect to find in a survey of postmodern architecture, such as colourful houses by the founder of the Memphis movement Ettore Sottsass, and challenging, puzzling but ultimately beautiful works by the pioneering American practice Venturi Scott Brown. There are buildings by well-known names such as Philip Johnson and Richard Meier, who seem to bridge the world of unadorned, Modernist architecture, and the playful, engaging, Postmodernist period that followed. Artists, such as Claes Oldenburg and Grayson Perry put in an appearance or two, as do the key critical voices, from Noam Chomsky to Prince Charles, many of whom spoke out against and tried to damn this provocative style of architectural design.
Despite this volley of styles and opinions, Postmodern Architecture: Less is a Bore still manages to place the movement for newcomers. “If Modernism was the cultural response to a world defined by industry, production, urbanization, and the nation state, Postmodernism embodied the shift towards one of post-industrialization, consumption, de-urbanization, and globalization,” writes the architectural author, historian and curator, Owen Hopkins, in his informative introduction.
“Postmodernism heralded the final unraveling of the postwar global order that at the same time would yield new cultural and political possibilities: Pop art, pop music, ubiquitous television, the media saturation of images, post-colonialism, the environmental movement, identity politics, and a new agency for minorities and the marginalized," Hopkins goes on, explaining that Postmodern pioneers such as Robert Venturi "advocated for an architecture that would both reflect and perhaps even help make sense of this new world: an architecture that reveled in its complexities and contradictions, rather than trying to solve them.”
Get this book, and you’ll understand that Postmodernism, at its best, is not some glib gibe at the old beliefs of Mies, the Bauhaus, Le Corbusier and co, but more an extension and continuation of those original impulses, under different historical circumstances.
Fans of this style of architecture will delight in the book’s visual choices, which include canonical picks such as Terry Farrell and Partner’s SIS Building in London, and Philip Johnson and John Burgee’s AT&T Building in New York, but also little-known wild mash-ups of vernacular, classic, pop and modern architecture, from Modena to Miami.
Anyone with a love of fine or applied arts will relish the way some of the world’s more iconoclastic architects have turned, say, a simple pumping station, into a psychedelic totem of decorative outrage. Scholars of cultural history will learn much about visual expression and placemaking in an age that stretches from the Oil Crisis up to the Dotcom Boom. And perhaps even dogged adherents to the tenets of Modernism will admit there’s something just a little bit boring about by-the-book, Mies-style minimalism.
As Hopkins puts it in his intro, “Postmodernism is about freedom of expression, of meaning, and identity. It’s about reveling in disorder, contingency, and complexity, about breaking down hierarchies, and about celebrating the marginal, overlooked, or oppressed.” Want to join in revelry? You really should. You might be confounded, outraged or challenged, but you certainly won’t be bored.
To find out more about this brilliant new book, and perhaps even invest in a copy, take a look at Postmodern Architecture: Less is a Bore here.