Ian Martin struggles to find a new design prefix
MONDAY Oh God, it’s Postmodernism Revival Week. Time to dust off those architectural cliches, randomly assemble them in a collage, stand well back and look at it all ironically.
TUESDAY There is as we used to say an ‘upside’ to this nostalgia for giggling squiggling eclecticism. Anyone who was technically an adult during the 1980s is suddenly a cultural historian.
I’m not complaining. My classic book on the subject - The Winkers - has been reissued and now finds favour with a whole new generation of drawling, overdressed tossers. ‘Winkers’ of course was the collective noun in those days for Postmodernists, a reference to the way they simplified design theory by spaffing their ephemeral bollocky bricolage all over the place and then ‘winking’ to let us in on the joke. I think we were supposed to give a ‘thumbs up’ in response.
Obviously I’ve added footnotes to The Winkers, updating the original text. A lot’s happened in architecture over the last quarter-century. Summary: boom, crash, boom, crash, oom-pah oom-pah, look at us, we can do bulges and curves now and everything.
Furthermore, several key figures in British Winkerism are dead. In one way this is sad, but it does mean you can now say some pretty harsh things about them. Colin ‘Big Colin’ Redbrace, for example. At the time he was lionised by architects as their Winker-In-Chief. His blended historicism, his massive income, his five-hour lunches. The planners loved him, too. A hint of Aztec, a smattering of glass-reinforced Classical, something outré at the entrance: bingo. Another one gets the nod. By 1990 he was turning them out like sandcastles.
I am therefore reassessing the work of Big Colin, downwards. Not because his buildings, marooned in time like those synthetic drums on the EastEnders theme tune, are particularly offensive. They’re not. Big Colin’s chunky buildings look sort of quaint, and kitsch. And a bit scruffy to be honest.
No, I am slagging the buildings off because they’re two decades old and that’s what you do. By 2025 they’ll be well ahead of their time.
WEDNESDAY Lunch with Darcy the architecture critic. He’s thrown himself into the Po-mo Revival with methodical fervour and today inhabits 1. a boxy suit and 2. a big perm.
His preposterous dachshund Bauhau’s there, quivering in a New Wave ensemble of pirate blouse and kilt. It’s a difficult look to pull off if you’re a Postmodernist dog, and he doesn’t.
Darcy’s task is tricky too. He has to rehabilitate Postmodernism in the minds of a general public that frankly doesn’t really give a shit one way or the other. After several drinks, I convince him that he should instead mourn Postmodernism for precisely that reason. Classical reassures those who like order, Gothic’s for pessimists, Modern’s for optimists, Postmodern’s for people masking their insecurities with indifference. Most of us, in other words.
Clearly the world of epic space needs to ask itself: what now? Baggy urban zoomorphism burned briefly then sputtered out. Pre-modernism was essentially a holding movement for people expecting something exciting round the corner but unsure what it might be. So…
Why not pretend that there’s a new design movement called SLOW MODERNISM? Like standard Modernism but with reduced air miles, a grass roof and local materials. A nice artisan Modernism, with ethical occupants and knobbly bread in the eco-larder. Also, it contracts in a satisfying way: SLOW-MO. Let’s take our time, get it right, a few glasses of something cold, think organic, yum.
We all nip outside. I need a fag, Darcy’s trying to get a signal on his stylish antique Rabbit phone. Bauhau, in Darcy’s nauseating phrase, ‘has to go po-mo’.
THURSDAY Announce Slow Modernism on Twitter. There’s a lot of eye-rolling from architects, and ‘oh, we’ve been doing that for years’, and then quietly changing their profiles to say ‘Slow Modernist’.
FRIDAY Rock Steady Eddie the fixer calls. He’s put the word about in Whitehall; they love it. Watch out for a massive Slow Modernist school building programme, completion set for ‘whenever’.
SATURDAY Five-a-zeitgeist theoretical football. Boho Po-Mo 2, Soho Slow-Mo 2.0 after irony shootout.
SUNDAY Paperwork in the recliner. Darcy’s piece in the Creative on Sunday is, I have to admit, skilfully illustrated. The ‘Slow-Mo Generation’ seems to be young architects of Darcy’s acquaintance, impeccably dressed and frowning in a forest. They all have little dogs, too.