This series is about style.
Philosopher Georg Lukacs described the style of a piece of work as the attempt to reproduce one's view of the world within it. Looked at in this way, he says, style ceases to be a formalistic category but rather, “it is rooted in content; it is the specific form of a specific content.” After all, style is not technique, but ought to convey an intention. Sociologist Georg Simmel said that style is the aesthetic attempt to provide a “unifying encompassing context”.
This series is about the content and context of style.
Undoubtedly, it will irritate and enthuse but it is intended to be a fillip for our contemporary era in which style is often equated with fashion - where style can be dismissed in order to avoid dealing with its essence. Therefore these essays are not style over substance, but the very substance of style.
The De Stijl manifesto of 1918 argued that the liberal arts should engage in a dialogue to create a new “wisdom of life”. The robustness of these essays suggests that such an ambition still resonates. Such an exchange can still appear vital and captivating.
Each Style: In Defence Of… confronts us with new ideas for contemplation and critique. We hope that minds might be open to critically engage with each of these polemical bulletins. In so doing, we might reasonably formulate what we stand for.
In this robust and witty Defence, the author makes a very good case for thinking about postmodernism as a style of thinking and as a way life - or rather, as the expression of the diversity of ways of living that emerged in the 1960s in affluent western societies eg Civil Rights, Gay Rights, etc. He convincingly elides these social phenomenon with the various strands of architectural thinking that one finds recorded in the annals of the leading architectural schools in the 1970s ("green architecture", etc., etc). The author declares that 'far from being Modernism's opposite, post modernism in architecture was a momentary rediscovery of that raging heart of modernity, the scintillating brilliance of art forms and mentalities that harness the awful beauty of what the contemporary economy can offer, in all its monstrous abundance''
This is nuanced and optimistic if calibrated perspective, free of the usual crippling self-conscious irony and faux mischievousness that typifies conventional discussions about postmodernism in architecture.
It is also an excitingly well written, admirably ambiguous and slightly intoxicating essay. The author has developed a good style for the short form, one that is hard to carry this well. It's stylish without being gratuitous.
In defining postmodernism as difference - 'messy, involved, contingent, clever and communicative'- and emphasising it's progressive, social dimension and its energetic contrariness, the author tacitly emphasises it's continuing relevance today.
I've always wondered what architecture influenced by Talking Heads, Paul Auster, Paul Muldoon, Gerhardt Richter (NB his claim for "capitalist realism") might be like. For sure, it's nothing Philip Johnson would like.
Furman also makes clear his views of the ridiculous nature of Johnson's contributions to 20th century architecture. Stating soberly and outrageously that Johnson "killed" modem architecture twice, initially by condemning it as The International Style - condemning it to monocultural convention. Johnson committed murder twice, if not three times, later adopting the poses of postmodernism and deconstruction. For the author, the former is a particularly arid moment in architectural culture - the imposition of establishment and traditional architectural motifs onto a thriving counter culture in New York. He implies that Johnson's hokey 'enervating, formalistic architecture' isn't sufficiently sophisticated to account for the complex phenomena and 'energy and passion' that influence imaginative design and was essentially a 'Double Murder'.
In essence, Furman's argument is that to describe postmodernism, or modernism, as a style ie as Johnson did, is to misrepresent the relationship between creativity and ideas: to murder this energy and to reduce it to (pointless?) taxonomy.
Certainly, the role of the art historian's concept of style, irrevocably linked to the conceit of the 19th century myth of "epoch", is extremely problematic for a civic, utile art such as architecture. In particular, it's very difficult to see how these pseudo categories, both temporal and aesthetic, are relevant to what JF Lyotard famously described as The Post-Modern Condition.
The series editors have thus set themselves (albeit ironically?) an impossible methodological problem, one which their authors struggle to grasp.
If we are living in a postmodern situation, as Furman convincingly suggests we are, then how can you describe this ontological condition in aesthetic terms - other than as a style of being or becoming (as Herman Bauer described the Baroque)?
In particular, Patrik Shumacher's attempts to look the wrong way down a telescope in order to predict "parametricism as a new style for a new century" appears, in the postmodern context described so well in Furman's essay, to be - at best - vain gloriously wrong headed.
Style, like cool, is perhaps one of those things it's best to leave others to talk about on one's behalf. In common with Fight Club, the first rule of style club would seem to be, never talk about... Etc.
Nonetheless, this series of short and provocative essays reveals the pluralism and energy of contemporary architectural discourse: and it's confusion.