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Postmodernism redux

FAT has resurrected Postmodernism and turned it radical in the latest issue of Architectural Design, but it’s still not cool, writes Steve Parnell

Postmodernism is back, but this time it’s radical! According to Charles Jencks, who is half responsible for editing the Sept/Oct issue of Architectural Design, it never disappeared, but has merely been lurking in the shadows (or the closet) of late 20th and early 21st-century Modernists. The issue has a surreptitious agenda of outing architects as unlikely as Carsuo St John, Foreign Office Architects and even David Chipperfield as closet Postmodernists. But of course, like everything that the other half of the editors (Sam Jacob, Sean Griffiths and Charles Holland of FAT) of this issue do, there’s a serious point propping up the facade. Those who say there’s no more to Po-Mo than this rather camp front are the very people who look no further.

Unlike Brutalism, which is fashionably unfashionable, Po-Mo (at least the Anglo-American construct we have here) is unfashionably unfashionable. Unless, of course, you’re being ironic. Any architect worth his black polo-neck would rather paint his MacBook Air a tangerine tartan than be called Postmodern. For not only is Po-Mo tasteless, it whiffs of 1980s commercialism. However, Postmodernism’s origins were a critique of a High Modernism that had lost its values and got into bed with capitalism (and actually liked it), an anecdote nicely related by Kester Rattenbury’s brief underground history. As FAT points out, architecture’s inevitable link to capital also means that it is ‘subject to fashion’, one of architecture’s most heretical taboos.

The ‘radical’ prefix is an attempt to reclaim Postmodernism’s original motivation, highlighting Pierre Bourdieu’s contention that taste is highly political and divides as well as unites. It’s all about class and classification, an activity that this issue is keen on. The real difficulty with Po-Mo though is that its eclecticism is all inclusive – if everything is underlined, nothing is underlined. We’re all Postmodern now, after all.

John Wiley & Sons September 2011 £22.99

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