What is Postmodern Architecture?: An Introduction in Three Videos

What is Postmodern Architecture?: An Introduction in Three Videos

“Modern architecture died in St. Louis, Missouri on July 15, 1972, at 3:32 PM (or thereabouts).” This oft-quoted statement by cultural theorist and architect Charles Jenks refers to the demolition of the Wendell O. Pruitt Homes and William Igoe Apartments. The fate of this short-lived public housing complex, known as Pruitt Ego, still holds rhetorical value in America in arguments against the supposed social engineering ambitions that became tangible (often literally) in large-scale modernist buildings of the postwar period. Although the real story is more complex, the fact remains that the narrower we define it, the more modern architecture was widely viewed as “dead.” What comes next?

Why, postmodernism, of course. Jenks did more than do his part in defining the post-modernist movement The language of postmodern architecturein which he tells the story of Pruitt Igoe, which at the time was relatively recent history.

The first edition came out in 1977, already the early days of postmodernism, which Eileen Harwood, England’s historic architectural historian, calls “the ’80s style.” The riot of intentionally contrasting shape and color, as well as the accumulated, not-so-subtle cultural and historical references, fit that wild decade as well as the garish, elegant furniture of the Memphis group did.

However, in recent years, the buildings left behind by postmodernism have made many of us ask questions – questions like: “Are they deliberately strange and vulgar, or are they just designed without any taste?” That’s how YouTuber Betty Chen puts it in the ARTiculations video above, before setting out to investigate the origins, purpose, and place of postmodern architecture in today’s built environment. In her telling, the style was born in the early 1960s, when architect Robert Venturi designed a rule-breaking house for his mother in Philadelphia and decided to “distort the pure order of the modernist box by reintroducing asymmetrical arrangements of classical elements such as four-pane windows, The arches, pediments, and decorative dados.

An important postmodernist theorist and practitioner (often working in both roles with his wife and collaborator Denise Scott Brown), Venturi turned arch-modernist Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s declaration that “less is more” into what it would become, in effect. , the succinct statement of postmodernism: “Less is boring.” Venturi described himself as choosing “chaotic vitality over clear unity,” and the same could be said of a group of his colleagues in the 1980s and 1990s: Frank Gehry, Michael Graves, and Charles Moore in America; As well as Rossi, Riccardo Bofill and Bernard Tschumi in Europe; Minoru Takeyama, Kengo Kuma and Arata Isozaki in Japan.

Postmodern architecture particularly flourished in Britain: “Disdain came from America, Classicism from Europe,” says Harwood. “What the British architects did was weave these two elements together.” As Sir Terry Farrell, one of these architects, tells Historical England: “The previous era was serious and anonymous”; After global modernity, it’s time to reintroduce personality, and in a brilliant way. His colleague Piers Gough recalls that, in the mid-1960s, he felt a certain envy of Pop Art – “they were making colour, they were making popular pictures, they had prettier girlfriends” – which inspired them to “plunder popular images in architecture”. This project presented some practical difficulties in itself: “You can design a building to look like a soup can, but the problem is actually when you put the windows in it.”

Renovations of many older postmodern buildings have proven difficult to justify, given the absence of “understatement and exaggeration,” as Brooke Keeling wrote in a recent Bloomberg article. “Important postmodern buildings like the Abrams House in Pittsburgh and the Museum of Contemporary Art in San Diego have already been demolished,” and others are at risk: “Admirers of the James R. 17 floors with blue-and-salmon trim — for fear they’ll be stripped of their bones in preparation for Google’s new headquarters in Chicago. True enthusiasts of architectural postmodernism also appreciate plenty of modest works, like Jeffrey Daniels’ “Los Angeles KFC” franchise that inadvertently evokes both Of chicken and chicken bucket. May stand tall.

Related content:

Why Do People Hate Modern Architecture?: Video Essay

Meet the Memphis Collection, Bob Dylan-inspired designers of David Bowie’s favorite furniture

Why people hate Brutalist buildings on American college campuses

Everything you wanted to know about the beauty of Brutalist architecture: an introduction in six videos

How the Radical Buildings of the Bauhaus Revolutionized Architecture: A Short Introduction

An introduction to postmodern thinkers and themes: Watch primers on Foucault, Nietzsche, Derrida, Deleuze, and more

Based in Seoul, Colin MaRashal writes and broadcastsTS on cities, language and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter books about cities, the book The Stateless City: A Stroll Through Los Angeles in the Twenty-First Century And video series The city in the cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @collinemarshall Or on Facebook.

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