A new exhibition devoted to postmodern British architecture is designed to spark a revival of interest in the movement. The exhibition titled The Return of the Past: Postmodernism in British Architecture is now showing at Sir John Soane’s Museum in London through August 26. The exhibition will display a selection of important works by some of the country’s most prominent architects such as Terry Farrell, CZWG, Sir Jeremy and Fenella Dixon, John Outram, and James Stirling. Their works emerged as part of the postmodern movement, which was a reaction against the confining modernist style used in designing many British towns and cities at the time. Postmodernist architecture generally emphasized the reconnection of architecture to the past through “ornament, materials, form or typology,” according to a statement from the Soane Museum. The SIS building designed by Terry Farrell houses the headquarters of Britain’s foreign intelligence agency Secret Intelligence Service MI6. Located on the bank of the River Thames in central London, the cascading building looks like a fortress, finished with a cream-colored facade and green-tinted windows. Another highlight is a project for 200 Queen Victoria Street for Rosehaugh-Stanhope Developers by John Outram. Although unbuilt, its signature image, featuring oversized Greco-Roman columns, chinoiserie posts, mosaic patterns, turbine flourishes, and fantastical additions make it a shining example of the movement's style. CZWG’s work is also celebrated in the exhibition. Cascades is a twenty-story apartment building located on the Isle of Dogs in London. Its design offered an alternative appearance to the high rise typology. According to CWZG, the “Pharaonic references” signify the high-reaching ambition of the construction, making it a postmodernist centerpiece. China Wharf is also a significant piece by the same firm. The building combines functionalism and aesthetics. The scalloped wall “is used to twist windows, both towards the rising sun and away from the neighbors directly across the courtyard,” according to the designers. As part of a regeneration scheme for the London Docklands, the building includes a pastiche of stylistic references such as naval and pagoda motifs. “Postmodern architecture in Britain is frequently written-off as an expression of 1980s Thatcherism and still little understood. We conceived this exhibition to set the record straight and reveal this period as one of such amazing creativity and innovation that can hold its own with any moment in British architecture history,” said Owen Hopkins, Senior Curator at Soane. “Full of color, ingenuity, and exuberance, the exhibition will also show the serious intellectual basis that underlay a movement whose legacy still shapes how we create and understand architecture today.” The organizers of the exhibition hope to renew attention to postmodern buildings in the U.K. Later this year, Historic England, the public body that looks after England’s historic environment, will launch a project to assess postmodern buildings for listing.
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A different conversation about the capabilities of 3D-printing is happening at edg, a New York architecture and engineering firm which focuses on technology-driven design and the restoration of buildings. For the past five years, edg has been engaged with research into the combination of 3D-printing technologies and methods of casting in concrete.
Inspired by the initial buzz surrounding 3D-printing within architecture, Founding and Managing Partner John Meyer and his team began prototyping with a small MakerBot Replicator Z18. The desire was to move the conversation beyond small, fragile parts and into real-world implications of methods in additive manufacturing. Rather than focusing on solid 3D-printed parts, which are usually expensive but aren’t durable or aesthetically pleasing, edg’s research team began investigating the potential of 3D-printing as a method of complex concrete mold-making. The research implications were amplified once edg understood how to apply it. When it learned of the impending demolition of 574 Fifth Avenue, a 1940 building with intricate ornamentation, edg turned the project into a case study, a perfect prompt for thinking of alternative ways to restore and maintain deteriorating ornamentation. Conducting its fabrication work on a rooftop near its New York office, edg exhaustively explored materials and mold thicknesses until the team arrived at what it considered to be the right combination of material cost efficiency and strength. As seen in the firm’s prototypes and its diagram of the assembly, the 3D-printed plastic form is inlaid with a laser cut wire mesh as well as stirrups to provide reinforcement for the cast. Edg also designed a simple plate connection system which is formed into the printed area to facilitate easy attachment to the facade. The final prototypes were manufactured by VoxelJet using their VoxelJet VX1000 printer for the casting molds and were fabricated in-house with Sika concrete. This project has far-reaching implications for historic preservation, but this research isn’t nostalgia for lost fabrication techniques: it has broader possibilities within facade construction and design. As edg stated in a press release, designers are allowed to “shape and ‘mold’ building elements in unprecedented detail.” edg plans to move forward with this technique through two projects in the works. The first is a multi-family project in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, pictured in renderings [TK - above/below]. These projects will apply the same methodology but through a more contemporary lens. “This technique allows for more textures, finishes, flowing shapes, and unique patterning which you can only get when you're not paying for a precast form,” Meyer told AN. To complete this and other projects, he and his team are building a customized 3-D printer suited for their size and material constraints. Furthermore, edg is planning a design competition for the potential uses of this technique on architectural facades, in part to open up the facade design process to professions beyond architecture.
“Ornament is crime” is crime: In London, the debate over architectural ornamentation settled over beer and shot of vodka
There are six clear reasons why Turncoats, a new architectural debating format, is continuing to ruffle more than just a few feathers in Hoxton, East London. 1) It is free. 2) You are given a bottle of craft beer upon entry. 3) A musical comedy act featuring a game of "Hitler or Ham" introduces the evening. 4) The audience must do a shot of vodka before the debate. 5) An intellectual debate on whether ornament is crime proceeds and 6) everyone cheers at the end and goes home smiling. All very well, but what was the result of all this? As tempting as it is to go into detail over the "Hitler or ham" debacle, the real issue in Hoxton Hall on the 27th January was the debate on whether the statement "ornament is crime" is a crime itself. In order to solve this, three panels were put in place with two arguing for and against and the other an independent adjudicator dubbed "Switzerland." And so Adam Nathaniel Furman, architect, furniture designer and founder of the Postmodern Society, stepped forward with the first of what would be four prewritten arguments. Here, he compared ornament to wearing clothes, inferring that dressing our buildings is no different. Further still, ornament evokes a sense of freedom, liberality and identity. "If form was really so pure, we should all walk round naked!" Furman exclaimed. We dress up to represent our ideals and what we stand for and architecture should do the same he concluded. To counter this, Studio Weave co-founder Jane Hall retorted that ornament hides a building's true identity and distracts us from the faults and failings of reality within the built environment. A window decoration, for example, guides our gaze from the cracks in the pavement and potholes in the street. Money is hence more willingly spent on splendor rather than maintenance of our everyday basic needs when the opposite should enforced. Now, the debate was in full swing, and up stepped fashion satirist Bertie Brandes who wasted no time in slating those against decoration. “Minimalists are basic b*****s to the highest degree.” Interestingly, Brandes pointed out that ornament is literally a crime in rented accommodation whereby nailing a picture in to the wall can break the tenancy agreement. From this we can take solace in the fact that implementing decoration is indeed part of the great struggle against the "facist" orthodoxy. “Why should we let architectural class dictate the aesthetic of our cities?” Brandes questioned, suggesting that ornament can help aesthetically democratise our built environment. Finally, Rory Hyde, curator of Contemporary Architecture and Urbanism at the V&A Museum in London, came forward. Like Brandes, he was quick to make an equally sweeping statement: “Ornament is just s**t smearing” he said. Hyde went on to say how Donald Trump's home/palace is rather heavily decorated, posing the question (albeit not so seriously) that to endorse ornament essentially means that one also endorses his policies. However, Hyde later went on to say that the the thing about real palaces is that they do have power and indeed are the pinnacle of ornamentation. With real monarchial palaces, you are always born into them and hence ornamentation is inherently classist. After some light-hearted exchanges, somehow moderated by Charles Holland (co-founder of Ordinary Architecture), the debate eventually boiled down to fascism versus democracy. AN also weighed in on the debate, posing the following dilemma: “In which of the two scenarios is the most powerful ornamental statement made? Scenario One, a street full of flamboyant, heavily decorated structures juxtaposed by one minimalist building, or Scenario Two, a street full of minimalist structures, all uniform in style juxtaposed by one flamboyant, heavily decorated building?” Furman was quick to respond. “I like this idea, in a sense you think of it being similar school uniforms as we dress our buildings. On school days, we all have to look the same, but on the weekends we get to wear what we want.” Hence, freedom only becomes liberating when one is oppressed or when one has the knowledge that one will be oppressed in the future (like on Monday, once the weekend is over). As the evening progressed, the case for ornamentation became stronger. Ornament can be useful for way-finding, it was said using the example that taxi drivers use ornamentation on buildings to guide them around London. Hyde pointed out that while Aravena despises ornamentation, he lets the occupants of his buildings dictate their own ornamental style. Decoration from the user symbolizes pride of place and lets the place become their own. Hyde continued, noting that on the flip side of this, how much choice or freedom do we really have to make it our own? Most look to IKEA to furnish their dwellings. To be truly democratic or liberated would be to make the furniture ourself. Furman essentially closed the lid on the debate. “We pretend that modernism is the pioneer of neutrality, looking at everyone as equal. It may do this, but in doing so just perpetuates a power struggle within this society. Instead, let’s celebrate our differences.” At the end of the evening, with many of the audience drunk on well-presented architectural arguments on ornament (and slightly tipsy from the alcohol) the statement “ornament is not crime” got the biggest cheer. Democracy had triumphed and we were all architecturally liberated.