harvey_postmodernity - The Condition of Postmodernity An Inquiry into the Origin of Cultural Change David Harvey Blackwell Cambridge MA 1990

harvey_postmodernity - The Condition of Postmodernity An...

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The Condition of Postmodernity An Inquiry into the Origin of Cultural Change David Harvey Blackwell Cambridge, MA © 1990
Postmodernism in the city 67 Postmodernism in the city: architecture and urban design In the field of architecture and urban design, I take postmodernism broadly to signify a break with the modernist idea that planning and development should focus on large-scale, metropolitan-wide, tech- nologically rational and efficient urban plans, backed by absolutely no-frills architecture (the austere 'functionalist' surfaces of 'inter- national style' modernism). Postmodernism cultivates, instead, a conception of the urban fabric as necessarily fragmented, a 'palimpsest' of past forms superimposed upon each other, and a 'collage' of current uses, many of which may be ephemeral. Since the metropolis is impossible to command except in bits and pieces, urban design (and note that postmodernists design rather than plan) simply aims to be sensitive to vernacular traditions, local histories, particular wants, needs, and fancies, thus generating specialized, even highly customized architectural forms that may range from intimate, person- alized spaces, through traditional monumentality, to the gaiety of spectacle. All of this can flourish by appeal to a remarkable electicism of architectural styles. Above all, postmodernists depart radically from modernist con- ceptions of how to regard space. Whereas the modernists see space as something to be shaped for social purposes and therefore always subservient to the construction of a social project, the postmodernists see space as something independent and autonomous, to be shaped according to aesthetic aims and principles which have nothing neces- sarily to do with any overarching social objective, save, perhaps, the achievement of timeless and 'disinterested' beauty as an objective in itself. It is useful to consider the meaning of such a shift for a variety of reasons. To begin with, the built environment constitutes one element in a complex of urban experience that has long been a vital crucible for the forging of new cultural sensibilities. How a city looks and how its spaces are organized forms a material base upon which a range of possible sensations and social practices can be thought about, evaluated, and achieved. One dimension of Raban's Soft city can be rendered more or less hard by the way the built environment is shaped. Conversely, architecture and urban design have been the locus of considerable polemical debate concerning the ways in which aesthetic judgements can or should be incorporated in spatially fixed form, and with what effects on daily life. If we experience architecture as communication, if, as Barthes (1975, 92) insists, 'the city is a discourse and this discourse is truly a language,' then we ought to pay close attention to what is being said, particularly since we typically absorb such messages in the midst of all the other manifold distractions of urban life.

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