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Review - The 1970s - Avant-garde

The seventies were not a good time for the avant-garde, says Adrian Forty

The 1970s was a decade of disillusionment for architecture. It wasn’t just that architects found themselves burdened with the general disenchantment with modern architecture. More than that, the very existence of a profession, any profession, was under pressure from radical social theorists like Ivan Illich.

Doubts about the expertise claimed by professionals, and a suspicion that professions were self-serving bodies just interested in protecting their sources of income, put architects on the defensive. Coupled with the oil crisis and the fear that energy supplies were going to run out, making much of what had been built since the war uninhabitable, architects had little choice but to discard all their progressive avant-garde projects.

It’s no surprise that this was the moment of a furious interest in the newly rediscovered qualities of the historic European city; and the writings of Colin Rowe and Rob Krier suddenly became the most radical books on the table – inconceivable in the 1960s. Under the circumstances, it’s astonishing that the Centre Pompidou, the only truly innovative work of architecture of the ’70s, was ever built.

Adrian Forty is Professor of Architectural History at the Bartlett School of Architecture

Resume: Never take candy from strangers or architects, said 1970s society

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