23 August 2015

The 'Eighties Revival, Pt. 56

Owen Hatherley, screeding about postmodern architecture (and its supposed "revival") at Dezeen:

"Defenders of Pomo who combine their liking for it with left-of-centre politics can point to the way that early Pomo was linked to local campaigns and ideas of "community architecture", against the collusion of big business and the state in places like Greenwich Village and Covent Garden. The architectural results of those events are pretty minor, but in the West Berlin IBA of 1987, Postmodernist ideas about streets, complexity, juxtaposition, decoration and context did result in some of the most interesting social housing schemes in a city already full of them. 
"But there is a reason why Postmodernism and the Thatcher-Reagan revolution became so closely linked. Charles Jencks's inaugural manifesto-compendium on Postmodernism included within it a staged knife attack in Robin Hood Gardens, one of the social housing schemes written off therein as a social failure largely because of its design. A great way of intensifying the rationale behind a design choice was the old Ruskinian appeal to morality. Modernism meant bad concrete estates full of bad walkways and bad open spaces and a bad lack of ornament and tradition, which produced bad people committing bad crimes. If you think that's a reductio ad absurdum, read practically any book on architecture and planning published between 1975 and 1995. The results, for those in those apparently "bad" buildings, would be drastic. The new "common sense" was that their housing was so awful that it probably needed to be demolished – eventually, as you can see in, say, London's Cressingham Gardens, no matter how much residents insisted they liked their Modernist houses. 
"It's not Postmodernist architects' fault that in most of the west, social housing stopped getting built at around the time their ideas came into fashion. However, the fate of Modernist social housing is partly their fault, in that they willingly gave the aesthetic alibi for a political campaign."

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