Postmodernism is having a moment again—or multiple moments simultaneously (in true Po-Mo spirit). Why? Whether you loved the Whites or the Grays, all that was new (but made to look old, or timeless, or Classical) is old now, and the historic preservation moment has finally caught up to Postmodernism. Two of the biggest fights in the country ask us to consider what “contributing structure” really means.
A prime example is 550 Madison Avenue in New York City. Designed by Philip Johnson, FAIA, and opened in 1984, the former headquarters of AT&T and Sony proved undeniably unique and thoroughly influential. Never as defamed as other postmodern buildings, it’s being renovated by Snøhetta with an eye toward opening up its lower floors to become more street-friendly.
When it comes to postmodern controversy, there’s no more distinct target than the James R. Thompson Center in Chicago, designed by Helmut Jahn, FAIA. Also completed in 1984, this provocative government building has become a rallying symbol for Windy City preservationists and was recently championed by the documentary film Starship Chicago (2017) amidst swirling rumors of demolition.