Will Brexit hurt the younger generation?

How London's young generation of architects lets the city shine brightly

Ten thousand foxes live in London's gardens, parks and backyards. A special specimen has been living on a garden facade in the Islington district since 2009: the skin made of red tiles, tapering to the right, snotty-pointed, a round window as an eye, underneath a wide glass front. The facade of a small extension, the architect: David Kohn. Inside, it's not just fox red: walls in sulfur yellow, pigeon blue and turquoise. Sounds like too much, but it's just right.

"The fox knows many different things, but the hedgehog only knows one big one," is a quote from the Greek writer Archilochus. Both are justified. The drilling into the depths and the curious wandering around. David Kohn also called the first exhibition of his buildings the name Fox and Hedgehog, and his self-identification was clear: he is a fox.

Since then, the architectural foxes in London have multiplied, and their youngest generation digs deeper into the paint pot. Office S&M, founded in 2013 by Catrina Stewart and Hugh McEwen, dipped the rooms in mint green, old pink and petrol blue when converting a north London terraced house, even the light switches are pink and yellow. "We use color very intensely in all of our projects," says Catrina Stewart. "Here, the builders gave us even more encouragement. The color is more than just a pretty surface, because it can give the room greater depth through shading."

Disneyland and "Trainspotting"

There is also a concentration of colors and quotes in the house, which the architects at CAN have adapted for their own families. Wafer-thin steel girders in blue, wildly patterned kitchen cupboards, remains of walls left as romantic ruins, a pop-art mountain backdrop on the canopy. The suggestions for this were drawn from Disneyland and the film, among others Trainspotting. And yet it all fits together and is also very comfortable. "It appeals to me to combine as different ideas and elements as possible," says Mat Barnes from CAN - typically Fuchs. "In addition, we were simply bored of the 90s aesthetic of gray mediocrity, in which architecture is always only a background. Why shouldn't architecture also be in the foreground?"

Is architecture less serious when it's fun? No. Can you paint the boards of a wooden parquet in different colors? Yes. In any case, this is exactly what the London collective Almanac did with one of its interiors. Let the material authenticity fetishists turn pale with horror! The new colors, according to Matt Pattenden from Almanac, result not only from aesthetic, but also from purely economic motives such as the tight budgets in expensive London. "We often use color to brighten up rooms inexpensively. In addition, one must not forget that in the image-driven Instagram era, color is also simply good marketing."

Color, shapes, quotes, pop culture: that was already part of the arsenal of postmodernism in the 1970s and 1980s. Are the London Foxes just a PoMo revival? The answer is a resounding no. "We adopt ideas from postmodernism, but see our work more as a reflection of a time of transition," says Catrina Stewart.

Collages and quotes

David Kohn expresses a similar mixture of respect and distance to postmodernism and adds: "For me, it's not just about color and ornaments, but about an architecture of richness that supports the many complex things that people do in rooms."

So not neo-postmodern. Are the many simultaneous splashes of color in London row houses just a lucky coincidence or is it a kind of trend? The British architectural theorist Owen Hopkins noted such a movement and recently invented a name for this movement: multiform. "Because this architecture can literally take many forms, but it always uses strategies such as collage, quotations and expressive colors, materials and ornaments. It is neither a postmodern revival nor a fad. It is a way of dealing with the aesthetic and ideological chaos of the deal with today's world. "

He's not the only one trying to define it. The second comes from the architect Adam Nathaniel Furman and describes a loose group of London architects, designers and graphic artists who reach into the pot of paint much deeper and more lustfully. It is not uncommon for them to wear brightly colored parrots themselves, like the Swedish duo Lara Lesmes and Fredrik Hellberg from Space Popular, who already set up a kind of adventure park ghost train between circus, robotics and computer games in their exhibition in the Wiener Galerie Magazin in 2018.

As colorful as the Bauhaus

Adam Nathaniel Furman also embodies an overall philosophy of color in outfit and work. His interiors, installations and free designs are a veritable explosion of pastel, pink and yellow; he himself teaches at the Architectural Association on the history of color in architecture. For him, it's not just about having fun, but also about rediscovering and re-evaluating an architectural element that is often ridiculed as superficial. "Especially female and queer designers have used color over and over again, but these ideas have been dismissed as dubious by the dominant minimalists," says Furman.

In fact, color has been erased from history time and again: Greek temples and Gothic cathedrals were originally just as colorful as the Bauhaus, which was successfully swept under the table by influential self-marketing architects such as Philip Johnson and Walter Gropius. It is not least their fault that today dreary white full thermal insulation boxes are marketed as "Bauhaus style".

The proudly advertised aesthetic of colourfulness is not only a cross shot against an often simply unimaginative minimalism, but also the defiant resistance of a multicultural metropolis to a Brexit England that seals itself off in joyless nationalism. Whatever you call this generation, it shows the possibility of a better and more colorful world. (Maik Novotny, March 28, 2021)