on 11 February 2014
This short book contains a lecture delivered by Richard Rogers in 1990 alongside illustrative images and a short preface providing Rogers’ 2013 reflections.
As Rogers notes, this lecture is not simply a detached consideration of modernist architecture but evangelical manifesto for the re-examination and renewal of the movement. Rogers’ is one of the principal figures of late 20th Century modernism, so the joy he takes in reviewing the better examples of the mode (many of them his own) is understandable.
The lecture breaks down into three broad themes. Firstly, a defence of the dizzying possibilities of modernism, unleashed by the advent of new building materials and design disengaged from the Western classical tradition. Secondly, there is a critique of the perversion of the movement by developers and town planners who saw the cheap materials and unornamented design as a means to maximise profits. Finally, Rogers’ considers the future of the movement in the context of the post-modern movement.
Rogers' comes out with all guns blazing when he discusses post-modernism. His view would seem to be that developers see it as a way of mollifying planners and the public through some ornamental flourishes in a vernacular they understand and, therefore, a cheap excuse for cheap design. Having used the most outstanding modernist examples to build his case, however, he chooses to ignore the outstanding post-modern examples that he could cite in opposition.
This bias is unsurprising given that he largely blames the market for the more egregious modernist failures rather than architectural dogma. There is some ground given that public taste was not always appropriately valued but this is more often expressed in terms that suggest an abstract misunderstanding of civic function rather than an affront to aesthetics.
Of course, one expects a panegyric from one of the darlings of modernist architecture and, if this book delivers one message, it is that the importance of design in the public sphere is given too little consideration by developers, planners and the public.
Although the lecture is well packaged, it provides only modest content for the price. Less forgivably, the illustrations are poorly tied into the text; although they often fit thematically, they are not referenced by Rogers and the captions give only the barest details.