Darryl Chen, 21 07 08

Today we are ruled by a tyranny of the new. An unflagging faith in progress has been a hallmark of pioneer Modernists of the early 20th century – and even earlier – and this is as felt now as ever given the speed at which we interact with our culture. (Speed it can be argued has even given way to the instantaneous). How the works of our hands will be judged by future generations is told in how our culture values past works of architecture that were performed with the same spirit of freshness and progress.

Our interest lies with forlorn structures of postwar modernism. Within their gargantuan concrete shells lie dormant logics – caterpillars waiting to open their multicoloured wings to fly. The past is being rewritten constantly in the present, and so a privileged handful of postwar works are now emerging intact from their cocoons, and not so just according to a particular segment of new-wave retro designers.

Cedric Price famously remarked how architecture is slow. Given status of architecture as an art of lingering forms, do we condemn our very own practice to a near certain obsolescence by proclaiming innovation always at all costs?

It is with irony then that we so quickly soil the credibility of past fashions and architectural adventure. The Pimlico school has been demolished, Milton Court at the Barbican is condemned, and Robin Hood Gardens awaits a similar fate. The Euston arch famously was destroyed as a cumbersome Victorian hangover, and in turn, the Georgians were detested for their inauthentic stucco by the Victorians.

By all means innovate – that is the skill of the architect – but we must also locate ourselves within an historical field of innovation within which some not so fresh relics still have much to say.

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