Post-Modern architecture emerged in the 1970s as a critical reaction to Modernism and its ‘less is more’ principle.
The style is an essential strand of late 20th-century architecture.
Often colourful, eclectic, playful and bold, Post-Modern architecture is increasingly valued for its architectural and historical significance.
While embracing the technology of industrialised society, Post-Modern architects looked to previous traditions for style and embraced metaphor and symbolism.
Post-modernism in Britain was short-lived and, as a result, surviving examples of significance in Britain are rare and predominantly found in London or the South East.
Postmodernism vs. modernism
In the 1960s, a sense of crisis in Modernism became apparent; architects were accused of enforcing unwanted, rigid doctrines and ignoring the needs of their audience.
Meanwhile, the emergence of a burgeoning conservation movement, the deregulation and globalisation of the UK’s financial services, decreased public spending and changing patterns of work and car usage also contributed to the emergence of a new form of architecture.
A new form of architecture
Whilst Post-Modernism is usually associated with the economic boom of the late 1980s, it really took root during the preceding era of economic stagnation; many early examples in Britain were realised on modest budgets.
Some early projects were also temporary, such as Terry Farrell’s Clifton Nurseries at Covent Garden (1980 to 1981), or remodelled existing structures, such as Farrell’s TV-am studios in Camden (1981 to 1983).
Post-Modernism mostly fell out of favour in the early 1990s, experiencing a brief revival in the work of architects and designers like FAT and later Adam Nathaniel Furman, Camille Walala and Studio Weave.
Here are five excellent examples of Post-Modern architecture:
1. No. 1 Poultry, London
James Stirling and Michael Wilford’s unsurpassed example of commercial Post-Modernism, on a monumental scale was listed at Grade II* in 2016, just 22 years after construction began. On first impression its expressive use of colour dominates but, on closer inspection, it is scholarly in its references, particularly to the classical precedent.
2. St Mark’s Road and Cowper Terrace, London
This scheme of housing, designed by Jeremy and Fenella Dixon for the Kensington Housing Trust in 1975, pays tribute to a London tradition: the use of eclecticism to express the individuality of houses. The terraces drew upon traditional urban street patterns and housing types, fusing traditional materials with historic references and straddling the boundaries between a romantic Modernism and Post-Modernism. It was listed at Grade II in May 2018.
3. Isle of Dogs Pumping station, London
John Outram’s ‘Temple of Storms’ was built as part of the 1980s regeneration of London’s Docklands. Edward Hollamby was chief architect and planner to the Docklands Development Corporation and, rather than using his in-house team, hired a number of leading private architects including Nicholas Grimshaw, Richard Rogers and John Outram.
Built on a small budget, the pumping station is (typically of Outram’s work) heavy with complex iconography making extensive reference classical architecture and mythology. It was listed at Grade II* in 2017.
4. Sainsbury Wing at the National Gallery, London
Completed in 1991, the Sainsbury Wing is the only work in Britain by Denise Scott-Brown and Robert Venturi, arguably the founders of Post-Modernism. After a controversial competition, Venturi, Scott-Brown and Associates were selected to design the extension, using Post-Modern devices in response to context. It was listed at Grade I in 2018.
5. Homebase, London
Before he was the Naked Gardener, Ian Pollard enjoyed a brief career as an architect and developer, making full use of wit and irony in his Egyptianate Homebase in Kensington (1988 to 90), which was demolished in 2014. Supposedly Pollard chose the style to represent longevity and the forward progression of human creativity. One of the engraved Gods on the exterior wields a power tool, whilst any text was written in English, in a font named ‘Egyptian’.