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RIBA president Paul Hyett declares Modernism 'dead'

RIBA president Paul Hyett and traditionalist CABE design review architect Robert Adam have launched broadsides against the concept of 'Modernism' - the former declaring the movement dead, the latter attacking institutions for cynically preventing any other style from getting a look-in.

Hyett used part of his 'state of the nation' speech at last week's AJ-backed RIBA conference to attempt to bring to a close a long history of stylistic debate and kill accusations that the institute is biased towards Modernism. 'It's now really quite meaningless, ' he said. 'Let us lay to rest any lasting notion that remains that we have an ongoing duty to deliver so-called modern architecture. I say this because I simply don't accept, however unpopular such a view might be, that 'modern architecture', an all-embracing title, has any meaning today, or indeed as a movement any longer exists.'

Hyett cited architects such as Michael Hopkins, once part of the 'high-flying technocrats' who have now shifted towards the 'crafted application of traditionally used materials within a reinterpreted vernacular'. Hopkins was now closer to Cullinan or MacCormac; and architects such as Nicholas Hare, Ed Jones and Jeremy Dixon occupy a field 'less obedient to modern disciplines'.Others such as Will Alsop, Zaha Hadid, Frank Gehry and Daniel Libeskind offer 'a diversity and richness' far from the simplistic title of Modernism.

But earlier Robert Adam, in a hard-hitting talk on pastiche, warned that the profession was 'institutionally Modernist', even citing one example where he advised on several drafts of the government's By Design document. 'Most of the places we now think of as being pleasantly distinctive were not built by copying some historic style of building' read a draft line. 'What about Bath, Edinburgh New Town, Regent's Park, Bedford Park?' said Adam, adding: 'That raw and factually incorrect piece of Modernist ideology came dangerously close to appearing in a government document.'

The modernist ideology is everywhere, he said, with the semantics so ingrained, people did not know they were doing it, fooling the public they were hearing fact, not doctrine. Design guides talk of the need for schemes to be 'innovative', 'contemporary', 'cutting edge', with their implied critical negatives.

And yet there is a strong demand for traditional housing, he said, revealing his practice is working on 29 new country houses. Architects need to accept the demand is there from a cluedup public that looks to traditional architecture as a 'souvenir' of past styles. And they need to stop 'pretending to be Dutch' and attempt to get involved. 'The reason most of it is crap is because architects haven't got anything to do with it.'

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