Detachable Images and the Shaping of the Postmodern City: The Work of Gordon Cullen

By Mira Engler.

Published by The International Journal of Design in Society

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Article: Print $US10.00
Published Online: September 24, 2015 Free Download

During the post-war era, the emerging consumer economy radically changed both the discourse and practice of architecture. It was a time where architecture became a mainstream commodity whose products sold through mass media to mass audiences, via images that performed as advertising; a time in which Gordon Cullen (1914-1994) came to be one of Britain’s best-known twentieth-century architectural draftsmen. Cullen rose to the status of the official spokesman of The Architectural Review’s Townscape editorial policy and had a remarkable influence on both professional and lay audiences, and ultimately on the postmodern city. The paper traces Cullen’s influence through the diffusion and reception of his drawings. Using samples of published references and commentaries, it identifies the agents and apparatuses of this diffusion, and the nature and extent of his impact. It shows that Cullen’s sway derived primarily from the escalating tendency of images (or spectacles, in Guy Debord’s terms) to circulate in the mass print media stream, detached from their initial context and ideology. His images were subject to countless supple adaptations that imported both their stylistic traits and embedded modus operandi—the production of postmodern cities primarily through bricolage and montage, or “cut-and-paste” images—post-war consumerist design strategies that are still commonly used.

Keywords: Detachable Image, Image Maker, Architecture and the Postmodern City

The International Journal of Design in Society, Volume 9, Issue 4, December, 2015, pp.31-54. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Published Online: September 24, 2015 (Article: Electronic (PDF File; 2.132MB)).

Dr. Mira Engler

Professor, Landscape Architecture and Urban Design, Ames, IA, USA