Collapse Volume VI, 234–256


Fossils of Time Future

Bunkers and Buildings from the Atlantic Wall to the South Bank


A couple of years before his death, J.G. Ballard wrote an essay for the Guardian on Modern architecture, as part of a tie-in with the highly successful Modernism – Designing a New World exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum. This exhibition can be seen as the moment where the British middle class fully reclaimed modern architecture and design, after an interregnum of postmodernist eclecticism – but, in much the same way that a Labour government was no longer meaningfully a Labour government, this was not the same modernism. Accordingly, a line was established where modernism, as a purist, clean and hygienic aesthetic developed in the 1920s, leapt over the dissonant, mutated, megastructural, ‘Brutalist’ modernism of council housing and ‘comprehensive redevelopment’ that occurred after 1945, picking up the thread again in the 1990s, with the Blairite tasteful style of architects like Allies and Morrison or property developers such as Urban Splash, with (this time a more brightly coloured) minimalism once again the reigning aesthetic. Of the many articles in the press celebrating the V&A exhibition, a Modernism that didn’t fit the rubric of ‘sweetness and light’ was explained away briefly as a perversion, a parody, of the original idea. In the process, Modernism was denuded too of its attachment to left-wing politics, and of its close relation to the technological acceleration enabled by total war…