I often feel like Owen Hatherley should be paying me to do his PR. Anyone interested in modernist buildings and notions of 'utopia' (i.e. us) should make time to read this erudite and fearlessly critical book on 20th Century modernism.
According to Simon Reynolds, Hatherley's "...ideas-packed and intensely-felt book is neither a misty-eyed memorial nor a dour inquest, but a verging-on-erotic mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Rediscovering the enchantment of demystification and the sexiness of severity, Hatherley harks forward to modernism's utopian spirit: critical, radically democratic, dedicated to the conscious transformation of everyday life, determined to build a better world."
I am currently reading his more recent publication, A Guide to the New Ruins of Great Britain - excerpts of which I have quoted below.
Two themes very relevant to our research are outlined in Hatherley's introduction. One is the concept of Pseudomodernism (an architectural 'style of consumption' not far from our understanding of Neo-Utopianism) and the other is the "under-investigated word 'regeneration'".
"The New Modernism, like the new social democratic parties, is one emptied of all intent to actually improve the living conditions of the majority. Instead, the social use of the pseudo-modernist building, forever groping for the Bilbao effect, appears in a rather Victorian manner to be the uplifting of the spirit via interactive exhibits and installations...
...its [Pseudomodernism's] forebears are in the aesthetics of consumption and advertising, in forms designed to be seen at great speed, not in serene contemplation... It should not surprise us that a style of consumption would return under neoliberalism, but the formal affinities of Pseudomodernism with this aesthetic offers an alternative explanation for what often seems an arbitrary play of [architectural] forms...
...It allows us to reinterpret what purports to be an aesthetic of edification as one of consumption. In the computer-aided creation of futuristic form, today's architects are producing enormous logos, and this is only appropriate. The architecture once described as deconstructivist owes less to Derrida than it does to McDonalds... (pxxix)
...A major change from the suburbanism of the Thatcher and Reagan version of neoliberalism is a new focus on the cities, something which is usually encapsulated by the under-investigated word 'regeneration'. Indeed, any form of building in an urban area is usually accompanied by this term...(pxxiii)
These 'transformations of space' which Hatherley describes as 'regenerated areas of bourgeois colonization' are, it should be remembered, "fundamentally different in their social consequences to the superficially similar 'comprehensive redevelopment' of the postwar period...That is, the Modernism of the icon, of the city academies where each fundamentally alike yet bespoke design embodies a vacuous aspirationalism; a Modernism without the politics, without the utopianism, or without any conception of the polis; a Modernism that conceals rather than reveals its functions; Modernism as a shell..." (pxxii - xxiv)