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Tuesday, January 17, 2006
FAT is a postmodernist issue: British pranksters get serious. Hugh Pearman on Fashion Architecture Taste, a small London firm that is moving from its fringe position to the centre stage. No longer theorists and iconoclasts, FAT now have high profile new projects commissioned by Urban Splash in New Islington (the Manchester 'Millennium Community'), amongst others. Check out FATist Sam Jacob's excellent Strange Harvest as well. His piece Good Morning Britain gives background to their (inevitably) failed bid for the British pavilion at the 2006 Venice Biennale 2006 (curated by Richard 'Ricky' Burdett). Jacobs explains the FAT approach succinctly: confront populist notions of what is and what isn't architecture head-on (on this occasion through the theme of 'English Dreams').

The problem is that the kind of national identity that's distilled by FAT's work, with its emphasis on uncomfortable truths like how much people love bungalows, uPVC windows, mock Tudor and 'Nostalgia for a Time We Never Knew', has never hung well with the officially appointed tastemakers. For there was a generation born out of inter-war Modernism who evolved into a cadre of gently benevolent style dictators (as evinced by the Designing Britain, 1945-1975 website (via i like), which chronicles the Festival of Britain era). Britain was ruled over by these rugged designer types in their chunky sweaters, churning out neo-Bauhausian kitchen appliances and robust plastic furniture, objects that filled the Design Council's shop, replete with Kitemarked goods to instill confidence in what were essentially untrained, wayward consumers, dizzyed by the new choice and variety.

Although the wayward consumers won out, it's probably safe to say that the Modernists have never given up, and the influence of 'design' on culture is now more highly valued than ever (another point Jacob makes: 'Government, developers and the public have all decided to believe in, fund, and construct architecture again.') Pearman has FAT down as Contemporary Post-Modernists, but this is backhanded compliment barely skims the many levels of the studio's approach. Post-Mo, at least in an architectural sense, was all about visual quotes and re-appropriation, visual humour that relied on the juxtaposition of opposites, favouring the visually literate, often at the expense of everyone else (although FAT can certainly do humour and homage - their 'How to become a famous architect' is an amusing take on the KLF's 'The Manual (How to have a number one the easy way)').

What set the most innovative Po-Mo architecture apart was its audacity and unwillingness to play within the rules; SITE are a good case in point. Yes, their work for Best were witty yet iconoclastic in that they undermined the then-fashionable rational purity of the shed aesthetic. Ultimately, though, the Best stores weren't about architecture at all, but populism - giving consumers something different. In recent years, Po-Mo has collided with the cultural version of Post-Modernism, a more terrifying and unwieldly beast that thrives on obfuscation, effectively reclaiming the high ground for raw aestheticism (read Deconstructivism), just as Modern-lite floods the market. FAT's unashamed populism is markedly different from that of their peers; for them, there's no joke to be in on, except the wry chuckle at the apoplexy of a generally staid profession.

Talking about FAT leads inevitably to the new Icons of England website, the sort of thing that's asking for a theoretical punch. Just what are the visual symbols of 'Britishness'? Bottom drawer kicks off by pointing out how geographically messed up the whole project is, although the unspoken message is that this is a totally pointless exercise, something suitable for young schoolchildren but barely worth foisting on everyone else. Frankly, we're totally sick of hearing about the Routemaster bus.

*

Other things. Also via bd, a nicely-judged rant against the new Observer Woman section (official site: 'Polly Vernon grows her leg stubble out for the first time in 23 years') and google maps meets camera streams. The internet is such a fabulous distraction. We'll be looking at retro furniture sites again in a second, just you wait / the East London Postcard Site, only on the front page (via the Cartoonist) / free Space Combat simulation. Deliberately difficult apparently / the apathy of the 'download generation' / objects and things at FunFurde / photos by Catherine Chalmers (more info). Her hyperreal series Foodchain and American Cockroach are worth checking out / the future is white and pointy: maglev train in Japan / as if destroying the fabric and community of the C20 city wasn't enough, 'Le Corbusier binds book in dead pet dog,' (via kottke).

The Motorway Archive / misteraitch is right, a site with 'authentic air of pervasive disappointment about it which seemed to characterise Austin-Rover' / 'Are car chases more common in Los Angeles than anywhere else in the nation? If so, why?' (via tmn) / there's something about the brutalist aesthetic of Boge Lindner Architekten's Brandubungshaus ('burning practice house', located at a fire station in Western Germany) that's rather appealing. The fact that we think that is no doubt a poor reflection on our hopelessly aestheticised sensibility, corrupted by far too much neo-modernism.