Summary of David Harvey: ‘The Condition of Postmodernity’ Chapter 4: Postmodernism in the city: architecture and urban design

‘In the field of architecture and urban design, I take postmodernism broadly to signify a break with the modernist idea that planning and development should focus on large-scale, metropolitan-wide, technologically rational and efficient urban plans, backed by absolutely no frills architecture.’ (David Harvey, 1990) 

Harvey focuses on both modern and post-modern architectural buildings in New York and how they contrast.

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Harvey looked at the contrast in the Rockefeller building and Trump Tower and how post-modern buildings have drastically changed the appearance of many buildings in the city. The Rockefeller presents a dull, concrete building with no fascinating features unlike the Trump Tower that has many dimensions made from glass and tree’s placed on the building.

East London similarly has both modern and post-modern buildings that majorly contrast. All the postmodern buildings are seen as fascinating and interesting architectural buildings because of the material and design that has been used such as the Gherkin and the Lloyds Tower.


This image shows the clear contrast between modern and postmodern housing in East London. (Stratford)

lloyds-of-london gherkin

Harvey’s views on the concepts of space and urban planning:Postmodern urban planning attitudes differ to modernist attitudes with regards to the use of space. Harvey explains the differing concepts by outlining architect Leon Krier’s criticisms of modernist urban planning as being overly focused on the circulation of people to ‘mono-functionally zoned’ areas that may include, for example a skyscraper or a central business district.

Krier finds modernist urban planning to be wasteful of land and energy and on the whole, anti-ecological and his vision of a ‘good city’ is one that is considerate of the environment and the community.  Krier’s approach to urban design calls for all urban functions to be within comfortable walking distance and like many postmodernists, Krier seeks a return to traditional urban values by creating ‘cities within cities’.

Because of modernist ideals of monofunctional zoning and “rational planning” of space “circulation systems” were created to generate systems of productivity and growth but these “artificial arteries” generalise individuals and group them as the same.

Harvey moves on to describe the Western industrialised world’s post World War II reluctance to return to the enormous economic problems that were experienced during the 1920s and 1930s.

While post-World War II Britain employed modernist systems of constructions, urban planning was subject to strict country planning policies that restricted suburbanisation and forced people in to the city. Although these urban planning policies led to the removal of slums to make way for factories, hospitals, schools and prefabricated home, there was growing concern for spatial patterns and the impact of modernist urban planning on the promotion of equality.

In post World War II Europe, many cities required rebuilding after the destruction caused by the war. In the United States however, construction was driven not by damage to metropolitan areas but by a bolstered economy. The United States utilised modernist mass production techniques and experienced fast, loosely controlled suburbanisation which was largely assisted by the development of highways and other infrastructure. The US still relied upon mass production and backing from the Government but mainly focused on private development. As people and employment began to spread outward however, inner cities began to suffer from deterioration which resulted in government subsidised initiatives that aimed to renew metropolitan areas. Due to the reluctancy of returning to enormous economic problems after World War II and the need for reconstruction of social spaces, mass production and planning was adopted.

Harvey highlights the fact that modernism and fordism go hand in hand with capitalism with the need for rapid reconstruction and corporate capital still had a great deal of power in property development to build profitably, quickly and cheaply. This was a major branch of capital accumulation.

Harvey is criticises postmodern urban spatial planning because he claims that it fails to convey authentic urban identity. Harvey further states that postmodern urban planning is all too often gentrified, monotonous and significantly influenced by a desire to attract consumers.  (Harvey, 1990)

Post by: Abi Groves, Georgina Miles, Marta Santillana, Sheldon Richardson, Dianne Bonney


Harvey, D. (1990). The condition of postmodernity. Oxford [England]: Blackwell.

Summary of David Harvey: ‘The Condition of Postmodernity’ Chapter 4: Postmodernism in the city: architecture and urban design

Spiegelhalters: east London’s weirdest building

In 1927, the Wickhams department store was built on Mile End Road, and it looked like this:

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The story behind the strange shape the building has is a curious one.

The Wickham family’s neighbours were the family that owned the Spiegelhalters jewellery shop. When the Wickham family decided to build their huge department store, meant to be Selfridges’ rival, neighbour Spiegelhalters refused to sell their property and move out. However, this did not stop the construction of the superstore, resulting on a great big gap over the Spiegelhalters jewellery shop, right in the middle of the grand façade.

The architectural writer Ian Nairn once said that it was ‘one of the best visual jokes in London’. The building itself provides a glimpse into East London’s Jewish history, and a reminder that occasionally rich property developers don’t get everything they want.

Today, the owners of the building are planning on demolishing Spiegelhalters and replace it with an empty space, that would look like this:

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However the East End Preservation Society has raised a petition to save Spiegelhalters, because this little shop has survived against the odds for over a century and it shall remind there, as Ian Nairn said; it conforms ‘a perennial triumph for the little man, the bloke who won’t conform. May he stay there till the Bomb falls’.

And if you believe this is a good way to preserve the East End’s heritage you can sign the petition here:

Time Out, (2015). Save Spiegelhalters, east London’s weirdest building – Now. Here. This. – Time Out London. [online] Available at: [Accessed 8 Mar. 2015].

Post by: Marta Santillana

Spiegelhalters: east London’s weirdest building

The transformation of East London: Canary Wharf.

article-0-19CEE1EA000005DC-452_964x640 article-0-19CEE1DD000005DC-646_964x763(now and then, Canary Wharf)

Canary Wharf was once the biggest port in the world, but today is a major business district, a giant trade centre, a hub of the global economy. The Canary Wharf that we know today began its construction in 1988, and after recovering from a financial crisis on its first years, it raised stronger than before. It is now one of the 20 largest concentration of employment in the country, resulting in more than 100,000 people working over the same area every day.


It has been said that the creation of Canary Wharf mainly brought positive aspects to the city; a cheaper area than ‘The City’ for businesses to move into, many job opportunities, the necessary investment to enhance the Jubilee Line and to bring to life the project of the DLR (Docklands Light Railway), plus cheaper residential areas which would make of East London a more popular, active, connected, and dynamic area.

But is this actually true?

From those 100,000 employees, Canary Wharf employs 44,500 bankers from the 16 biggest banks in the UK (FT research), and has been said to be the solution for corrupt bankers to solve their problems, such as american financial services Lehman Brothers. Thus it was referred by the political essayist Peter Gowan as ‘Wall Street’s Guantánamo’. In the words of journalist Owen Hatherly: ‘Canary Wharf has been for the last 20 years the most spectacular expression of London’s transformation into a city with levels of inequality that previous generations liked to think they’d fought a war to eliminate’.

After a bit of research it is easy to realise how contradictory opinions about this area are. Some believe the raise in job opportunities brought to the area a huge diversity, refurbished East London, and shed a new light. Others just see it as an inconvenience, a way of attracting more people to an already overcrowded city, where the provided services don’t match the the rhythm of this fast paced ‘Second City’, becoming an annoyance for the local commutes, and the local residential area.

Is Canary Wharf a success after all? Or will it become the city’s biggest myth?

Allen, K. (2015). Canary Wharf workforce quadruples in a decade – [online] Financial Times. Available at: [Accessed 1 Mar. 2015]., (2015). Local news, sport, leisure, jobs, homes, cars in Epping Forest, Waltham Forest, Wanstead &. [online] Available at: [Accessed 1 Mar. 2015].

Hatherley, O. (2012). The myth that Canary Wharf did east London any good | Owen Hatherley. [online] the Guardian. Available at: [Accessed 27 Feb. 2015].

Post by: Marta Santillana

The transformation of East London: Canary Wharf.

Architecture in East London

Across East London many historical and modern buildings are well known for their architecture and purpose of use.

Tower Of London | Tower Hill

towerl of london
The Tower of London was built in 1066 for the Norman conquest of England. It was used as a prison from 1100 as well as home to many royal residents. The castle is made up of three wards which has undergone severals expansions however the main layout has more or less stayed the same.


The Gherkin | 30 St Mary Axe 

The modern design is for the global company, Swiss Re, for it’s UK head office. The gaps within each floor creates six shafts which act as a natural ventilation system and creates a double glazing effect causing insulation in the office space inside, as the air is compressed between the two floors. This is an energy saving methods which means the building uses half the power a similar tower would use. The cost of the building was £138 million plus £90.6 million for the land cost. The postmodern building has 41 floors.

Jamme Masjid|Brick Lane

The building was built in 1743 as Protestant chapel. In 1819 it was used as a Methodist chapel and by the 19th century it became the Machzike Adass, Great Synagogue. In 1976 it re-opened as mosque after it closed  the population of Jews decreased over the years. The building has stayed the same throughout the years.

Lloyds of London|Lime Street

lloyds of london
The Lloyds of London buildings has three main towers and three service towers that surround a rectangular space. it has 14 floors with 12 glass lifts.  The construction started in 1978 and was completed in 1986 having £75 million spent on it. ‘It is said by English heritage to be “universally recognised as one of the key buildings of the modern epoch’ (, 2015)

Guildhall|Gresham Street

Guildhall was built in 1411 and was finished by 1440. Behind the hall are many things such as a library, print room and large medieval crypts. In the Roman era it was used as an amphitheatre, however now many of the rooms are just used as function rooms. Events are held here such as banquets, awards evenings, law firms and so on. In the 1990s there was an added complex for Guildhall Art Gallery

Canary Wharf

canary whardCanary Wharf has many of the tallest buildings in the UK including the second tallest building which is One Canada Square. This was completed in 1991 and has 50 floors. It is the 15th tallest building in Europe and is the second tallest building in the Uk, after The Shard. Before Canary Wharf turned into what it is today, in 1802 it was one of the busiest docks in the world. However, when the port industry started to decline in the 1960s it officially closed in 1981. A proposal for a new business district was sold and the construction started in 1988.

Post by: Abi Groves

Architecture in East London