Are we entering the era of Metamodernism? 

Are we entering the era of Metamodernism? 

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Modernism became the casualty of two world wars and eventually paved the way for postmodernism. Also, failings of modernism, whose radical artistic projects had come to be associated with totalitarianism contributed to the evolution of postmodernism. The idea of postmodernism in architecture evolved mainly as a response to the perceived blandness and failed Utopianism of the modern architecture. It was a transition from ‘less is more’ to ‘less is a bore!’ Postmodernism thrived in mid and late 20th century. In fact, Postmodernism as a philosophy had gained wide acceptance across philosophy, the arts, architecture, and criticism.

Alan Kirby in his popular essay, The Death of Postmodernism and Beyond, had argued that postmodernism as a cultural period is over, and the time had come for a new paradigm based on digital technology which he called “pseudomodernism” only to rephrase it to “digimodernism” later on. Kirby had not invented anything new in his essay but only had lent support to the growing movement that emerged in the late 2000s and sought to chart cultural developments in the aftermath of postmodernism. 

Filipino architect John Ian Lee Fulgar too feels that time has come to say goodbye to postmodernism and welcome a new ‘ism’ which he calls “metamodernism”. Metamodernism is a proposed set of developments in philosophy, aesthetics and culture which are emerging from and reacting to postmodernism. Unlike in the era of postmodernism, metamodernism has born when the world is swayed by digitalisation and telecommunication revolution. 

Fulgar believes that metamodern designs can help to construct better and innovative buildings that embody technology, function, culture, national identity, environmental sustainability and social interaction in the digital age. According to him what architects around the world are doing is assembly architecture which means you buy components and put them together. He is of the opinion that present architecture is heavily dependent on mass production where all that the architects have to do is just to assemble the mass produced products. There is no scope for subjectivity which in turn discourages creativity. “What metamodern does is that it helps us to become more subjective to try to think of more common ground where we can entertain polarities to come up with something new, something creative.  That is the challenge now,” said Fulgar in a recent interview. 

Modernism was established on the belief in science and rationality. However, the destruction and trauma of the two world wars created a negative attitude towards the same science and technology which once ruled every aspect of human life. Postmodernists started criticizing the modernist thoughts and the modernist society for their drawbacks and destruction caused by two wars were cited as examples. Postmodernists were not at all in agreement with the idea of fixity of moral code. According to them everything is about choice and they strongly believed in multiple and subjective moral codes. There are many ways to do things and not one. Modern architecture was losing lustre because of usterity, formality, and lack of variety. Modern architecture’s rigid doctrines, emphasis on uniformity and its lack of ornament contributed to its decline. Critics also pointed at its habit of ignoring the history and culture of the cities where it appeared. Postmodernists believe that “there is no totalizing explanatory model and no universally valid verification procedure.” In postmodernism personal concerns have become more important than state and politics that were used to be the main concern before. “I like elements which are hybrid rather than “pure”, compromising rather than “clean”, …accommodating rather than excluding… I am for messy vitality over obvious unity,” these are the words of Robert Venturi, one of the earliest proponents of alternative to modernism. According to Denise Scott Brown, wife of Robert Venturi, “buildings should be built for people, and that architecture should listen to them.”

However, even postmodernism is not beyond criticism and some people claim that there is not much difference between modernism and postmodernism and the latter is just an extension of the former. Some have pointed out that postmodernism is nothing but that rejects simplicity. 

In a way there is some similarity between modernism and metamodernism in the sense that both empathise and are the result of evolving technology. But difference may be mainly in the way things are done. “One rule suits all” principle has been rubbished in metamodernism according to which subjectivity rules supreme. Today we are living both in the real and the virtual world simultaneously. Due to amazing improvement of information technology, information is not having any border. At the same time, metamodernism discards rigidity of the modernism and in that respect its more near to postmodernism as it is accommodative to local needs and environment. In a way, metamodernism is mixture of best of both the worlds, that is, modernism and postmodernism, backed by present day IT and digitalisation.

Situation in 1980s and the situation today are quite different – technologically, environmentally and socially. Urbanisation is taking place at a rapid pace; IT and internet have invaded every aspect of our life and; much of the efforts are now focused on containing global warming. So, the time is ripe for invention and evolution of a new ‘ism’ and whether metamodernism, in its present format, can meet those challenges? Its little too early to assess.  

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