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Modernism revived: halting the march of sub-Miesian banality


Arch-Classicist Demetri Porphyrios is contentedly collaborating with middleof-the-road Modernist Allies & Morrison at King's Cross. Stanton Williams has completed its Modern interventions to the regal Classicism of Compton Verney. And nobody is raising an eyebrow. The Porphyrios/Allies alliance is accepted as a safe pair of hands; the old/new juxtaposition at Compton Verney simply a textbook example of conservation orthodoxy.

Porphyrios sheds interesting light on this new climate of harmonious interaction between hitherto unlikely bedfellows with his observation that, despite the divergence in styles which was to become so marked in future years, he and his AA contemporaries set out with the same agenda.Rem Koolhaas, Daniel Libeskind and Zaha Hadid, as well as Ed Jones, Leon Krier and Porphyrios himself, can all be understood as Post-Modernist. Not in the narrow Jencksian sense but in that they all rejected the orthodoxy of conventional Modernism. In fact, it was not Modernism per se which prompted such revulsion but the bland anonymity implicit in the notion of an International Style; the countless offices and hotels which brought a bastardised sub-Miesian banality to far-flung corners of the globe. In their very different ways, each of the above-mentioned practitioners has championed contextualism, not in the planners'sense, which equates 'context'with 'streetscape', but with an understanding that context can be environmental, historical, psychological and cultural.

Regardless of the merits, or otherwise, of, say, Koolhaas's souped-up exuberance, and Krier's modern-day Classicism, they have provided the invaluable service of legitimising, and even normalising, a sophisticated middle ground; projects such as Stanton Williams'Compton Verney or the house by John Pardey featured on page 8.While clearly drawing on Modernist influences, both are richly contextual, combining a consideration of local climate, materials and landscape with the dignity and grandeur of the English country house. The extremists who believed themselves united in their mission to kill off Modernism were, in reality, simply giving it a good prune. In cutting off its stultifying excesses, they allowed its more creative manifestations to flourish and grow.

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