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PosTmodern
ArchiTecTure
in London
By Pablo Bronstein
Koenig Books, £9.95 (paperback)
Few of us would admit to harbouring a soft
spot for postmodern architecture, but artist
Pablo Bronstein’s enthusiastic pocket guide
and fall from glory, and a delicate illustration in
Postmodern Architecture in London might just
the very postmodern manner of an eighteenth-
change your mind. While acknowledging the
century engraving. The drawings are cropped
whimsical atrocities that were committed in its
to dramatise the building’s highest pretensions,
name, the London-based artist makes a case for
whether the colonnade of a supremely bland
reappraising the style that was ubiquitous from
shopping centre or an imaginary clifftop setting
the late 1970s to ‘its soggy death by cul-de-sac
for No.1 Poultry – shown presiding arrogantly
developments’ in the 1990s. After all, despite
over a pile of ruins, presaging its own fate.
chronic short-termism and a penchant for cut-’n’-
In an ironic echo of the Bechers’s lexicon
paste ornaments over quality workmanship, the
of modernist industrial buildings, the back
once-prized landmarks of postmodernism have
pages of the guide are given over to an ‘ABC of
proved surprisingly tenacious. Champions of the
Postmodern Detail’, where ‘A’ is for arcades, arches
style have persuasively claimed that, after the dark
and atriums; ‘B’ for balconies, balls, bays and brick;
ages of brutalism, it reconnected architecture to
and so on through obelisks and sarcophagi. Tiny
our centuries-old heritage. Is it possible we might
thumbnail photographs enumerate the countless
learn to love these buildings again?
clones of these derivatives of Neoclassicism, Art
Bronstein astutely links the fortunes of
Deco and Gothic. As an architectural language,
postmodernism in London with those of the City,
pomo is surprisingly rich, yet almost entirely
looking back to a time when there was money to
redundant.
splash out on shiny new HQs by the architectural
This modest artist’s book contextualises
firms du jour: Terry Farrell, Piers Gough, James
Bronstein’s ongoing preoccupation with
Stirling. Known as ‘Thatcher’s erection’, Canary
architecture in his own work and, in particular,
Wharf, Bronstein reminds us, was the very symbol
complements his recent exhibition at Herald St
of conspicuous aspiration. Since the crash in
gallery, whose small but imaginatively stocked
the 1990s, however, postmodern brashness
bookshop has become a cult destination in itself.
has become an embarrassment to our more
Based on a guided bus tour Bronstein conducted
tempered tastes – which he equally cringingly
as a project for visitors to the 2006 Frieze Art
describes as ‘all that “good” design, the furniture
Fair, Postmodern Architecture in London is
with integrity, the fair-trade coffee’. Bronstein
brilliantly original and satisfying as a stand-alone
might enjoy satirising postmodernism, but he’s
publication and deserves to reach an audience
not about to let noughties liberalism take the
beyond po-faced scholars of postmodernism
moral high ground.
– not least as a reminder of how quickly the
Each of Bronstein’s 20 or so case studies
aesthetic and ethical values of a city can change,
– from Janet Street-Porter’s house to the Tate’s
and how quick we are to try and conceal our past
Clore Gallery to those monoliths in the City
follies. Jennifer Thatcher
By Charles Leadbeater known enigmatically by their street numbers – is
Profile Books, £12.99 (paperback)
commemorated by a pithy description of its rise
April_Books.indd 147 6/3/08 11:59:40
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