No Mo Po Mo Fo Yo?
Hannah Cane - Post…Toast?
Searching for an explicit definition of, “postmodernism,” is like trying to find the toaster in our very own Media Center. You will not find one, it doesn’t exist.
“Postmodernism, Post-Modern Architecture, PoMo, RPM, neo-post-modern, post-modern revivalism,” are but a few of the linguistic somersaults architects, theorists, et. al have tumbled through attempting to grasp at the shadow of an avant-garde during the late 20th century, and to define the trendy penchant of early 21st architects and designers. In 1977, Charles Jencks gestured toward a vague, pluralist future. He made the case for and coined the term “Post-Modern Architecture.” An architecture injected with multivalent, intentional meanings, and a return to investment in history and cultural context. A decade later, “Post-Modern Architecture,” was toast, and “Post-Modernism,” had inflated itself far beyond Jencks’ disciplinary vision. It became a corporate ideology, appropriated by advertising campaigns and Elle Magazine.
“Postmodernism,” lived fast, died young, “and it [remains a] vaguely defined aspect of cultural change.” The problem with the contemporary revival of postmodernism is the same vagueness suffered by its predecessors. When FAT resuscitated “a taboo style,” the word gained a second life with a tacked-on adjective (Radical Post-Modern), but nothing new in conceptual rigor. Post-modernism in the late 90s and early 2000s was a reaction to the slippery textures of the digital turn, but only remained a “reaction to…” it offered rhetorical input and not much else. Its contemporary iteration, caricatured by Sean Griffith and defended by Martin Lampprecht rehearses the same rhetorical, scenography. Rather than, “shut the fuck up,” I think those responsible for this second revival should talk all the fucking time and figure out exactly what the fuck they are talking about.
Hans Tursack - Figuration in Shape and Neo-Pomo
In first-wave postmodernism, graphic profiles (Tigerman), figuration (Rossi, Graves), and anthropomorphized massing schemes (Hejduk) presented alternatives to the perceptual ambiguities and procedural operations favored by formalist abstraction, but what is the role of the figure in neo-pomo?
Bob Somol privileges Hejduk in his account of the postwar conception of the architectural figure, and his ghost looms large in contemporary neo-pomo/shape-inspired work. Younger offices producing projects in this second wave of (digitally-inflected) postmodernism reference familiar characters that appear in late Hejduk projects (such as his “Berlin Masques”) by cribbing the latter’s anthropomorphic silhouettes with their signature spiky, crowned rooflines, supports that resemble insect legs, and sentient facades. True to the shape formula, these contemporary Hejduk-inspired practices design in response to Somol’s call for a “surprising but fast” viewing that appeals to collectives more than individual contemplation, reflection, and analysis.
Unlike Hejduk’s cast of geometricized angels and demons, these newer instantiations of anthropomorphic, architectural figures are “friendlier” on the whole (“go graphic and get happy,” as Somol writes in “Green Dots”). Hejduk’s lifelong research into abstraction and empathy – his desire to conflate subject and object through an affective appeal to the viewer, or what Detlef Mertins calls “the interpenetration of form and content without recourse to representation” – has been mobilized in more contemporary examples as a game of architectural shadow puppets. Where Hejduk interrogates the animistic impulse latent in modernist abstraction (the nomadic unconscious of Mies, Wright, and Corbusier), shape revels in consumable logos and biological imitation (putting a house on four legs, giving it teeth and fur). To say that we’ve lost faith in the complexity of psychological interiority – ours or the object’s inner depth – is hardly a radical claim. But can one imagine anything more alienating than architecture that communicates at the level of emoji?
Michael Abrahamson - Have We Ever Been Post-PoMo?
Encountering FAT’s work as a beginning design student in 2003 was revelatory. At a moment when my spectrum of aesthetic choice seemed to range from black lines on a white background to white lines on black (edgy!), their pop colors and cartoonish imagery ignited an interest in buildings that my professors’ generation abhorred. I never saw postmodernism the same way again. Since then, their work has acquired a more pessimistic cast—is aesthetic populism, however ironic or farcical, really the best critique architects have to offer? Sean Griffiths seems stuck in this same conundrum.
What his recent polemic against postmodern revivalism failed to mention is that the launch of FAT (with the Anti-Oedipal House in 1993) occurred at the same time uninhibited and unrepentant postmodernists were enjoying their greatest commercial success. While internal disciplinary conversations may have moved on, PoMo still ruled the architecture business. If FAT’s approach was neo-PoMo, when exactly did PoMo end? Have we ever been post-PoMo?
Indeed, what seems to be missing both from Griffiths’s self-important polemic and from Martin Lampprecht’s quick riposte is a sense of historical proportion. It has been little more than 30 years since postmodernism hit its disciplinary peak in the mid-1980s. 30 years, we should recall, is the interval between the Villa Savoye (designed 1929, completed 1931) and the Vanna Venturi House (designed 1959, completed 1964).
Critics are eager to declare deaths and rebirths because they draw readers. Instead of taking their bait, we should see the design approach of Adam Nathaniel Furman and others for what it is—an enthusiastic reworking of ideas from the discipline’s past, both recent and distant. As FAT’s role models Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown were wont to remind us, there should be no prohibition on looking and learning. Our criticism can do more, and should.
Charles Weak - Three Reasons I’m Pretty Out of Shape
Shape was conceived as a version of architecture that “cooled down” the discipline and created projective and interdisciplinary conversations (sound great, sign me up).1 However, I wonder if we as architects have been interdisciplinary or projective since shape and Neo-postmodernism became popular. The name, Neo-Postmodernism, seems to answer the question itself. If Post-modernism was a moment when architecture was interested in inside jokes, and recycling the past, then how does a New Postmodern movement act projectively, or interdisciplinarily?
Neo-Postmodern practice strips architecture of it’s meaning to find a kind of neutral ground (Somol says: Easy, Empty Arbitrary, Etc.2), where objects can be visually intriguing, while conceptually vacant. These find their truest identity in bright pop forms, without a discernible narrative, tailor-made for websites and Instagram feeds. Shape projects appear more as representations of architecture, rather than of constructed architecture, for promotion, rather than an earnest attempt at building.
I wouldn’t be cool anyway
An analogy that’s often used to locate the Neo-Postmodern camp compares acting techniques. The straw man in this argument is the method actor, which Somol and Whiting compare to a “Hot Architecture.”3 Hot architecture is an architecture that is contrived. It takes itself too seriously. Shape is then a “Cool Architecture” because it’s relaxed, easy, and projective, rather than complicated and belabored. But is shape relaxed and easy? Underneath a façade of cool indifference lies a compulsive desire to curate. Shapes find their homes in messy piles, that have been carefully and methodically positioned to show a false ambivalence to composition, generating a sort of meta-ironic form that engages ambivalence through working incredibly hard at it. For this reason, shape is often mistaken for a kind of cool architectural practice, when shape is actually a hot architecture that’s pretending it’s cool.
1.Somol, R.E. and Whiting, Sarah. "Notes around the Doppler Effect and Other Moods of Modernism." Perspecta 33 (2002): 72-77.
2.Somol, R.E. "12 Reasons to Get Back in Shape." In Content, edited by Office of Metropolitan Architecture. and Rem Koolhaas. Köln: Taschen, 2004.
3.Somol, R.E. and Whiting, Sarah. "Notes around the Doppler Effect and Other Moods of Modernism." Perspecta 33 (2002): 72-77.
Christina Yan - Pomo is Okay, but Not the Trend
First off, pomo traits always lie in my work, from design concept to representation techniques. I secretly feel guilty about it sometimes, despite the fact that they are quite liked on my Instagram—not because pomo is bad or wrong, but it is too popular and identifiable these days, and a heavy trend is never bright in Architecture.
Personally, it is my pessimism and laziness towards the discipline of architecture and our media culture that leads to the Postmodern takes. When the core (or "Knot") in a polemic is too critical or overwhelming to touch, I tend to bypass it by sugar-coating it or simply making a joke to ease my way out.
But when it forms a trend, we are in danger of being indulged in this cuteness and delightfulness, and the condition where everything seems possible is becoming rare. The discipline needs more people who have the guts to confront the real hot issues, and unravel the unknown fields. Then the next question rises, if Postmodernism passes, what's the next? In history we have always been using the prefix of "post," "retro," and "neo," is now the time to create something brand new? If yes, what would it be?
Ben vanSchaayk - Meaning
After reading Griffiths’s argument, I disagree with the prompt’s assessment that he fears a rise of political indifference signaled by a “postmodern comeback.” Sure, he fears (perhaps justifiably) the misappropriation of signifiers and the twisting of meanings that go hand in hand with post-truth politics. His solution, however, is to design architecture that avoids meaning altogether, that “has nothing to say and is saying it” – an architecture of political indifference.
Lammprecht argues that the complex historicism and eclectic pluralism of these “contemporary ornamentalists” are opposed to the values of post-truth politics. As this point stands in opposition to Griffiths’s fear of hijacked architectural meaning, it is well taken. Yet it doesn’t justify the haphazard application of postmodern tropes.
I embrace the conception of postmodernism that, as Mary McLeod writes, “criticizes modern architecture… for having forsaken architecture’s traditional communicative role.”1 Just as postmodernism moved away from modernism in order to gain greater communicative facilities, I see work at Taubman that is moving away from the digital project, taking back some control from the digital processes that influence all of our work. This control allows us to communicate more effectively, and may lead us to use some of the representational techniques described in the prompt and seen throughout Taubman. We must remember, however, that wacky shapes, colors, and projections are not messages themselves. Used without intention, they are as empty as the blank page and a distraction from the reading of whatever architecture lies beneath.
References: 1.McLeod, Mary. "Architecture and Politics in the Reagan Era: From Postmodernism to Deconstructivism." Assemblage, no. 8 (1989): 22-59.