The listing of 17 postmodern buildings by Historic England is great news, even if the structures that have made the grade – from a Slough industrial estate to the home of the architectural historian Charles Jencks in Kensington – are the most cerebral examples out there. That we are now starting to get to grips with PoMo architecture’s controversial legacy is welcome, not least because other important buildings have already been destroyed, and others are threatened.
Two years ago the Twentieth Century Society ran a conference in response to the growing threat to postmodern buildings in London and beyond. In 2015 we campaigned for James Sterling’s No 1 Poultry at Bank, which was about to be mutilated, to be given listed status. This stripy pink building, completed in 1997, sits in the conservative heart of the City of London, and was only erected after a prolonged and bitter fight to keep the Victorian buildings on the site before it. Perhaps in part because many conservationists still around today had campaigned so passionately against it in the first place, the listing was a struggle.
Today the worlds of design and conservation are more closely allied than before. But even as this latest batch of postmodern buildings has won protected status, it is worth noting that important brutalist buildings are still excluded from the roster. The Southbank Centre, a brutalist building of world renown, has just been turned down for listing for the fourth time, despite its triumphant refurbishment, while Alison and Peter Smithson’s Robin Hood Gardens was also judged to fall short. (A chunk of this east London housing estate – currently being demolished to make way for higher density housing – is being shipped to Venice for its Architecture Biennale.)