April 19, 2020

Owen Hopkins Captures a Spectrum of Irreverent Style in ‘Postmodern Architecture: Less Is a Bore’

A David Byrne quotation in Postmodern Architecture: Less Is a Bore by Owen Hopkins.

In 2017, Interior Design reviewed Judith Gura’s Postmodern Design Complete, noting that it was the style’s “most definitive (if perhaps its final) representation.” We were overly optimistic: here it is again. Postmodern Architecture: Less Is a Bore” begins with a five-page essay by Owen Hopkins (currently senior curator of exhibitions and education at Sir John Soane’s Museum in London) followed by large color images of 191 buildings that are identified without comment. Every imaginable variety of postmodern style is represented including sometimes witty caricatures of classical style, but it is startling to find among them Charles Gwathmey’s 1965 Long Island house for his parents, along with other work by Gwathmey Siegel, Bernard Tschumi, and Richard Meier. This suggests a definition of postmodernism so elastic as to be meaningless.

These pages of images are divided into 11 sections, but these are not in chronological or any other clear order. Throughout the book are 50 or more quotations about postmodernism, many of them supportive (from Robert Venturi, author of the book’s subtitle, Robert A. M. Stern, Michael Graves, and Charles Jencks), some critical (most notably Ada Louise Huxtable), some humorous, a few irrelevant. The opening essay refers to the style “making a comeback” and its “incipient revival.” But of those 191 examples, only four were built since Gura’s book, and 143 were built before the 21st century began. This is not a convincing case for postmodernism’s rebirth, though some of us feel relieved by that.

Every imaginable variety of postmodern style is represented in the book.
The cover of Postmodern Architecture: Less Is a Bore by Owen Hopkins.

Postmodern Architecture: Less Is a Bore

By Owen Hopkins

224 pp. New York: Phaidon. $50.

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