"I don’t think that architecture is a language, and I don’t think it can be directly communicable in a syntactical manner" ...

Architecture publications and websites have condemned the Postmodern revival since at least 2011, the year that London’s Victoria & Albert Museum mounted a major retrospective on the design movement. For Dezeen’s 2015 “Pomo Summer,” Sam Jacob declared the revival a trap. Not to be outdone, Sean Griffiths, Jacob’s former partner at the architecture firm FAT, followed up by calling the revival politically dangerous, a conclusion echoed in last fall’s Dean’s Roundtable at the Center for Architecture in Manhattan, when Ila Berman compared it to MAGA (Make Architecture Great Again). Yet this is one movement that seems to grow only stronger as the critiques pile up. By last year, Thomas de Moncheaux took to the pages of Metropolis to throw up his hands: If Joseph Rywkert pleaded for “No-Mo!” back in 2011, now it was time for “Mo-Po.” Rykwert’s quote came from a recently published book, Revisiting Postmodernism, by Terry Farrell and Adam Furman. Furman, a London-based artist and designer singled out as the face of the Postmodern revival by Griffiths, replied to my piece on the Dean’s Roundtable with a, well, spirited e-mail. So I called him up to hear his side of the story.

The interior of Democratic Monument by Adam Nathaniel Furman
The interior of Democratic Monument by Adam Nathaniel Furman © Adam Nathaniel Furman

Nicolas Kemper: Why is the book called a Postmodernism revisit, instead of a Postmodernism revival?

Adam Nathaniel Furman: It’s a little bit like it was a destination that was not allowed. It was a library that had been closed, and it’s a library that we’re once again allowed to revisit. It’s not a matter of reproducing Postmodernism, but of reincorporating it into the canon of what we’re allowed to study. So many architects turn it into something really controversial, when it’s not—it’s simply part of our body of knowledge. And you cannot fucking cordon off a whole area of knowledge from students.

NK: Is there something pejorative about calling it a revival?

ANF: So, living in modernity—where the world changes at a rate that’s very difficult for humanity to keep up with—biologically means we are constantly in a state of nervousness. The byproduct of that is we are also in a state of nostalgia. Nostalgia is not optional—in modernity it is always with us, the question is how you manage it. 

One route is reconstructive nostalgia: You pinpoint a golden era in the past, whether that be socialism in the 1960s for a lot of British people now, or it be neo-classicism of the 18th century, and you reconstruct it as being the ideal period in history where everything was perfect. That’s extremely dangerous. That’s revivalism. Through a nostalgic construction of an ideal past, it erases history and it erases the present. It’s a violent thing.

Partial nostalgia, on the other hand, approaches history in an impartial and reflexive way, which understands it cannot be repeated. Partial nostalgia is fragmented, self-aware, reflexive, and always incorporates the best of different periods. So that’s why to me the word “revival” is super-insulting and extremely dangerous.