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

Is East London losing its unique identity through gentrification and commercialisation?

(National Geographic, 2012)

The image  above seems to perfectly illustrate the contrast in modern versus post-modern architecture in East London. The post-modern buildings that comprise Canary Wharf loom in the background, while what appears to be residential, working-class, terraced housing sits in the foreground. This image seems to add weight to the theory that gentrification significantly alters both the cultural and physical landscapes of urban spaces. (The Economist, 2014)

David Harvey (1990), expresses criticism for postmodern spatial planning in urban areas due to its perceived inability to convey authenticity in terms of urban identity. Harvey asserts that postmodern urban spaces are all too often gentrified, repetitive and largely influenced by commercial endeavours.

The tour guide in the below video seems to share Harvey’s opinion with reference to the gentrification of East London and suggests that East London is one of the last areas in London to fall prey to gentrification and commercialisation, which may be characterised by the construction of high-rise apartment buildings which are expensive to rent or purchase as well as the inundation of the high street with well known ‘high street’ brands that continue to open up retail spaces in ‘up and coming’ areas, which ultimately pushes out smaller independent businesses that have likely operated in and helped to define the local area. The tour guide opines that gentrification of East London is making the area indistinguishable to other areas that have already undergone a process of gentrification. (Harvey, 1990 and Dykman, 2014)

Vice (2015), interviewed a group of East London council tower block residents who are opposed to plans to develop one of the two towers so that it may be sold off as private housing to fund redevelopment of both of the tower blocks. The blocks have housed working class residents since the 1960s and the proposed development will result in the loss of 74 council houses to a borough with a waiting list for housing as high as 20,000. This particular scenario is not unique and will undoubtedly leave a lasting effect on past, present and future residents of the area. This situation serves as a reminder of the following quote from Marshall Berman:

“The industrialization of production, which transforms scientific knowledge into technology, creates new human environments and destroys old speeds up the whole tempo of life, generates new forms of corporate power and class immense demographic upheavals, severing millions of people from their ancestral habitats…”(Berman, 1982)

Posted by: Dianne Bonney


Berman, M. (1982). All that is solid melts into air. New York: Simon and Schuster.

Dykman, K. (2014). Commercialisation and Gentrification of London’s East End. Available at: [Accessed 18 Mar. 2015].

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

National Geographic, (2012). East London. [image] Available at: [Accessed 3 Feb. 2015].

The Economist, (2014). Chasing cool. [online] Available at: [Accessed 3 Feb. 2015].

VICE, (2015). East London Residents Talk About Gentrification | VICE | United Kingdom. [online] Available at: [Accessed 18 Mar. 2015].

Is East London losing its unique identity through gentrification and commercialisation?

Is East London’s Cereal Killer Cafe a symbol of the area’s gentrification?

A quirky new cafe opened recently in East London’s Brick Lane. Cereal Killer is a novelty eatery that exclusively sells specialty cereals that are mostly imported from the United States. The cafe has been on the receiving end of criticism and derision however, as it is situated in one of London’s poorest boroughs, yet charges over £3 per bowl of cereal. (Channel 4 News, 2015)

Cereal Killer has been slated as a ‘hipster hangout’ and may serve as a symbol of East London’s growing popularity with a young, cool and creative generation who are unlikely to be able to afford to live, work and ‘play’ in areas in and around London that have previously undergone a process of gentrification. The interviewer in the embedded video seems to suggest that the cafe owners are taking advantage of East London’s rise in popularity with young ‘hipsters’ and in doing so have ignored the long-standing residents of ‘London’s poorest borough’ who are possibly unable to afford to eat at an establishment that charges £3.20 for a bowl of cereal. (Channel 4 News, 2015)

Post by: Dianne Bonney

Reference list:
Channel 4 News, (2015). Cereal cafe stops interview over price questions | Channel 4 News.Available at: [Accessed 14 Feb. 2015].

Friedman, B. (2014). This is why we should be applauding the hipster cereal cafe. [online] The Independent. Available at:–we-should-be-applauding-their-entrepreneurship-9918017.html [Accessed 18 Feb. 2015].

Is East London’s Cereal Killer Cafe a symbol of the area’s gentrification?

Stratford: what it was and what it has become…

Due to the London Olympics that took place in 2012, Stratford is seen as one of the most up and coming areas in East London. The town that once appeared souless and gritty with little to do there is now very much different.

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(Greig, R. 2013, Stratford City Centre)

“The town’s original retail hub may still be Westfield’s ugly sister, but a superficial makeover means these days it’s seducing more shoppers than ever.” (Clack, D. 2013)

The 1970’s shopping centre which is still there offered very little variety of shops and created an untidy and derelict space for the residents of Stratford for the very view shoppers who would come to visit. Now, across the busy road is Westfield Shopping Centre, one of the largest urban shopping centres in Europe. The development of space because of the Olympics has ow transformed Stratford into a modernised and popular area that attracts many visitors daily from different countries making it an incredibly busy area.

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(Greig, R. 2013, Fridge Mountain)

As you can see from the image above, the area transformed as they stripped away old material whilst restoring some existing structure and injected more greenery into the area.

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(Greig, R. 2013, Olympic park)

The Olympics was the perfect publicised event to mediate the new and improved Stratford. The event attracted millions of people which meant more money was being spent in the area.

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(Smith, S. 2014)

Despite the enormous development, the ‘old Stratford’ still firmly remains in some areas. As you can see in the image above, the new apartments stand impressive, but the old homes  still remain in their original space.  The picture clearly shows a juxtaposition between the new and the old. The new Stratford doesn’t compliment the old Stratford, instead it ignores the old spirit of the area as some areas have been given a modern identity. The change in architecture presents the theme of Post Modernism, that Stratford and many other places in East London are now embracing.

Volkery (2012) interestingly pointed out:
“Emerging from one of the many subway, bus and train connections that stop at Stratford’s train station, a visitor has two options. Either follow the pink signs to the Olympic Park through the Westfield shopping center, past an Apple Store, a Lego shop and celebrity chef Jamie Oliver’s new restaurant. That’s the new Stratford. Or walk across the street into a dilapidated shopping mall from the 1970s. The Stratford Center is the gateway to High Street, the main thoroughfare of this immigrant neighborhood. There’s no Starbucks here. This is the old Stratford.The two Stratfords don’t have a lot to do with each other. ”

Clack, D. (2013) Stratford: Then and Now. Available at: (06 Febrary 2015).

Volkery, C. (2012) Stratford’s Gentrification: Olympics A Mixed Blessing for London’s East End. Available at: (06 Febrary 2015).

Greig, R. and Clack, D. and Poultney, D. (2013) Fridge Mountain. Available at: (Accessed: 6 February 2015)

Greig, R. and Clack, D. and Poultney, D. (2013) Olympic ParkAvailable at: (Accessed: 6 February 2015)

Greig, R. and Clack, D. and Poultney, D. (2013) Stratford town centreAvailable at: (Accessed: 6 February 2015)

Smith, S (2014) Available at: (Accessed: 6 February 2015)

Post by: Abi Groves

Stratford: what it was and what it has become…