Postmodernism, the exuberant, eclectic, and ironic style born out of the death of the modernist dream in the 1960s and 70s, was the subject of the two-day-long "Reconsidering Postmodernism" conference last weekend, presented by the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, at the CUNY Graduate Center in New York. The two marathon days of lectures, panels, and videos was filled with the original rock stars of the postmodernist world, including architects Robert A. M. Stern and Michael Graves, theorists Charles Jencks and Tom Wolfe, urbanists Andres Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, and a small but passionate younger crowd who couldn’t help but revel in the rambunctiousness of their vaunted forebearers. The beginning of postmodernism, an active topic at the conference, was assigned multiple dates. It was either with the demolition of the Pruitt-Igoe low-income houses in 1972, which Charles Jencks defines as “the day modernism died,” with the publication of Robert Venturi’s Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture in 1966, perhaps with the opening of Morris Lapidus’ first bodacious beach resort in 1949, or it even could have been at the beginnings of modernism itself, when hairline cracks in the modernist utopian vision had already begun to form. There were even Italian precedents: in the 1950s Torre Velasca, designed by Ernesto Rogers in Milan, and the Venice Architectural Biennale of 1980. Something about the conference compelled people’s interest in the big, chronically under-discussed themes of architecture. Andres Duany championed a broader classical canon, through his 175 (and counting…) orders of classicism. A discussion of stylistic evolution was continually present, causing architectural writer Witold Rybczynski to come to the conclusion at one point that taste is more important than style. “This is something we don’t discuss, but should” was a phrase uttered by many over both days. The conference showed that postmodernism is still controversial, but also that it is extremely alive today, proving to be a resilient and long lasting force in architecture. Reasons for this were debated. Barry Bergdoll, the Phillip Johnson Chief Curator of Architecture and Design at MoMA, asked if postmodernism was an attitude or a movement, suggesting the possible eternality of the mode, and that PoMo is not only analogous with the Mannerist or Hellenistic phases of architectural history, but actually the same thing. If modernism discarded everything that came before it, and began from “level zero,” as Gropius said it did, then postmodernism is letting everything flood back in, picking up where the world left off, and making a joke of it to lighten the mood. The “joke” of postmodernism was an important conference theme and recurred frequently. Humor mitigates the promotion of dogma, which was seen as a cause of modernism’s failure, and forces postmodernism to embrace its own flaws. Jokes also accept the world for what it is. As one conference-goer said, “The world isn’t as black and white as it used to be.” Humor was fantastically present over those two days. ICAA president Paul Gunther’s opening remarks on the morning of day one called postmodernism “A case of multiple personality disorders” before becoming a bit more serious and stating, correctly, that the purpose of the next two days was to “overcome the denial of postmodernism.” If not completely embraced by all in attendance, the conference at least succeeded in doing that. At the end of day two, with everything having been said, the final panel was oddly mellow and subdued. Perhaps nobody wanted to leave the reunion, or perhaps the gauntlet was being handed to the young people in the room, like Sam Jacob of the U.K. architecture firm F.A.T., architect and writer Jimmy Stamp, or any others of the wacky new generation of postmodernists.
Posts tagged with "Michael Graves":
"Drafted: the evolving role of architects in furniture design." It was a MAD idea: To talk about why American manufacturers don’t do the job they once did in supporting American architects and designers at making furniture. Held March 10 at the Museum of Arts & Design’s own restored and midcentury soigné auditorium, the assembled panel really knew what they were talking about: Michael Graves recalled his early days working for George Nelson in riveting detail and why Target has dropped independent designers; Jeffrey Bernett, one of the few American designers routinely designing for B&B, summed up Italy versus Herman Miller; Gisue Hariri of Hariri & Hariri eloquently addressed why architects feel compelled to make furniture, and what happened when her architecture firm tried to go there on a larger scale; and Granger Moorhead of Moorhead & Moorhead gave great reason for everyone to hope there is another golden age, especially for New York furniture designers, just ahead. https://vimeo.com/21070456
Dilapidated modernism. Chandigarh, the northern Indian city planned and designed by Le Corbusier over 60 years ago, has become the focus of preservation efforts following years of neglect and piecemeal plundering, reports the UK's Guardian. Cycle support. Ray LaHood, Secretary of Transportation, spoke to attendees of the National Bike Summit in DC this week, encouraging them to lobby their congressional reps to take steps to make communities cycle-friendly. Streetsblog notes LaHood's appearance coincides with the release of the Urban Bikeway Design Guide by the National Association of City Transportation Officials. Pier on the half shell. The Battery Park City Authority has leased the languishing Pier A at the western edge of Battery Park to father-and-son restaurateurs Harry and Peter Poulakakos, who are promising to turn the pier and its landmark 1886 building into an oyster bar-beer garden with one heck of a view. More details in Crain's NY. Tonight: Drafted! In New York? Don't miss AN executive editor Julie Iovine in conversation with Michael Graves, Granger Moorehead, Gisue Hariri and Jeffrey Bernett at 7pm tonight, Thursday, March 10 at the Museum of Arts and Design for Drafted: The Evolving Role of Architects in Furniture Design, part of MAD's "The Home Front: American Furniture Now" series. Click here for tix.
On May 4 at the Urban Center, Peter Eisenman and Michael Graves had a conversation, moderated by David Childs, about their favorite books to inaugurate the exhibition, Unpacking My Library. In the light of the current crisis that the print media is experiencing, listening to these legendarily erudite bibliophiles was a rare privilege. But the evening was not without controversy. Besides stories of rare books they have encountered and how architecture was taught back in the day, they engaged in a polemic discussion about current trends in architectural education, especially the risk of turning architecture schools into places that only teach computer programs and LEED rules. Both Eisenman and Graves called for a return to traditional Western education and questioned new methods that Eisenman referred as pluralist: “You can’t study the periphery if you don’t know the core,” he told AN. The discussion reminded me of my first day at architecture school, in which a bunch of us, fresh out of high school, were asked to write what we thought architecture was. Naturally, untainted by the six years of heavy theory and history we had yet to endure, we had no clue how to even begin to address the question. What is architecture? What makes it good or memorable? How can you tell good architecture versus mediocre? Eisenman reminded us that we know Palladio for his compilation of drawings and manuscripts, that Robert Venturi’s built oeuvre wouldn’t be taken as seriously if it wasn’t for Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture, or that LeCorbusier’s white houses wouldn’t be any different from others built all over France in that period if not for Vers une Architecture, and that Koolhaas started to be Koolhaas after Delirious New York. But what about Phidias, Brunelleschi, Wright, or Mies? I believe there are a great number of Masters in the Western tradition (we don’t want to risk being labeled as pluralists by Mr. Eisenman) that have earned their place by their built masterpieces and not by their written work. It is true that good books are a delight to own and a great source of inspiration, but it is altogether different to encounter a building that that makes your heart skip a beat, signaling you are in the space of a Master.