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What led to the development of postmodernism in architecture

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Cultural Studies
Wordcount: 2781 words Published: 12th Apr 2017

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Post modernism was devised from its previous movement, modernism and first began to emerge around the states of America in the 1960s but really took off around the early 1970s when it came to England and Europe and became a movement. It still continues to influence modern architecture today. The most obvious design traits can be seen in architecture; features that best represent this style include bold, visual exteriors, designs that are functional yet contain architectural characteristics that have been seen before but combining these with exciting, colourful, fresh designs. An example of this is the Portland building; Oregon designed by Michael Graves. (See Fig.1) This block of government offices built in 1980 has a very decorative exterior and has become an icon of Post modernism. Post modernism came about when modernist views were being rejected by many people and architects although there where still some whom where in favour of the current modernist ideas, yet still recognized the need for further development within this style to take place as the world fast continued to modernise around them, this saw the beginnings of Postmodernism.

This quote from Michael Graves gives his view on how modernism designed everything to be machine like, which worked, although buildings should be made decorative and not so set in the modernist ways:

“While any architectural language, to be built, will always exist within the technical realm, it is important to keep the technical expression parallel to an equal and complementary expression of ritual and symbol. It could be argued that the Modern Movement did this, that as well as its internal language; it expressed the symbol of the machine, and therefore practiced cultural symbolism. But in this case, the machine is retroactive, for the machine itself is a utility. So this symbol is not an external allusion, but rather a second, internalized reading. A significant architecture must incorporate both internal and external expressions. The external language, which engages inventions of culture at large, is rooted in a figurative, associational and anthropomorphic attitude.”1

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In this quote Graves refers to the modernist movement and how they designed their buildings to be like machines, extremely clean, sleek and purely functional with no needless design features. His view is not to think that the inside of a building should be run as a machine but to think of the building as a whole and to think outside the modernists clean cut lines and un decorative architecture.

Unlike the modernist architecture previous to this movement the post modernism architecture is usually quite ornamental, new but also borrowing some features from the past, such as bringing colour back into architecture which taken away for modernist era.

There is quite a lot of rivalry between the two movements, modernists strongly believe in ‘form follows function’, their architecture showing functional, formalized shapes and spaces, where post modernists believe in not necessarily form over function but making their functional buildings a lot more visually dynamic and I suppose more of an experience.

“There is no true reality not even your own”2

This is a saying from the late 90’s which reflects post modernists views. They felt you need to question reality and think outside the box where as the modernists believed in questioning authority, their thinking that if people looked into why things are designed the way they are and the ‘truth’ is to be ‘discovered’ then tradition would be questioned.

The postmodern architecture features shameless aesthetics different from anything before, they have a more organic feel and stand out. The post modern era also found the use of different materials being used with in architecture than before, whether it be the colour or the specification of the material that was to be desired. The two main materials used in postmodern architecture are stone and glass. The stone is bold and comes in a very wide range of colours, which stuck to the postmodernist ideas. The glass was used a lot especially in America and large city buildings, office blocks and skyscrapers such as Le 1000 de la Gauchetiere in Canada, it’s the tallest skyscraper in Montreal. (See fig.2) This was built a bit later on, in 1992 but still shows strong postmodern values. For example the distinctive triangular copper roof and four copper capped entrances at each of the tower base corners. The structural core is constructed from concrete and steel and the exterior consists of glass in a metal frame.

The form used in postmodern buildings is also very contemporary, the building function is still important for the designers but compared to the modernist buildings the forms, shapes and look of the buildings are almost there for the designers sake, not for any specific reason other than good aesthetics. As I said before there is almost a collision of beliefs between the two movements, though most of the dislike at the time was focused towards the post modern architecture as the modernist architectures such as Le Corbusier, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Walter Gropius had put the belief into the people that a building that was almost wholly based on function was the best way. So when post modern architects such as Frank Gehry, Robert Venturi and Eero Saarinen started designing buildings that where thinking outside the slick, functional, simple design box of modernism and completely aesthetical and almost quite wacky there was quite an uproar and possibly a confusion as people started to question what was right for the future of architecture? Were the new buildings functional enough and would the new buildings stand the test of time?

As the people began to accept the more complex designs of the post-modern world the buildings began to become popular and more and more architectures began to come round to the idea. In today’s architecture you can clearly see the inspiration from these initial designs and that architects and designers have turned modernist ideas on their head, by carrying on the idea of aesthetically pleasing designs and almost having more fun with their design rather than just focusing on the function.

So how exactly did Postmodernism come about? Well as I have just confirmed the strongest link/lead to postmodernism was obviously the modernist designs lack of decoration, but I also looked at some other factors that could have lead to the development of postmodern architecture.

As is well known, the lead to postmodernism was when people started to reject the views of the modernist movement, though how did this come about? And why did people start to reject the modernist ways? The rejection of modernism first came from architects In their works. In Europe Aldo Rossi documented his views of the current art movement, while in America Raunch and Scott Brown expressed similar views on the need for development of the modernist architecture. Though the most influential change came from the work of Robert Venturi. He famously wrote the book ‘Complexity and Contradiction in architecture’ in 1966 which attacked the modernism of international style, with his strong views on his dislike for modernism. In the writing he replaces Miles van der Rohe’s (a modernist architect) modernist phrase “less is more” with :

“less is a bore. Blatant simplification means bland architecture”

This quote is just a brief look to his views in the piece, he continues throughout rejecting the ‘moral’, clean cut ways of modern architecture for elements that are more a blend of features than “pure”.

Frank Gehry seems to be a name that frequently appears when investigating post modernism architecture. His Designs were very contemporary, bold and different to what had been seen before. He denied that his work was post modernist or that it even fit into any category other than something totally new. This would not happen with a modernist architect as; although the designs are different all modernist’s buildings tend to have the same features, sleek and following function so much that there is not a lot of individuality between the designs. Where as post modernist architecture is all so decorative and ornamental that each design is unique. Just by looking at a few of Frank Gehry’s designs you can definitely tell that they are individual although they do fit in with the post modern “category” his architecture has moved beyond the modernist era being based on geometric and organic forms. As Gehry says himself :

“Not every person has the same kinds of talents, so you discover what yours are and work with them. Don’t try to be me, or try to be Frank Lloyd Wright, or try to be I M Pei. Try to be yourself. You have to understand what drives people to build buildings.” 4

One of Gehry’s most creative pieces that represent this is The Frederick R Weisman Art Museum at the university of Minnesota, 1993(See Fig 3). The University officials chose Frank Gehry to design the teaching museum for the campus because of his attention to needs of people that use his buildings and his unique stunning designs. The museums exterior is constructed of amazing, sticking shapes made from brushed stainless steel on one side over looking the Mississippi river creating an abstract image of a waterfall and a fish. The other side of the building is on the side of the campus and blends in with the existing sandstone and brick buildings by using terra cotta coloured bricks. Frank Gehry was also commissioned to design an expansion to the building that was meant to have been completed in 2009 though due to financial reasons it will be built by next year.

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This shows that post modernism continues to inspired designers today and is still popular. An example of an architect that is continuing post modernism design to today’s architecture is Santiago Calatrava. Born in 1951 when the postmodern movement was just starting to come about, Calatrava grew up with the organic architecture from the era. Obviously heavily inspired by it he has continued post modernism on in his own works. He has designed many buildings, which are very well known such as the Museum of tomorrow in Rio de Janerio in Brazil and Liege Guillemins TGV station in Belgium. La Rioja, Bodegas Ysios in Spain is one of his designs, which is not so famous though still unique, and particularly show his postmodernism inspiration (See Fig 4). This building is situated amongst vineyards in Spain where la Rioja Alavesa wine is produced, the company wanted a building that would store the made wine and be a place where guests can test the wine. The design definitely meets the criteria and is very functional; there is separate part for the storing of the wine, making it and a tasting area. Although this could have been enough just in a plain rectangular building but in true post modernist style he has also added some amazing design features, the main feature is that the roof, it continues the shapes of the surrounding hills, creating a wavy organic shape. The material he has used for the roof design is aluminium panelling, which reflects the sunlight making it look even more special contrasting with the calm vineyard surrounding.

I have researched the lead to post modern architecture and touched on how it has affected modern design today. Now to conclude this essay I will some up my findings of what led to post modernism in architecture.

Post modernism first emerged in the 1960s and became a movement in the early 1970s, its routes stemmed from its previous movement, modernism. Modernists had a very strong belief in form follows function, their views where that a building should be purely functional and machine like which worked well but didn’t leave a lot of an imagination for design features and all the buildings began to have a lot of the same features.

In the 1960s some architects began to recognise this and voiced their opinions in their written works, which made people realize that designs could be a bit more exciting. The most influential architect in this realisation was Robert Venturi, in his well known writing ‘complexity and contradiction in architecture’ he strongly expressed his dislike for modernist architecture, stating that “less is a bore” and that buildings do not have to be all about function, they can still be functional and have design features. This contributed to the lead to post modernism. One of the architects I found who’s name kept appearing when looking at post modern architecture is Frank Gehry. His designs are functional but with amazing design features using organic forms and patterns to shape the buildings. As is with most post modernist architecture different organic and bold shapes are a big feature of the building making every design unique unlike the similar designs of the modernist era. Although Gehry does not class his buildings to be post modernist or in fact fit into any category, his designs are definitely fitting with the era and he seems to share the same views as the post modernists. Buildings like Frank Gehry’s continue to influence designers today such as Santiago Calatrava who’s modern day designs very much resembles that of post modernist architecture.

Part II

Book review on: 20th Century Architecture by Jonathan Glancey

The 20th Century Architecture explores the roots of modern architecture and explains how the history and the ever-changing social and political conditions helped shape and build the world we live in today.

In this book, as the foreword states, by writing the book Jonathan Glancey attempts to achieve informing the reader of an introduction to architecture of the 20th Century, not to cover every aspect of the subject, as he says himself,

“The subject is very vast and no book can realistically cover the entire history of the twentieth century architecture. If I could it would either be too heavy to carry or else set in such a tiny type that it would be unreadable.”

This quote also I think captures the way the book is written, very informative yet quite light hearted.

The book covers 8 of movements of 20th century architecture: Arts and Crafts, Classicism, organic, Modernism, Post-Modernism, Robotic, Cities and Futures. Each movement has a its own section which is started by a page for a brief explanation of the movement then examples of architecture significant to that time. Each piece of architecture has its own page with a full colour photo to show what it looks like and a section about the designer and the building, why it was built and how it relates to the movement and others in that time. I found the book easy to read, and was able put down at any time and pick back up from where I left off. I particularly like the no jargon take and the fact that you don’t have to know an awful lot if anything on architecture or the history of the 20th century. The book is very informative if you read the whole thing or if you just flick to a specific section you are interested in. I originally did this but found that I wanted to read on further. This is as Jonathan Glancey intended as would most authors, wanting to get the attention of the reader and want to read on from their own will, as he says in the book: “If this makes you want to find out more then it has done its job. If it encourages you to want to be an architect then good luck.” I think he has definitely achieved his original intentions for the book. I borrowed this book from the local library but I would definitely consider buying a copy to keep as a reference book.

From reading and sourcing from other architectural books, I think this fits in to the subject very well. Id says it is more aimed at students, people who are interested in architecture and starting architectures. I don’t think the book would be so suitable for experienced architects and architect fanatics as it informs you of buildings and architects that this group would probably already know of, thought the may still find it informative about the movements and to find out when the movements happened and why.

Over all I think this is a good book and deserves the positive comments it has picked up from press and other readers.


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