In an episode of the Simpsons, Moe renovates his bar.
To attract the hipster crowd, he makes everything trendy.
His regular drinkers can’t work it out.
Their bar now features huge video screens showing surrealist art.
Moe asks them what they think of it.
Lenny says, “I don’t get it Moe, what’s with all these big screens showing eyeballs?”
Moe says, “It’s PoMo.”
They look blankly at him.
Moe says, “PoMo: Post-Modern, okay?”
They still look blankly at him.
Moe sighs and says, “Okay, it’s weird for weird’s sake.”
They all nod and say, “Oh, okay now we get it.”
I think that’s not a bad summation of post-modernism: weird for weird’s sake.
It’s illustrated well by architecture.
In the 1960s, young British architects wanted to follow the principles of modernism: integrity of form and function.
A building wouldn’t pretend to be what it wasn’t.
The young architects were: Richard Rogers, Norman Foster, Nicholas Grimshaw, Michael Hopkins, and Terry Farrell.
Their use of modern industrial materials and minimalist design was revolutionary, their buildings were clean and functional.
A new kind of stark, fresh architecture emerged, based on ‘form follows function’.
This was modernism.
But after a few years, younger architects got bored.
They didn’t see why they should stick to ‘form follows function’.
They felt the main function of a building was to amuse the viewer.
Form follows fun.
Suddenly all new architecture became ‘post-modern’.
Whimsical decorations were added to every building, often the decoration was the starting point of the design.
Huge buildings were made to look like children’s building blocks, or Chippendale furniture.
Everything was built in grey, maroon and yellow marble.
Terry Farrell abandoned his modernist principals and designed the TVAM building to have a dozen huge eggcups on the roof.
Decoration took over from function as they tried to out-do each other.
Rogers and Foster couldn’t get work during this craze.
So they went to Hong Kong, Shanghai, Berlin, Mexico, France, USA.
Meanwhile the UK drowned under post-modernism.
Until eventually the craze blew over.
People began to get sick of it, and Norman Foster and Richard Rogers returned, they were in demand again.
As Foster says, “Our buildings were like a glass of cold water after a very long, too-rich meal”.
Suddenly people didn’t want weird-for-weird’s-sake anymore.
They wanted something that performed its primary job, cleanly, simply, with minimum fuss.
Form follows function, in fact.
A few years ago, TVAM went out of business.
I drove past the building.
The giant eggcups on the roof were dirty and the paint was peeling, they didn’t look very amusing.
Last week I drove past again.
The eggcups aren’t even there anymore, there’s no reason for them.
If form follows function, there’s always a reason for everything.
But with post-modernism, the only reason is amusement.
And when that’s gone, the decoration is removed because there isn’t any function for it.
Then all you’re left with is some very ordinary, rather dull thinking.
A bit like post-modern advertising.