Is there any more pejorative word in the architectural lexicon than postmodernism? There is no style more reviled, not even modernism itself. I've come to know this first hand studying the work of Philip Johnson, and it was repeatedly emphasized to me as I was reporting my story on the history of postmodernism
for the (must-read) 30th anniversary issue of Metropolis.
We love to hate postmodernism, but I'm not sure that hatred is rational, especially insofar as it has become, as I write in the piece, "a convenient catchall at once describing a moment in history, a stance vis-à-vis modernism, an aesthetic, and a way of thinking in the world—or some combination thereof."
That the term now is primarily associated with a vilified style is a bit ironic insofar as it was Johnson who, perhaps more than anyone, defined 20th century architecture as a series of styles. So you could say that he made his bed, and then he had to sleep in it. This metaphor is particularly apt, as there is a very good argument to be made that the ground zero of architectural postmodernism is the vaulted bedroom he designed for himself in the guest house of his New Canaan compound.
Due in part to the passage of time, postmodernism is becoming a more and more fashionable subject of architectural discourse. An exhibition sponsored by Yale and the CCA on Jim Stirling did much to recover the reputation of a man tarnished by postmodern association. A major new show on postmodernism is forthcoming at the V&A, in London, and even here in New York, the Cooper-Hewitt is organizing a show, I believe, on colonial architecture, which seems a very postmodern project. From the publishing world, we have two new treatises on the subject, Reinhold Martin's Utopia's Ghost
(a bit theory-heavy, but worth the effort) and Jorge Otero-Pailos's Architecture's Historic Turn
(on my schedule).
I close my story with a reference to the Russian architect Sasha Brodsky
, in my opinion one of the more compelling architects practicing today. I think you'd have to call him a postmodernist. I would say the same of a firm like Roman and Williams, who create spaces that feel modern, or at least contemporary, even as they're steeped in historical detail. Certainly their spaces are popular, and this is a broader truth about postmodernism: though we may hate the name, we can't seem to keep away.