Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Oh No Save The PoMo

http://www.citylab.com; May 11, 2018

Hello Everyone:

Drama everywhere.  From royal wedding drama to the ongoing saga in the Middle East, to the White House apology-gate.  It is enough to make a grown blogger want to curl up in a corner with a stack of VogueHarper's Bazaar magazines, and a big bowl of M & Ms.  Fortunately, Yours Truly has better things to do.  One of those better things to do is take a look at British Postmodernist architecture.

How old is old?  Specifically, how old does a building have to be before its deemed preservation worthy?  Our friends at the National Trust for Historic Preservation set a fifty year-old minimum for a building or space (i.e. landscape) to be considered for landmark status.  What about postmodernism?  Postmodernism was the period style closely associated with the eighties.  Love it or hate it, Historic England has deemed this now thirty-ish-year-old style preservation worthy.  Feargus O'Sullivan reports in his CityLab article "Britain Wants to Protect Its Postmodernist Architecture," "Following an announcement by Historic England yesterday, the country will grant preservation order to 17 Postmodenist buildings, the youngest of which was designed in 1991."  To some preservation minded people, designating a 30-year-old building is a little like saving the leftovers from last night's dinner under glass, in climate controlled conditions, "but the sites chosen are unquestionably memorable and distinctive."  The renewed interest for Britsh PoMo architecture also coincides with a comprehensive exhibition at London's Sir John Soane's Museum opening tomorrow, May 16 (soane.org; date accessed May 15, 2018) through August 27, 2018.  Mr. O'Sullivan cheerfully opines, "It's not hard to see why the newly listed buildings caught conservationists' eyes.  Beyond the high-water mark of the Victorian gothic revival, it would be harder to find a more aesthetically elaborate set buildings in English architecture."

Are these young--in context to the Victorian gothic revival, for example-- but are they worthy of landmark status?  "Yes," enthuses Mr. O'Sullivan.  Why, you may ask?  The landmark designation process is not only about selecting a group of architecture that best represents the period as much as it is creating a definitive canon that everyone agrees is truly exemplary.  True but what is considered an exemplary canon is a subjective.  Additionally, the British system of designation is based on rankings, "with varying categories of preservation, that in their lower rungs, do not rule out any adaptation but merely require it to be sympathetic."

Quality or achievement are typically one of the criteria for designating a building or space a landmark, while it is true that some of the 17 building under consideration might lend credence to the criticism that PoMo architecture is more about surface than substance (dezeen.com; Nov. 13, 2017; date accessed May 15, 2018), "taking fantastical dress-up to extremes," while others may be charmed by it.  It is not hard to be taken by the "sheer exuberance of buildings like John Outram's Cambridge Business School (en.wikipedia.org; date accessed May 15, 2018), an M C Escher whirl of colonnades and gangways that seems part Egyptian temple, part Victorian factory, all given a psychedelic surface makeover by Gustav Klimt."  Wow, talk about eye popping.  If this does not make your eyeballs bulge out their sockets, how about CZWG's (czwg.com; date accessed May 15, 2018) Aztec West Business Park completed near Bristol, England in 1998.  For the record, there was never any known record of Aztec culture in the United Kingdom.  Feargus O'Sullivan describes it as "pure Beltway Babylonian, it's dramatic capital-capped Windows and sweeping curves looking a Cecil B. DeMille backdrop left on the edge of a parking lot."  Cue the elephants.

Others under consideration, incorporate English architectural historic references with fantasy, clearly a magnet for Historic England.  For example, "The Elizabethan/Jacobean inspiration of the jetties and gables on Green, Lloyd and Adams' Founders Hall is plain to see,..."  Apartment buildings designed by McCormac Jamieson Prichard and Wright in London's Shadwell basin closely resemble the Victorian warehouse lining the nearby wharves, albeit with "bunny ear towers and lashing of 1980s hot red."  Hmmm.

Conserving some of the buildings from Postmodernist era is rapidly becoming modus operandi in Great Britain.  Mr. O'Sullivan reports "In 2015, the country slapped preservation orders on a host of late 20th century concrete constructions (citylab.com; Jan. 30, 2015; date accessed May 15, 2018), some built as recently as 1984."  In the meantime, seven prominent PoMo building were awarded protected status between 2016 and this past winter. Therefore, the 30- to 60-year-old time frame is definitely a precious time for a lot of structures.  The original tenants that commissioned the buildings have moved on and the PoMo has gone out of fashion but "but they're still young enough to attract the loathing of people who see any new construction as evidence of western civilization going to the dogs."  The need to protect a few buildings in England has been underscored by the loss of key PoMo structures (dezeen.com; May 20, 2016; date accessed May 15, 2018).  One example of such a loss is Terry Farrell's TV AM television studio, a landmark in North London, was stripped of its ornaments in 2011.  Reducing this building to a mere shadow of its former self demonstrates the acute need to conserve these polarizing buildings, even as while they are relative adolescents.