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Review - The 1970s - The fall of modernism

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Architectural historian Gavin Stamp reflects on the fall of Modernism

The ’70s get a bad press today, but I rather enjoyed them. It was a decade of transition, when new approaches seemed possible.

The early ’70s were exhilarating, as the tired colossus of Modernism was beginning to crumble, and the juggernaut, the Terror, of comprehensive redevelopment inflicted on every city was being challenged.

Modernists began to seem like dinosaurs and conservationists progressive. The real,wider history of 20th-century architecture was emerging in which giants like Lutyens were again appreciated. At the time, a building like Hillingdon Civic Centre seemed an exciting change of direction in its reinterpretation of the brick tradition and suburban vernacular – although I confess it seems less so in retrospect (GKC’s Robinson College in Cambridge was so much more intelligent in that vein).

It was the decade when Post-Modernism began to emerge as a necessary and enjoyable alternative to what card-carrying Modernists were still trying to inflict on us. And it was still a time when the destructive cult of the superstar architect and the mindless adulation of Foster ‘n’ Rogers had yet to take over. It was the decade that saw the advent of SAVE Britain’s Heritage, the Thirties Society and the Heinz Gallery, when the AJ and the AR were still happily ensconced in Queen Anne’s Gate and the bar in the Bride of Denmark seemed always open. Much to be thankful for.

Gavin Stamp is the recently retired chairman of the Twentieth Century Society

Resume: It was the best of times, it was the best of times

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