Post-Modern Design by Michael Collins and Andreas Papadakis (edd) - review by Loyd Grossman

Loyd Grossman

But Is It Fragrant?

Post-Modern Design


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There’s a kettle the cover. Not your furred up old Swan though. This kettle is the hip kettle, the in kettle, the de rigeur, shibbolethic, totemic kettle. The kettle that you have seen in those shops that sell objets like matte black torches, Swiss Army knives and condom holsters for Filofaxes. The kettle is stainless steel, it is conical, it has a blue plastic handle and a red plastic bird on the spout. It was designed by the arc hi teet Michael Graves. It looks like the kettle that Minnie puts on the cooker when she asks ‘Mickey would you like a cup of tea?’ If you wish to buy one, it will set you back £53 – quite a lot to pay for a kettle that isn’t even electric. Nonetheless it has sold as many as 40,000 copies a year. ‘It is perhaps a tribute to Post-Modernism that Graves’s fun design can sell so well on style alone,’ ‘comments the anonymous author of the relevant chapter, ‘and yet be static in terms of scientific achievement.’ That is perhaps the best precis of post modern design: plenty hat, but little rabbit. Post Modernism became debased with indecent speed from the high fallutin’ ideas of Robert Venturi’s 1966 manifesto Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture: in the last decade it became something like the house style of Mrs Thatcher’s spivocracy although even its harshest critics must admit that developers Post Modern is an improvement – if only a slight one – over developer’s Modern. It is undeniably an effective way to sell things – Post Modernism in its most hucksterish manifestations has been applied to everything from shopping malls to our friend the kettle.

In the short space of a decade the Post-Modern look has become so ubiquitous that people with even a minimal amount of visual awareness can identify Post-Modern style. There is an abundance of decoration, colour, and what architects like to call ‘wit’ ie more or less jocular references to the

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