Charles Holland on what was good about Post-Modernism: in short, it is the true heir of the socio-politically progressive, egalitarian and open attitude that Modernism originally touted but soon lost touch with.
(The V+A exhibition on Post-Modernism) treated po-mo as a momentary lapse of taste, an over-stuffed interregnum before the proper business of modernism continued. Whilst comforting to some this reading is highly problematic, not least because it fails to use or even acknowledge any of the lessons learnt along the way. Not only does such a reading ignore the important developments initiated by post modernism – an awareness of the role of taste and class, a willingness to open up architecture to other disciplines, a critical re-reading of the architectural canon itself – but it allows modernism to return minus its social and political conviction. A modernism, in short, eviscerated of cultural content and prissily obsessed with refining its own limited stylistic vocabulary. What kind of victory is this?
Post modernism isn’t the inevitable bedfellow of neo-liberalism of popular demonology, as both Kester Rattenbury and myself attempted to point out in our essays in Radical Post Modernism. Confining its influence almost entirely to the 1980’s leads to the conclusion that po-mo is inseparable from the politics of Reagan and Thatcher. To conflate it with neo-liberalism is a classic case of shooting the messenger. As this otherwise unrelated article attests, nothing invites post modern scepticism more than its complete disavowal.
Post modernism’s really interesting developments occurred in the late ’60’s and early ’70’s when it engaged explicitly with social and cultural issues and was still attempting to revitalise modernism rather than deny its relevance. The importance of post modernism today – beyond a recherche parlour game of perverser-than-thou taste – lies in exploring the avenues it opened up beyond modernism, rather than a return to pre-modernism. For that reason, historicism is probably its least interesting contribution. I don’t have a problem in using historical forms in order to break out of modernism’s more repressive stylistic constraints but it also leads to the new orthodoxy of Andrés Duany and co. Likewise, post modern urbanism is far more useful as an explosive critique of masterplanning than as an excuse for the spatial monotony of New Urbanism.