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WAF keynote: Buchanan claims Neo-Modernism and Parametricism 'not the future'

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Architecture critic Peter Buchanan has detailed the ‘end of Modernity’ and the genesis of a new, sustainable world order at WAF in Singapore

‘Modernity is coming to an end, but a new order has not yet emerged,’ Peter Buchanan told a packed room at the World Architecture Festival during his keynote speech to many of the 1,800 delegates in Singapore.

Buchanan, who pens The Big Rethink for AJ sister publication The Architectural Review, told architects that we are living through ‘the end of an epoch’.

‘You only need to read the paper to realise we’re in meltdown’ said Buchanan, referring to economic and ecological systems in upheaval.

‘That’s because these are transitional times. The epoch of Modernity which began in the renaissance is coming to an end, but a new order has not yet emerged.’

Buchanan said this transitional period of ‘confusion’ explained why, despite architecture having reached ‘a level of maturity and expertise’, there is still ‘an awful lot of rubbish being built.’

Buchanan went on to describe Neo-Modernism as not a movement but a ‘simplified caricature’ and Parametricism as mere ‘exaggeration’, while both had ‘nothing to do with the future’.

Instead, Buchanan said the next era – that of Integral or Transmodern architecture – would usher in a new concept of sustainability which would serve the ‘big picture.’

‘Sustainability is how we relate to the larger world, not technical systems,’ Buchanan said, and referred to ‘psychological sustainability’.

‘The future of architecture must serve all ages and stages of personal and cultural development’.

Buchanan criticised Modernism’s ‘inability to deal with the subjective or the self’, while Postmodernism was described as ‘the triumph of the idea over reality’.

Both were described as too simplistic to shape a new architecture in a fast-evolving world whose causal relationships have been rapidly altered by the computer, which Buchanan describes as the biggest agent of change.

‘We’ve gone from linear causal change to multidirectional, interactive and simultaneous’.

‘The new architecture must be subjective as well as objective, dwelling as well as function, being as well as doing. It must be ecological and evolutionary.’

However Buchanan said the new era had not yet emerged because ‘the stranglehold of relativism’ in academia was blocking theoretical evolution, and that we are also ‘paralysed by the scale of the problems we face.’

‘Before we can move on to the next stage we need to decide what we want to be. What does it mean to be human? What is the good life? And what does the world wants us to be?’

‘This is an age of confusion,’ continued Buchanan, ‘as we realise the Modern paradigm is utterly unsustainable. Basically we’re being told to move on’.


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