Architecture as a discipline has evolved over time, with architects from different periods adopting unique approaches to architecture. In the 1950’s, the architectural world saw the introduction of the theory of the postmodern architecture . This came hot on the heels of the famous modernist approach to architecture, which had the support of various classical scholars and architects. The primary argument in this paper is the fact that the post-modernist approach to architecture was a representation of the effort by architecture to establish a voice of its own. This is built on the realization that architecture is a dynamic field, with the advancement of knowledge and technology shaping the outlook of the architects of a particular period. For the architects of the late 50’s, therefore, their society demanded them to develop a voice and an outlook for themselves. Despite the criticism leveled towards this theory, it performed a critical role of providing architecture with multi points of focus. This paper, therefore argues that the postmodernist approach was essential in diversifying architecture and giving architecture personality.
Postmodernism, therefore, can be seen as the product of architectural minds that were out to satisfy the needs of their generation (Hutcheon 181). As it is the case with any form of systemic changes, a different point of view is not usually welcomed across the board. In architecture, it was necessary for the postmodernists to challenge the traditionalist perspective to the practice (Fournier). The postmodernists, therefore, can be seen as a group of architects driven by the needs of the society at that time, and individuals who were ready to challenges the status quo in regards to architectural practice. These people were determined to transform the essence of architecture, from being laid back and traditionalist, to being more progressive and multidimensional (Boyne and Rattansi 32). All these factors point at a critical aspect that defines architecture; evolution. The argument apparently made in this paper is that the effort by the postmodernists is proof that architecture cannot rely on traditional definitions, but will progressively change as dictated by the needs of the society at that particular time.
The theory of modernism in architecture
The effort by the postmodernists top develop a distinct voice had its basis on modernism. Postmodernist architecture can be seen as an offshoot of the modern functional architecture, practiced until the 50’s (Chattopadhyay 412). The modernists gauged the suitability of architectural work on the utility of their designs or structures (Groat 12). The modernist ideology was driven by various scholars, who were useful in coming up with the ideology behind the movement. These included individuals such as Le Corbusier, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Walter Gropius (Caffey 5). Postmodernism saw the faults in the ideas propagated by the individuals mentioned above, and sought to come up with an architectural dimension that would not be tied down to the modernist agenda.
The creation of a specific ideology was at the center of the modernist movement. According to the scholars of the time, everything had to go according to a specified way. To this end, every discipline; architecture included, was defined by a form of logic, with architectural practice expected to follow the laid down regulations closely . The insistence of applying logic and rules in every discipline was the origin of the modernism age being associated with terms such as dogmatism, functionalism and even constructivism .
The scholars who were at the forefront of the modernist movement were renowned for their desire to offer technical solutions to every problem that encountered the society . According to them, any problem had a specific way of solving it. When this was applied to architecture, the designs needed to follow a particular ideology to achieve individual goals. This was the origin of the emphasis on functionality in the designs that the architects of the time came up with. In line with the main argument of this paper, this form, of functionality and application of logic may have represented the needs of the society at that particular time. That said, modernism was appropriate for the given age. With the setting in of the evolution aspect, however, came the change in what the society needed.
In some cases, the extremist ideas of the modernist architects were beloved by some sections of the society, especially ones supportive of the communist agenda. This can be seen as a factor that explains the observation that one of Le Corbusier's greatest projects was the Tsentrosojuz building in Moscow (Willette). The argument here is that the ideas that Le Corbusier advocated for were in line with the ideals that the soviet architects had. A famous architect, Nikolaj Kuzmin, was renowned for his extreme stand on how a man should live . According to him, people had to live in a communist and a more functional way. He went ahead to propose a system that heavily resembled a prison. In his design, the family set up would be abolished, where all men would sleep in particular parts of the building, separate from the women and children. The community as a whole would share a recreational area, where communal activities would be conducted. This is an example of the extreme functionalism that the modernist architects stood for.
Despite the fact that a majority of the modernist architects may not have supported such radical ideas, their belief in communism and functionality of designs is uncontested. The less controversial architects of the modernist era, therefore, resulted in a certain degree of restriction in regards to design (Chattopadhyay 413). Due to the rules put in place, an architect practicing at this time was limited in the extent to which he/she would alter designs. The architects had absolute uncontested values and truths that guided the architectural approaches to materials and overall construction (Groat 13). The products of the modernist approach to architecture, therefore, were a portrayal of functionalism that emphasized on the aspect of space, structure an abstract detailing, but failed to communicate effectively with the wider society .
The postmodern movement
Postmodernism, despite the arguments made by critics, had a scholarly basis. According to Otero-Pailos the pioneer postmodern architects were all products of the modernist approach (69). To this end, their approach to architecture cannot be argued to have arisen from anything, but rather from modernism. In defining postmodernism, Jencks does well in tracing the point of contact between postmodernism and modernism (14). According to him, the former came about as the effort of architects to introduce a fresh perspective to modernist architecture. He presents the aspect of double coding, where postmodernism comes out as a platform for architects to combine traditional approaches to design with a fresh perspective . This realization is in support of the primary argument of this paper that in any given age, architecture evolves, and which also require architects to come up with changing architectural practices.
The voice and fresh dimensions realized in postmodernism were defined by a number of factors. The first aspect was placing less emphasis on utility, which was central to the modernist movement. The argument here was that the singular approach to architecture was not in line with the needs of that particular generation. This led to the views of modernism being incredibly annoying, for a society that wanted to express freedom and value (Docx). In a broad perspective, postmodernism introduced a new dimension into architecture; art and liberty. According to them, bringing the freedom of art into architecture would usher the discipline into the next phase of its evolution. The most important factor, however, according to the postmodernists would be the creation of more value to the users and the society as a whole. The roots of postmodernism can be arguably traced to America, where the ideology grew and expanded into Europe and the rest of the world (Brown 11). As established above, the ideology has hints of modernism, especially regarding the scholarly roots of the pioneers of the ideology. Postmodernist structures were lacking in their identity since they were viewed as a reaction to modernism. The main argument in this paper, however, is that the response to modernism is what introduced a new dimension into architecture. The new dimension resulted into designs that communicated more with the users and the society, especially through humor (Boyne and Rattansi 33).
The postmodern architecture also bore the distict featuire of respecting the context in which buildings were brought up. According to McKinley unlike modernism that was driven by functionality, postmodernism was powered by contextuality (17). To this end, postmodernists sought to come up with structures that would reflect and accommodate the context they were found in. This feature was intended to correct the perceived fault in modernism, which is placing an emphasis in economics and striving for the buildings to be more rational .
As a reflection of the needs of the postmodernism era, postmodern architecture sought to satisfy the need of comfort and beauty. To this end, postmodernism came to be synonymous with beauty. Due to the extreme emphasis placed on functionality and economics by the architects of the modernist ear, there was the need for a new perspective that appealed to the human desire for beauty (Hutcheon 182). Postmodernists sought to bring this change by introducing ornamentary aspects such as color into their designs. They mainly led to the redefinition of architecture, where great designs were not only measured by the extent to which they were functional and could maintain a minimal outlook. The results of this desire to meet the aesthetic needs of the humans resulted in buildings that people could relate to and structures that people could adapt to.
The postmodernist approach started out as an offshoot of modernism, and to most people, it was reactionary to modernist architecture. With time, however, the postmodern ideology gained following and developed an ideology of its own. The movement developed a voice of its own, with aspects such as the ability of buildings to communicate with the users, diversity, the use of ornaments, and the emphasis on symmetry defining the movement. The construction of the postmodernist ideology saw the input of various scholars and famed architects. Some of the names involved in this movement were John Adams, Andy Warhol, Robert Venturi and Willem de Kooning (Caffey 5).
The creation of the postmodern identity is traced to the work of Charles Jencks, who was an architect based in London. The term "Postmodernism" in itself is seen as a product of his scholarly work. Based on the ideas learned from Venturi, Jencks came up with the term postmodernism to describe a movement in architecture that sought to include the needs of the society when making architectural designs (Jencks 155). Through his literary work, Jenks went on to provide the definition and components of postmodernism, with a view of contributing to the creation of the ideology that the movement would be based on. The creation of the postmodernist identity can also be attributed to celebrated architect, Venturi. In his first work, “Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture” . Venturi contributed to the growing dissent to the modernist approach to architecture. According to him, the modernist designed were lacking essence and pointed out that the society needed to have an architectural discipline that was more diversified (Kahl 56). Venturi continued with the push for the diversification of architecture and the development of the ideology behind postmodernism through his work; “Learning from Las Vegas” (Brown 11). The core arguments within these texts provided the background for understanding postmodernism, and articulating the positive changes being made to the modernist approach to architecture (Kahl 56).
Postmodernism as a movement was not confined to a particular part of the world, but grew to become a global phenomenon. This is in line with the observation that social trends tend to be universal, with the appeal of new movements spreading beyond national and continental borders (McKinley 17). In America, the concept of postmodernism established its roots early, with Graves being critical by spreading the postmodernist agenda and coming up with designs such as the Portland Building (Kunkel). In the process of carving out an identity for itself, postmodernism gained following especially across Europe. To this end, architects such as Aldo Rossi are seen as essential architects who spread the postmodernist ideology into Europe and particularly Italy. The same can be applied in the case of James Stirling, who was at the forefront of postulating the postmodernist agenda in the UK (Dezeen magazine). After gaining an identity, postmodernism resulted to the designing of some of the world’s most famous buildings such as the Piazza d'Italia of 1978, the Portland Building in 1982 and the AT&T Building in 1984 (Willette). All these pointed at the level of which the architectural world took up an architectural approach that had multiple dimensions. The creation of the identity of postmodernism yielded distinct features that were a reflection of what the society needed and indicated what the architectural world did to meet these preferences of the society.
Various aspects contributed to the development of the postmodern voice, which propagated the movement. First was the emphasis placed on ornaments. To this end, postmodernists sought to satisfy the human need for beauty at that time. They wanted to come up with designs that were appealing to the eye; designs, which people could easily relate to. There are many examples of the use of ornaments in postmodern structures. An example is the Portland building done by the American, Michael Graves in 1980 (Kunkel). The aspects that stand out in this building are the triangular structures in the house. These forms play no functional roles in the building, but rather exist as forms of ornaments. Another typical example of the use of ornaments in the postmodern designs is the Venice Beach house of 1886, which was designed by Frank Gehry (Boyne and Rattansi 42). Here, the architect sought to turn some of the functional aspects of the house into ornamental features, an aspect that would not have been acceptable in the modernist approach to architecture. Here, Gehry differentiated his design from the modernist approach by placing an emphasis on small details that were otherwise needless. For example, the building had round logs that had a minor role in offering support to the window covers. The logs were, however, big and ornamental. Besides, Gehry exaggerated the size of the nails making them not only functional but also decorative.
The realization of symmetry in designing buildings was another factor that defined postmodernism. Despite the fact that the architects of the time made an attempt to be more sensitive to the context of the architecture, the human need for symmetry was not forgotten (Hutcheon 183). People at that period had a fundamental requirement of symmetry, with buildings expected to find a balance between creating a solemn mood and creating a connection and some form of excitement to the people. Another perspective of the postmodernist realization of symmetry was the ability to create an illusion of space. To this end, postmodern architects were masters of the art of creating illusionary depths, an art that was borrowed from the Roman painters (Stern 72). A good example here is the illusion of pillars that is set up in the Portland building, where the pillars appear to be on the sides of the building (Fournier).
The failure of architectural work to communicate with its users or the society was one of the criticisms that postmodernists leveled towards the modernist approach to architecture. Postmodernists, therefore, succeeded to make communication a central aspect that defined their architectural practice. Postmodern architects emphasized on the ability of buildings to have a meaning to the users. This was a reflection of the needs of that generation, where everything had to have a meaning. The users of buildings expected them to be not only functional, but also bear a meaning to their lives (Boyne and Rattansi 43). The Piazza d'Italia of 1978 is a good example of how postmodern designs were structured to carry a meaning to the users. The architect, in this case, Charles Moore, wanted to convey the message of the coming together of the antiquity of the Romans and the Italian Renaissance (Dezeen magazine). In other cases, the postmodern buildings were designed to offer different meanings. This brings to mind Jencks’s argument of double coding, where the users were given the opportunity to have different interpretations of postmodern buildings. An example here is the Sony Building in New York, which appears to be a representation of modern technology, but the top of the building shows adherence to classical antiquity (Brown 35). Postmodernism was able to realize communication with the users, whether using humor or the exaggeration of certain aspects.
Another critical aspect that defined postmodern buildings was the issue of diversity. To this end, postmodernists were quick to point out that their approach to architecture could not be confined into individual styles . According to him, postmodern architecture was built up by its ability to bring together diverse approaches to aesthetics. Bringing together different approaches was what resulted in the creation of new and unique forms of designs. Postmodernism was against the institutionalization of structures and dominant ideas that led to the curtailing of the freedom of the architects (Jencks 166). The insistence on diversity represents the ideals of postmodernism not only in architecture but also in other fields. Here, philosophers and scholars in humanity disciplines were also involved in the championing for the freedom of individual thought (Groat 13). To architects, therefore, their shout for freedom could only be realized through the freedom offered to come up with the designs they liked. This resulted in an architectural practice that went against the conventional approaches. The insistence on diversity is a factor that leads to the creation of arguments that portray the difficulty in coming up with a fixed definition of postmodernism (Ellis 272). However, the diversity aspect resulted in the conceptualization of the architectural discipline as a combination of functionality and artistry (Jencks 167). Diversity was arrived at intentionally and was not an undesired outcome.
Another aspect that defined postmodernism is the placement of less emphasis on the future and the creation of new art for focusing on the present. While the modernists were obsessed with the idea of coming up with designs that would revolutionize architecture as a field, the postmodernists were involved in the creation of new versions of the architecture of the past (Boyne and Rattansi 46). The implication here was that a postmodern artist who was out to break the modernist dogmatist replaced a modernist artist who insisted on following rules and structures. The sense of order experienced during modernism was replaced by chaos in architectural practice, where artists were given the freedom to alter their practice as they saw fit . All this was a reflection of the direction the society was taking, in regards to the search of personal liberties and even the push for political and economic freedom.
Another factor that can arguably summarize the postmodernist point of view is the belief in content as opposed to formality. Unlike in the modernist approach to architecture where the architectural practice was deeply rooted in knowledge and formal practice, postmodernism emphasized on the content of architectural work. The surface gained more prominence in the postmodernist approach as compared to the modernist era . This factor yields the argument that the superficial nature of postmodernism is what led to its failure and much criticism. The case, however, remains that postmodernism, even in its focus on the surface was a representation of societal orientation. Postmodernism provided an extra dimension to architecture, even if the changes were not permanent.
Implication for the future
Postmodernism swiftly developed an identity through placing an emphasis on the features mentioned above. The period defined a significant age in architecture, and set precedence for future approaches in architecture. Given the fact that the postmodernist age is over, the future of architecture is set to be developed because of the advancements made in the postmodernist era (Chattopadhyay 413). Just like the proponents of the postmodernist movement led to the development of architecture of different dimensions, the future is expected to experience a new brand of architecture that has dimensions that portray the needs and wants of the society.
The evolution of architecture as a field did not stop the development of postmodernism from the weaknesses perceived of the modernist approach to architecture. The evolution has also persisted after the stabilization of postmodernism, with the same level of criticism leveled towards modernism being the same criticism targeting postmodernism (Ellis 266). The implication here is that the future is likely to see the emergence of a different intellectual through that views architecture from a different perspective. The new view is expected to go beyond the expression of social realities, which was at the core of postmodernism .
According to Docx , the new perspective on architecture will challenge the argument of relativity upheld by the postmodernists. Besides, modern trends in architecture indicate that the discipline is less focused on coming up with designs that portray and communicate social reality but rather on architectural work, which depicts certainty. The modern trends indicate that architecture as a discipline seeks to regain some of the aspects of certainty that were lost during the postmodernist movement. All this is in reflection of what the society is moving towards.
Architectural practice, in line with the argument of this paper, is moving towards the satisfaction of the needs of the present and possibly the future society. These requirements are critical in informing the new dimensions of architecture. Through the criticisms leveled towards postmodernism, it is easy to identify the aspects that define the new approaches to architecture. Through the criticism, architects can learn what the society needs, helping in the creation of fresh dimensions in architecture. The new age can be termed as “post-postmodernism” which comes up in reaction to the flaws observed in the postmodernist architecture. As a product of postmodernism, post-postmodernism has built on certain aspects of the former.
Postmodernism, came out to strongly oppose any form of dominant ideology in architecture. To this end, the postmodernists had the goal of coming up with a discipline that offered the architects the freedom to display their artistry without being confined to a particular ideology or a set of rules. To this end, the postmodernists were able to come up with designs that succeeded in communicating various aspects regarding social reality. The postmodernist ideology was, therefore, build around diversity. The modern day approach to architecture is based on this by not only offering the artistic freedom, but also including structures within the field (Docx). To this end, future architects are more likely to enjoy a structured freedom, which breeds less anarchy compared to the postmodernist freedom.
According to Otero-Pailos there are three critical factors fundamental in the creation of a new approach to architecture (77). The three represent the documented needs of the present generation, needs the next generation may share. First is the aspect of authenticity. The society is rapidly showing appreciation for individuals able to create . To this end, individuals are celebrating people who have been able to succeed in a given sphere of life, especially if these people were pioneers in their fields. The implication here is that the new approach to architecture will demand high levels of authenticity, unlike in the postmodern era where architects had the freedom to borrow insight. The authenticity dimension of architecture will call for architectural practice that leads to the creation of novel designs that are unlike anything seen in the past .
The second trait observed regarding the modern day society is the emphasis placed on values. The society is moving towards an age where every artist is expected to be rooted in particular values . The benefits can be seen from two perspectives, where the first angle represents the values an artist employs in coming up with a given creation. The second perspective on values represents the values that users perceive of any given production. Unlike in postmodernism where the goal was to free architecture from the constraints of traditional ideology and regulations, the modern and future approaches to architecture place more emphasis on values, and by extension come up with architectural values (Docx).
The society is also showing increasing appreciation of specificity. This happens with the celebration of individuals who carry out their artistry correctly . Specificity applies not only to architecture and art, but also applies to other fields such as in the media and even in literature. In regards to architecture, therefore, the society expects an architect to be an individual who possesses the ability to come up with perfect designs; persons who will live up to the title of being an architect. Unlike in the postmodern era where all that mattered was the surface, and the outlook of the final designs, the new approaches to architecture will require architects to offer proof of their real abilities (Docx).
In conclusion, it is apparent from the arguments made above that architecture is an evolving field, which gradually comes up with extra dimensions that capture the needs of the society at a particular time. Postmodern architecture, therefore, was a manifestation of what the generation of that time yearned for. Despite the criticism leveled towards this theory as lacking concerning authenticity and content, postmodernism played a key role in defining the essence of architecture as a discipline. The proponents of this ideology did well in showing the values that were important to that particular field. The argument, therefore, is that postmodernism acts as proof of the evolutionary character of architecture. The discipline can never be static, as shown in the criticism of each theory of architecture. Just as postmodernism came out in reaction to modernism and resulted in the creation of new dimensions in architecture, the future is likely to see the introduction of further dimensions in response to the faults observed in postmodernism.
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