Landmark House aka 76 Fenchurch Street by Terry Farrell
Po-mo is threatened by a building boom and its own fleeting unpopularity. But it’s not the first style to face this peril and we need to stop reinventing the wheel, writes Adam Nathaniel Furman
We really shouldn’t need to convince the statutory bodies, let alone each other as a profession, that the best examples of any one architectural style are worth protecting. It should be a given. Every period of architectural production contains fantastic buildings, every approach to architecture produces genius in its own fashion, simply because there are always good architects at work, always.
Each time the next building cycle comes round, and designs put up 30-35 years ago start to be demolished, there shouldn’t need to be a debate as to whether the architecture that was in vogue at the time was good or not. Fashions in architecture come and go just as they do in every other area of creative activity, but there is a special scorn reserved for the architectural style that was once ascendant and which has fallen from grace, particularly if that style is in any way brash and in-your-face.
There is a dead zone of unfashionability which it appears styles need to go through before we architects can get over our visceral rejection of them and once again start appreciating the thought processes and historical contingencies that led to their development. Every single time, the same discussion: vernacular, Victoriana, modernism, brutalism. We unnecessarily lost so many Victorian masterpieces, modernist gems and brilliant brutalist behemoths to this goldfish-like tendency to be shocked that the buildings of our immediate predecessors might be any good.
Particularly in London, but now spreading around the rest of our isles, we are in the grip of a massive building boom. This has meant that the timeframe of potential losses has been sped up, and relatively young buildings from 30 years and under are being remodelled, re-clad and demolished in the remarkable retrofitting of London that we are currently witnessing. Many of these buildings are in a style that is still in the depths of the standard period of professional contempt and unfashionability, the “walk of shame” that architecture in Britain is forced to go through in its middle age, and so they are not being protected in the manner that they should be. We are losing them, rapidly.
Post-modernism was an explosively creative period in our national architectural development, when history re-entered the range of permitted language, when buildings were once again allowed to be adorned with all manner of decorations, when interiors could be as wild and innovative as the latest magazine, a period in which architects were encouraged to communicate to residents, occupants and communities through their designs, and actually communicate during their design processes. It was, of course, so much more and luckily – proudly (we should be damn proud) – we are the benefactors of one of the best collections of buildings from this period anywhere in the world: examples in every building type, and at all scales, showing a whole range of takes on the shared concerns of the period.
I should not need to say this, but I guess it needs, once again, to be said. We must cherish our best post-modern buildings, and we must spend time as a profession evaluating the period instead of rejecting it wholesale in a fit of facile intellectual laziness. We are not kids in a playground proving how cool we are to each other by just how viscerally we can show our disdain for those things deemed uncool by the crowd. Post-modernist architecture is just architecture; no more, no less. It is not the bane of the earth or the foot-soldier of capitalism; it is just architecture, with the good and the great and the banal, and we need to decide now which of its examples are the ones we want to keep, or risk losing it all and regretting it later.
Adam Nathaniel Furman is an architecture and research assistant at Farrells. His essay, In Defence of Post-modernism, will be published this month as part of Machine Books’ series, In Defence of Style.
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