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Guest Guide to Postmodern Architecture...

CultureCritic | 23.September.2011 | 11:32

Although Postmodernism by its very nature slips past notions of duration, now seems a judicious point at which to assess the self-referential, endlessly recycling, high-camp movement (if you can even call it one). The V&A Museum's spectacular Postmodernism show opens tomorrow, Tate celebrated a key postmodern architect James Stirling this summer. If you need any more evidence that there is a lot more to its architecture than bad-taste faux classical bank buildings, read our Guest Guide to the best the UK has to offer in this most pluralistic of building styles, by the man behind the popular aajpress blog, Jeremy Hunt. Afterall, it is in architecture that it all (nominally) began...

Words: Jeremy Hunt

Rem Koolhaas - The McCormick Tribune Campus Center, the Illinois Institute of Technology, Chicago (2003)

Jeremy Hunt is Director of the Art & Architecture Journal / Press. He writes on art, photography, architecture and heritage, and is a specialist writer and consultant on cultural politics and public space. He also creates publications, conferences, cultural events, web media and films. The aajpressblog is a regularly updated font of information on art, architecture, urbanism and the public sphere.

Postmodernism in architecture was a term coined by Charles Jencks to represent the end of the modern era, reflecting the idea "that an architect has to consider different cultural tastes in his blueprints". Jencks proposed that rigorous economic and engineering-focused modernism stopped in 1972, and the more generous, humanist postmodern aesthetic allowed symbolic architectural decoration, historical eclecticism and a pluralist, pick'n'mix appropriation of architectural styles. Notable postmodernist buildings in London include the James Stirling & Partners Clore Galleries at Tate Britain and No. 1 Poultry; Venturi, Scott Brown's Sainsbury Wing at the National Gallery. Terry Farrell and Partners worked closely on the symbolic cosmography of Charles Jencks' house in Notting Hill, and more publicly on Charing Cross Station and the MI6 Building. The spirit of postmodernism continues with the development of Charles Jencks' programme of Maggies Cancer Caring Centres, which commissions individualistic, holistic, symbolic buildings by architects such as Rem Koolhaas, Michael Hopkins, Frank Gehry, Zaha Hadid and Kisho Kurokawa. A noteworthy element of postmodernism is the idiosyncratic iconic architecture of Nigel Coates, Will Alsop and FAT.

The five best postmodern buildings in the UK

1. Ian Pollard Architects - Homebase, Kensington
195 Warwick Road, London


Ian Pollard Architects were responsible for two postmodernist landmarks in London. Marco Polo House (1987), a grey and white striped marble office building at 346 Queenstown Road facing Battersea Park. While the façade of Homebase, Kensington (1988) is a masterpiece of eccentric, kitsch Egyptiana and Parthenon-lite. Pollard's buildings are symbolic of 1980s economic success and excess, and a celebration of architectural dandyism and optimism.

2. CZWG Architects - Westbourne Grove Public Lavatories (1994)


CZWG were responsible for buildings with curves, colour and Parisian art-deco resonances that looked like landlocked ocean liners. The azure tones of the Westbourne Grove Public Lavatories and flower kiosk bring avant-garde Mediterranean charm and glamour to essential services. Archi-spotters highlights of CZWG buildings include: Cascades, The Circle, Wolfe Crescent, Dundee Wharf and Batsons & Regents Wharves all in London's Docklands (1983); the Street-Porter house in London (1991); and the ‘Bling Bling' building (2006) at Liverpool One. 

3. Branson Coates Architecture Ltd - The National Centre for Popular Music (1999)
Now The HUBS, Sheffield


A Sheffield landmark by a Cool Britannia architectural practice of the 1990s designed as a home for The National Centre for Popular Music. Part pop-iconography and part industrial silo, the four circular galleries and gardens were based on a pinball machine as iconic symbol of rock'n'roll. But political regeneration moved on and the building proved to be as flexible as Mick Jagger's dancing. It is now The HUBS, the trendiest student bar in the UK, for the Hallam University Students Union.

4. Will Alsop - Chips Building, and FAT - Woodward Place (2004)
New Islington, Manchester


Commissioned by urban-cool developers Urban Splash in 2002, Chips is part of Will Alsop-designed cool masterplan for New Islington, Manchester. Decorative elements include a façade with newsprint alphabet (reference: fish and chip wrapping).


FAT's cool housing, developed in discussion with residents, subverted the traditional elements of vernacular ornament and played architectural games with the symbolic elements of home - bird boxes, balconies, house numbers, hanging baskets and front doors.

5. Terry Farrell and Partners - SIS Building (1994)
85 Albert Embankment, Vauxhall, London


The SIS Building (British Secret Intelligence Service Building) is the very visible headquarters of MI6. The stand-alone, postmodernist edifice is an exotic green glass pastiche: part 1930s Cecil B. DeMille Babylonian art deco, part Flash Gordon space temple, part Mayan emerald ziggurat, and part villain's palace in a James Bond movie. The cinematic architectural vision might have been inspired by Gary Cooper as fictional architect and apologist for modern architecture, Howard Roark, in Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead. Rumour has it that 2,300 people work there and that it contains five subterranean stories and a secret pedestrian tunnel under the river.

Read the latest reviews for Postmodernism: Style & Subversion 1970-1990 at the V&A Museum here.

Read more by Jeremy Hunt at the aajpressblog.

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