Were the 1970s really the decade that style forgot?
The 1970s was a time of a loss of innocence in architecture, heard delegates to a conference last week at the Museum of London (Powell & Moya, opened December 1976). Robert Maxwell defined it as the time when 'architects could no longer convincingly argue that function was their whole concern.' It saw the birth of Post-Modernism and High-Tech, and the discovery that the utopian dreams of post-war housing were not so easily realised.
'There was a feeling post-war,' said Jeremy Dixon, responsible for the Netherfield housing scheme in Milton Keynes in the early 1970s, 'that there was a socially ideal society on the horizon. This gave the impulsion to architects to monumentalise housing - it was entirely inappropriate.' By 1975, with Edward Jones, he was designing housing in St Mark's Road in North London, determined not to contribute to the despoliation of the city. Describing his design as 'an eclectic composition', he had not yet heard of Post-Modernism, but this project featured in an exhibition on the subject.
Andreas Papadakis, who took over the magazine Architectural Design in the 1970s and published many of the pioneers of PoMo, said: 'The true revolution of the 1970s was a revolution of ideas'. Papadakis asserted that: 'The battle of Po-Mo has been won. The concept of building in a vacuum without reference to history was discredited.'
Maxwell defined the decade as 'belonging to the initial release from functional determinism - a sense of architecture as a lost discipline in need of rediscovery or refurbishment'. It was a period, he said, when there was a realisation that 'precedent is as important as progress'. But he described most of the work by the followers of Po-Mo as 'dreadful tacky stuff'. For Maxwell, the other defining factors of the time were the oil crisis in 1973, when 'the 1970s got going', and the opening of the Pompidou Centre in 1977 which marked the start of the major role played by arts buildings in regenerating city centres. The fashions and haircuts of the 1970s may seem of a vanished age, but many of the trends that began then still influence our lives and cities today.