Glass reviews The Return of the Past: Postmodernism in British Architecture

POST-MODERN architecture, or PoMo for short, is seeing a renaissance. Like Brutalism that was once derided as overbearing and depressive, we are now once again starting to appreciate the bloated, kitsch and gaudy volumes of PoMo buildings. Many years before the phrase was even a glint in any architectural theorist’s eye, Sir John Soane was the original post modernist. In his architecture he copied and collided many architectural styles, without regard for order or the linear progression of history. And he was even a big fan of the proto-postmodernist novel Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne — the Thomas Pynchon of the 19th century.

Exhibition - The Return of the Past: Postmodernism in British ArchitectureExhibit on show at The Return of the Past: Postmodernism in British Architecture

Exhibition - The Return of the Past: Postmodernism in British ArchitectureExhibit on show at The Return of the Past: Postmodernism in British Architecture

This makes his home, and now museum, the perfect setting for The Return of the Past: Postmodernism in British Architecture an exhibition that explores the radical early period of Postmodernism through fragments of buildings – that often mimic and sometimes blur with the types of objects already in the museum – along with drawings, models and images.

Exhibition - The Return of the Past: Postmodernism in British ArchitectureExhibit on show at The Return of the Past: Postmodernism in British Architecture

Exhibition - The Return of the Past: Postmodernism in British ArchitectureExhibit on show at The Return of the Past: Postmodernism in British Architecture

PoMo is the architectural equivalent of the meme. It endlessly repeats the same content – usually taken from classical architectural styles – in slightly different configurations, in bold and garish colours that catch the attention of anyone scanning an onslaught of media, all while appearing suitably seductive on any instagram account. It resolutely fits in with how we consume the world around us and this makes it infinitely more accessible than most architectural trends.

Exhibition - The Return of the Past: Postmodernism in British ArchitectureExhibit on show at The Return of the Past: Postmodernism in British Architecture

Exhibition - The Return of the Past: Postmodernism in British ArchitectureExhibit on show at The Return of the Past: Postmodernism in British Architecture

It’s easy to besmirch such characteristics – and critics, unimaginatively, often do — but instead they should be embraced. PoMo, with its meme-like persona offers a much-needed point of democratic architectural engagement. This is sorely missing in current architectural discourse, but The Return of the Past is bombastically propagating a radical reengagement. And even if PoMo doesn’t persist as an architectural style, it might perpetuate as an important model for discourse.

 

by Matthew Turner

All photos courtesy of Gareth Gardner

The Return of the Past: Postmodernism in British Architecture is on at Sir John Soane’s Museum Sir John Soane’s Museum 13 Lincoln’s Inn Fields London WC2A 3BP until  26 August 2018

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