An Essay : Post-Modern Architecture

Pruitt-Igoe demolition (1972) marked the death of modern architecture.

“Modern Architecture fell because its essential aspect was a mistake in the first place, and from its ashes, Post-modernism emerges into existence.”

Post-modern Architecture emerged in the 1960s both as a critic and a movement to abandon the dying modernism. According to Charles Jencks, it was the antithesis of Modernism. The movements criticized the lack of identity embedded within the modernist architecture and the complexity of meaning that made each building unique. In the beginning, the movement was nothing more of a series of books written by various architects that bombard modern architecture to the death, but then it evolves into a movement that tries to find an alternative visual language to reject the validity of modernism.

The core aspect of Post-modernism is to combine modern architecture for its versatility and modernity with pre-modern architecture / classical for its quirks, identity, and characteristics to create a layer of complexity to the design. “Less is a Bore” — is a famous parodical statement by Robert Venturi to criticize the uniformity and lack of depth within modern architecture that will bore the user to a degree it becomes exhausting instead of reforming. Post-modern architecture utilizes many aspects of pre-modern architecture that was previously denied with the notion of “More is More”. Ornaments that was denied by the modern architecture are being utilized as one of its characteristics. Ornaments here doesn’t appear as a mere decoration only, but also embedded within the formal geometry to validate its design or to create identity towards the building.

A sketch drawn by Robert Venturi to criticize how modernist building lacks identity and character so that it desperately needs a signage to be recognized as a monument/icon (Archiobjects.org)

Post-modernist architect loves to leave a multi interpretation message embedded within the formal image of the building, with the argumentation that it adds more character towards the design. The linguistic analogy is being used as the driving force that shapes building form. Most of the linguistic analogies are a direct transfer with the study of language, such as metaphor, words, syntax, semantic or semiotic ideas. With the linguistical power to play around, post-modernists can conjure many weird or bizarre ideas that are unique to the designers. Thus, many post-modernist buildings are being crowned as identity or iconic buildings due to its unique characteristic that mostly tries embedded local wisdom and local character to create a certain sense of belonging.

To be clear, Post-modernism never tried to reinvent the wheel by abandoning what modern architecture has already invented, they only trying to avert the disaster caused by it. There are various paths taken by post-modernist architects to incorporate and balances the modern and classical aspects into their works. From fundamental classicism that only take the pure geometric elements of classical structure and apply it with modernist ways to the intricate canonic classicism that tries to revive the neo-classicism as what it was.

Regardless of its good aim to contextualize or give meaning to architecture, sometimes it just so hard to identify what the designers are trying to convey because it is either too complex or contains many layers of a double coded message.

Sydney Opera House, a postmodern marvel designed by Jørn Utzon (PV Magazine )

Take one example of Post-modernism works above, which is the iconic Sydney Opera House in Australia. What do you see? A turtle? or sail of a ship? or a mountain ridge? Jørn Utzon, the designer of the building explains that it was a metaphor of nature in general within the state of harmony inspired by Chinese roofs and cloud shapes to create the specific composition. With this example, it’s noticeable that utilizing metaphor to deliver a certain message will deliver a multi-interpretation of the structure and only the architect knows what it is proposing or being inspired by. Every people will have a different interpretation of what it is trying to convey until the architect tells them what it was intended to convey. These double-coded interpretations are mostly the result of using a linguistic approach in designing a building.

Jørn Utzon sketches regarding the metaphorical approach on the formal design ( Jørn Utzon )
The Five Strands of Post-Postmodernism ( Farrell, T. & Furman, A.N., 2018)

One might argue that contemporary architecture or neo-modernism has taken over the present culture, but frankly, post-modernism are still pretty much active and alive. Nowadays, there are five strands of post-modernism that survived the coming age. From ‘the True Believers’ which are enduring architects from the postmodern age to the ‘Radical Postmodernism’ and ‘Post- Postmodernism’ that emerged recently involving new generation of architect that rediscovers the post-modernism afresh. As for its legacy, a huge portion of the post-modern philosophy has been incorporated into contemporary architecture and into the trending critical regionalist/contextual approach.

The post-modernism lives on.

References

Charles Jencks (2006) The iconic building is here to stay, City: analysis of urban trends, culture, theory, policy, action, 10:01, 3–20, DOI: 10.1080/13604810600594605

Hopkins, O. (2014). Architectural Styles: A Visual Guide. Laurence King Publishing.

Chen-Yu, C., Goad, P., & Myers, P. (2015). The metaphorical expression of Nature in Jørn Utzon’s design for the Sydney Opera House. Architectural Research Quarterly, 19(4), 381–396. doi:10.1017/s1359135515000603

Farrell, T., & Furman, A. N. (2018). Revisiting Postmodernism. Newcastle upon Tyne: Royal Institute of British Architects.

Video Game Level Designer at Crescent Moon Games