Art and Culture  Books 

Mutant Panorama

A Postmodern Neoliberal World

Kenneth Frampton 

Please excuse my very delayed response to your Alexandrine Years. I have been preoccupied of late in trying to finish, at long last, the ‘impossible’ expansion of Modern Architecture: A Critical History so as to shift the focus away from Europe and the US to the larger, worldwide spectrum, for which, incidentally, I have used your four Atlas volumes as a model, i.e., Europe, the Americas, Africa and the Middle East, Asia and the Pacific.

Now I have finally found a moment to skim through the first volume, The Age of Spectacle: 1993-1999, which first and foremost prompted me to wonder who has succesfully replaced you over the years as an architecture critic of El País. In any event your ‘disappearance,’ so to speak, only underlines the general demise of architectural criticism, as I recall the days when Bruno Zevi wrote regularly for L’Espresso, Stani von Moos for the Neue Zürcher Zeitung and, belatedly, Deyan Sudjic for The Guardian plus Ada Louis Huxtable for The New York Times, all of whom wrote more or less regularly about “the state of things” in architecture.

I am impressed by the outspoken character of your criticism as you pass through The Age of Spectacle, from ‘The Times of Weak Memory’ to ‘The Decline of the Rose’ to ‘French Choices.’ What is remarkable about collecting all these pieces together is the way the panorama reveals the constantly shifting national and international transformation of the postmodern neoliberal world, above all in your chronicle of January 1995, where you coin the term ‘technopolis’ in referring to Hong Kong and Singapore with the truly shocking aerial photo of Chek Lap Kok Airport in Hong Kong. This is surely the worldwide story save for Africa and possibly Latin America. This is what New York is now also suffering as one high-rise after another consumes the existing fabric of Manhattan. Even so, the strange persistence of the Spanish city-state seems to continue and one-off pieces of sensitively inflected Spanish modern architecture still appear from time to time.

Perhaps you are one of the few remaining ‘old world voices’ who are still able to see things for what they are. Thus throughout the age of the spectacular you constantly return to the non-spectacular as one may still find this in Moneo, Fehn, Aalto, Dieste, Faloci, De la Sota, Bonell and Rius, Cruz and Ortiz, Linazasoro, Mansilla and Tuñón (except for the inexplicable cheese!), Miralles, Pinós, Viaplana, Siza, Maki, and even Norman Foster, whom I feel that you were one of the first to fully appreciate. Among the more moving outspoken pieces are surely your review of the formless exhibition in Paris, ending with your justifiable anger about the waste dump outside A Coruña, and the truly touching and complex essay ‘Ashes of August.’ This is all for the moment.

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