Modernity appropriated Loos’s ‘Ornament is crime.’ Then Venturi proclaimed that ‘Less is a bore’ and scoured through the classical tradition of decorative motives to bring architecture closer to people and make it meaningful again. This was a short-lived resurrection. The end of postmodernity banished classical ornament to the limbo of history, but also created the conditions for the birth of a new ornamental impulse, a more abstract kind linked on the one hand to the radical and playful expression of materials, and on the other to an almost literal inspiration in the language of artistic minimalism. An impulse sustained by a certain contemporary sensitivity we might call ‘ornamentalism 2.0,’ perhaps best represented by Neutelings Riedijk Architectes.
Following At Work (2003), Ornament and Identity is the second compilation of the Dutch firm’s complete works. Besides presenting works and projects built in the past 15 years, the monograph is a highly visual and schematic exploration of the relationship between meaning and ornament, and the capacity of the latter to create identity in a globalized world.
A short foreword by the authors is followed by projects grouped under concepts standing for ways of expressing ornament: ‘Moiré,’ ‘Image,’ ‘Seam,’ ‘Emblem,’ ‘Letter,’ ‘Pattern,’ ‘Cut out,’ ‘Ridge,’ ‘Grid,’ ‘Lozenge,’ ‘Relief,’ and ‘Filigree.’ Each is presented with an entry, as in a dictionary, so one is reminded of Borges’s Chinese encyclopedia, where everything is arbitrary and everything fits.