Explore Postmodernism at Sir John Soane’s Museum

Sir John Soane's Museum presents a new free exhibition devoted to Postmodernist British Architecture.

On the 16th May 2018, Sir John Soane’s Museum launches a new exhibition called The Return of the Past: Postmodernism in British Architecture. Hailed as the first show dedicated to Postmodernist British Architecture, the exhibition will specifically look at postmodernism’s early ‘radical moment’ – which took place in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

The exhibition showcases a selection of works that were central to the postmodernist movement; these were created by some of postmodernism’s most important architects, including James Stirling, John Outram, Jeremy Dixon, Terry Farrell, and CZWG. Bringing these unique works to the fore, The Return of the Past explores how Postmodernism emerged. Part of the findings shows that originally, the Postmodernist movement was a reaction to the effects of Modernism on British towns and cities.

Jeremy and Fenella Dixon, St Mark’s Road, London, 1979. Credit: Dixon Jones Architects

In contrast to Modernism, which sought to use architecture to bring about an “idealised future”, Postmodernism gave architects the opportunity to use the architectural forms, symbols and typologies that Modernism tried to avoid. For instance, Terry Farrell used Postmodernism’s new-found appreciation of history to draw on architectural languages of the past for the TV-am building; the building became both a functioning TV station and an embodiment of the TV-am brand.

“Postmodern architecture in Britain is frequently written-off as an expression of 1980s Thatcherism and still little understood,” says Owen Hopkins, the senior curator at Sir John Soane’s Museum. “We conceived this exhibition to set the record straight and reveal this period as one of such amazing creativity and innovation that can hold its own with any moment in British architectural history”. Delving into the movement’s interest in reconnecting architecture to the past, the exhibition displays the various ways Postmodernist architects and designers achieved their goals.

John Outram, Project for 200 Victoria Street for Rosehaugh- Stanhope Developers (unbuilt), 1988-90.
Credit: John Outram

Featuring a range of drawings, models, photographs and books, the exhibition also showcases examples of Postmodernist furniture and fragments of actual buildings – many of which have never been publicly exhibited before. Taking place against the backdrop of reinvigorated curiosity in Postmodernism currently taking place in Britain, The Return of the Past: Postmodernism in British Architecture sheds new light on what is seen as one of the most inventive, significant moments in British architecture.

The Return of the Past: Postmodernism in British Architecture is a free exhibition. It runs from Wednesday 16th May to Sunday 26th August, 2018, at Sir John Soane’s Museum.

Terry Farrell, TV-am, Camden 1981–82. Credit: Richard Bryant / Arcaid

Feature image: Terry Farrell, SIS Building, London, completed 1994. Credit: Nigel Young

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