Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Definitions of the Pseudomodern

Entschwindet und Vergeht muddies the waters on my attempt to sum up everything about contemporary architecture in 3000 words, and in the process posts his own account of the architectural state we're in, immeasurably helped by it coming from actual education and experience rather than my historical dilettantism. There are excellent points on postmodernism, high-tech and the degeneration of the Crystal Palace typology from glass arcades of dreamlike abundance to a bland rhetoric of spans and prefabrication (there's a project on this which we must all bully him to put up on his other space). I've muddied the waters a bit in turn in the comments box. On attempts to define the Pseudomodernist condition, here's Lewis Mumford, writing about what seems an 'icon' of Modernism at its peak, the United Nations building:

'The designers of the Secretariat Building sacrificed both mechanical efficiency and human values in order to achieve an empty abstract form, a frozen geometrical concept, that reflects the emptiness and purposelessness of modern technics, as now conceived...in short, the Secretariat Building expresses both a breakdown of functionalism and a symbolic blackout. Though mechanically new, it is architecturally and humanly obsolete. That is almost a definition of the pseudomodern.'
Art and Technics (1951)


Blogger Dominic said...

There must presumably be someone out there who in turn makes Entschwindet feel like a dilettante.

2:15 pm  
Blogger Murphy said...

surely, if we were being Hegelian, that would be Owen himself?

7:09 pm  
Blogger it said...

That's not what Hegel says!

11:49 pm  
Blogger Murphy said...

shut up, he said...

12:08 am  
Blogger Murphy said...

anyway, I may not be a dilettante, but I'm still mostly wrong.

12:10 am  
Anonymous Gareth said...

I find these discussions of the value of architectural modernism really interesting, but I find myself somewhat hampered in assessing the merits of the arguments by my limited knowledge of architecture. For instance, when I try and defend buildings that my friends think are 'ugly,' 'inhuman,' or 'cold and indifferent,' I find myself torn between wanting to defend the utopian impulse of modernism, and its attempts to call a new people into being, and agreeing that these huge lumps of concrete are just Taylorised architecture, entirely subjugated to economic efficiency. I don’t think the modernist aesthetic is compatible with housing – unless we’re talking about one-off bourgeois mansions. In their living spaces, people want a feeling of territory, a warm familiarity and sense of ownership. I’m thinking here in particular of houseboats, squats and self-constructed houses I see on marginal land on the peri-urban fringe. Collective spaces, huge people’s palaces that serve as living proof of the boundless creativity of man, are a different story.

2:49 pm  
Blogger owen hatherley said...

Hmmm, a huge, huge question that one. One thing I will say is that living spaces inside (where I find Modernist fastidiousness is at its most unattractive) are a very different matter to architecture as outside - there's really fairly little more ornamented, territorial or warm about your average Victorian (and especially Georgian) terrace than most Modernism. I think it's often an instant, unthought out reaction. Euggh concrete. It's no more serious than the euggh Victorian most people felt in the '60s. I really don't think it's something eternal.

1:57 am  
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11:50 pm  

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