Saturday, 25 June 2011

Postmodern Architecture

Postmodern Architecture has been criticized in the design world just about as often as pop-stars or reality TV in the world of mass- media. 
It's been a current I have been struggling with: sometimes I thought it was brilliant. At other times I thought it was even worst than McDonald's re-branding their restaurants as 'green'.

I thoroughly researched the problem, and here are my conclusions, exemplified on The Clore Gallery (extension to Tate Britain, by Stirling & Associates) and The Sainsbury Wing (by equally famous Robert Venturi).
‘Disneyworld post-modernism (…) and the kitsch versions of the genre are the main reasons critics pronounce the movement dead while it still moves.’ Charles Jencks  

What postmodern architecture is supposed to do is be sympathetic to history- including the International Style, learn from its mistakes and weave meaning into design.
Considering the fact that the Clore Gallery was supposed to be the backdrop for Turner's painting collection, you can probably judge for yourself if the architects did just that:

Turner's beautiful Carisbrooke Castle painting....

aaand the entrance to his permanent exhibition within the Clore Extension.
 More 'low-cost airline' rather than a soft, pastel, sympathetic space for the work of one of the finest landscape painters that ever lived, isn't it?
 Since its opening in 1984, it has received numerous complaints and critics, especially from the Turner curators, mostly concerning the violent colours that have nothing to do with Turner’s work.
 Although some saw it as a piece of architecture, everyone agreed that as a presentation for Turner’s paintings, it failed miserably:
“I ...have the strong impression that an architect is showing off at the expense of England’s greatest painter” (Stamp, G, Daily Telegraph, 4 April 1987).
 I'm not entirely sure who is the subject of this portrait oddly marking one of the entrances... and I wonder if it's not some kind of pun. If anyone knows who this is, give us a shout.
 I have to say- strictly visually speaking, I do enjoy the over-sized lights and weird swirly external staircase.
One of the few persons who didn't criticize the new addition was designer Stephen Greenberg, but even he suggested using it for another exhibition.


 Another example of postmodern architecture- this time a successful one from my point of view at least- is the Sainsbury Wing, an addition to the national Gallery designed by Robert Venturi & Denise Scott Brown. It was opened in 1991 and it houses the whole early Renaissance collection.

 Venturi believes in the ‘inclusion’ of historical data and features to the new building rather than rejecting any influence from the past, like modernists did. The building is therefore made out of the same Portland stone and uses the same Corinthian pilasters as William Wilkin’s original design. But the layered design and jumpy angles are hardly classic!
 Also, there are window frames and sills- but no windows!
 The classical facade 'peels' as the building stretches towards Pall Mall street....

Until the classical skin sheds completely, being replaced by huge text:

Which I think is pretty amazing!

The building has a lot of historical ‘hints’ and little puns that add up to the building’s richness and ambiguity, without making it lose its identity.

 Inside the building, the arches actually get smaller in the distance, which is the same perspective illusion that Lorenzo Bernini used in the Scala Regia.
And the right circle in the last arch is painted white- for no apparent good reason.
It's little things that you only notice if your eyes are wide open and curious.

 Postmodern architecture tries to be honest by being messy. It takes away the modernist sleek, glass wall that showed our reflection faithfully and instead puts us in front of a Picasso and tells us ‘This is who you are now’.

 Possibly its most difficult mission is to convince us that the image we now see is still beautiful.

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