Michael Badu, David Walker and others respond to AR November 2011
Am I alone in having found Colin Fournier’s interestingly begun – but predictably ended – review (Theory, AR November) of Charles Jenks’ latest literary foray into the never-ending maze of a subject that is Postmodernism, to be ultimately trivial?
Wit, plurality, diversity, complexity and even the rise of Twitter, are all very well, but ‘quality’ is more important than all of them. Shouldn’t the story of Postmodernism really be about how we have dealt, and continue to deal with the broken promises of Modernism? The truth is that the public and honest architects continue to feel inadequate before the architectural achievements of the pre-industrial world. Modern life is permeated with the feeling that humanity ‘lost something’ during the march to a brighter, smokier future. This is the ‘real issue’ that provides the context for what Postmodernism is and should be about.
Also, the idea that remote server farms are the temples and cathedrals of today is, frankly, ridiculous and betrays most strikingly the amnesia that is responsible for the trivial attitude to the subject that I have been describing; a forgetfulness of the fundamental relationship that persists between man and what he builds for himself to ‘live’ in, a relationship without which, architecture ceases to exist. This is a relationship that is epitomised by the work of contemporary practitioners like Alvaro Siza and which permeates the whole environment of a place like Finland; home of Aalto, from where I write this.
Michael Badu, Michael Badu Architecture, London
Is this recent ripple of interest in PoMo just a way for past and present protagonists of the ‘style’ to get some credence? In its heyday it had some validity in its purest (as theory) form, however there are very few built examples that are (in my opinion) great pieces of architecture. As a contradiction to Modernism it was successful, but the reality often translated into ‘mock’ this and that and very ‘jokey’ designs. I hope we move forward.
David Walker, WAM Design, via Linkedin
American author Tom Wolf postulated an idea in the late 1990s that at the end of each century, ideas begin to cycle rapidly through the previous century’s concepts. He thought you could see that on looking back at the 1910s, the 1810s and further; that those early decades merely recycle ideas. He suggested the change of a millennium could lead to further hesitation on the part of creative practitioners to establish a clear break with the past. Using the art world as an example, he saw in Harvard, Oxford, Yale and the like a return to landscape painting among the progressive young students and a rejection of technology-based art.
This then has led to an explosion of figurative art that we now see in galleries everywhere and a rejection of people like Damien Hirst and Jeff Koons, the old-hat capitalist artists.
Could the return of PoMo just be the last thing left in the 20th-century bag of architectural styles to recycle before rejecting it for what the 21st century may bring? You can see that the young kids would be attracted to it. It sits so comfortably with the web-based rush of merged images and aesthetics we see on YouTube or style blogs. Everything, at once, in the same spot; without reference to time or culture.
Paul Brace, Jackson Teece, Sydney, Australia, via Linkedin
Bravo the French (Extra Vert, Buildings, AR November) for preserving property values by allowing rich Paris municipalities to pay annual fines in return for not having to build social housing. Especially when such housing looks as banal as Hamonic + Masson’s pair of squat green towers in Paris’s 13th arrondissement. Green? Painted green in parts that is. Your reviewer makes much of the fact that each level of the skimpy overhangs has a slightly different plan shape, which serves to ‘control sightlines with respect to the neighbours, and avoid a vertiginous sheer drop when looking down.’ Ooh, er, as you English apparently say.
Do your sub-editors ever take at least a cursory look at the accompanying plans and photos before letting that sort of patent silliness slide past their blue pencils. And what’s that about occupants parading from bedroom room to living room via the outside overhang rather than from internal door to door in the more discreet way? Especially in the Parisian winter. Or is this development really intended as a pervert’s paradise? But look, it’s not as if there are enough great buildings completed every month in the world for you to be as discriminating as we readers might hope. And, this kind of selection oops apart, the new Architectural Review is just what we want. Keep it up guys.
Joyce Malley, Sydney, Australia, by email
At risk of seeming a toady, may I add a few words to what must now be a Niagara of praise for the revamped AR? The November issue in particular showed a welcome catholic approach
in form and content. Thank goodness that you have got rid of absurdities such as the irrelevant numbering system for buildings and the ridiculously condescending yellow stripes on the text, which indicated that the magazine didn’t trust its readers to decide what constituted the main points of an article. Now, the new range of writers, including Patrik Schumacher, Sam Jacob and David Cohn, complements old favourites such as Jonathan Glancey and Peters Cook, Davey, Buchanan and Blundell Jones.
While the buildings chosen for publication are original and (so far) thought-provoking, I was a bit surprised by the inclusion of Harmonic + Masson’s social housing in Paris. As Andrew Ayers points out, the green and silver stripes raise the question of ‘non-consensual aesthetics on social housing tenants who do not get to choose where they live’. It is a question that should be raised by every architect involved in social housing, yet plainly it very rarely is. But well done to the AR for at least raising the issue, and not just lapping up the architect’s explanation.
John Grove, Detroit, US, by email
With last month’s AR, the second of the much-awaited new editorial makeover, I asked myself: how has it re-informed, so far, my own viewpoint of architecture?
Well, for a start, theory and practice still remain like oil and water: they quickly separate, and go their separate ways. The theory is unnecessarily difficult to understand, let alone apply, and quickly slips from the working memory; and despite the stimulating case studies, everyday practice degenerates into the particular and pragmatic. As a sad result, practice continues to remain blind without theory, and theory remains sterile without practice.
Perhaps, as suggested by Vassilis Ganiatsas (Your Views, AR November), because of the lack of a unified ‘design-orientated theory and praxis’? As architects, do we still agree with the notion that architecture is about the Vitruvian triad of firmness (or structure), commodity (or use) and delight (or form); and that their synthesis should be greater than its parts? And, that our viewpoint of modern architecture, should remain with the psychophysical programme, seen in man’s social need to define space in a significant relationship to a cultural, social, and sustainable context? And could we all agree with, say, the French philosopher Henri Bergson, that there are two very different ways of understanding architecture: the method of analysis, and the means of intuition.
That the first is useful for organising and getting things done, but fails to reach the essential reality of architecture; whereas the second enables us to grasp truths about architecture: the essence of function and the ‘mystery of form’ (Alvar Aalto)? And that, finally, as a corollary, any design process worth its salt is a fine balance of intuition and analysis, that should be recognised as such? These are the sort of questions that concern me as an architect, that I look to the AR for overview, inspiration and quidance; especially, as to the elusive ‘holy grail’: a theory that informs practice, that practice gives life to, that results in the creation of real architecture.
Trevor Jones, Cambridgeshire, UK