Retrofitting "Henwood before Butler" (was Re: Force &Truth...)

Russell Grinker grinker at
Thu Nov 4 22:48:28 PST 1999

From: Tom Lehman

>The first time I ever encountered the term postmodern was in a mid-1970's
>discription of the buildings designed by Michael Graves. I have also seen
>of the later designs of Robert Venturi and Philip Johnson described as
>I'm pretty sure architecture and design is the home of the term postmodern.
>Expressing where modern architecture departs from the formal lines of a
>Gropius or the formal curves of a Le Corbusier.

There are not a lot of historical materialists in the architecture history business but this is what Martin Pawley says in his "Theory & Design in the Second Machine Age":

This tendency, which rapidly became a 'movement', was not the outcome of architectural practice. Instead it came to life in the studies and lecture rooms of academic architecture where today's architectural thinkers are obliged to invent movements to advance careers which - no less than those of miners and fishermen - depend on productivity. The more movements they can give names to, the more picture captions they can write, the more successful they will be...."

Pawley says that the starting date for the movement is "characteristically unclear", suggesting that it is foreshadowed in "the Classical caryatids supporting the entrance porch of Berthold Lubetkin's otherwise ruthlessly modern 1938 'Highpoint II' flats in North London". Other historians disagree. Charles Jencks claimed that the movement began with the demolition of the notorious Modern St Louis high-rise project, Pruitt Igoe, on June 15 1972 at 3.32 p.m., but admitted later that he had the date wrong and that it was 'symbolic'. The venerable Russian emigre modernist Lubetkin (who as a matter of interest remembers meeting Lenin on Capri sometime after 1905) dismissed pomo architecture as 'Hepplewhite and Chippendale in drag' while Bauhaus product, Philip Johnson, boasted that his International Place complex in Boston had 'more Venetian windows than there are in the whole of Vicenza'.

I suppose it is fitting that post-modernism arose in architecture. The business is riddled with charlatans and opportunists. But despite the dearth of coherent theory in the field, architecture's postmodernists have, as Pawley points out, "proved adept at moving through planning minefields to immense commissions".


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