Why People Love to Hate Postmodern Architecture

February 6, 2021

Postmodern architecture first emerged as a reaction against modern architecture's doctrines, as expressed by modernist architects, including Le Corbusier and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. Postmodern buildings had curved forms, decorative elements, asymmetry, bright colors, and features often borrowed from earlier periods. Postmodern Architecture uses both Colors and textures unrelated to the structure or function of the building. While rejecting the “puritanism” of modernism, it called for a return to ornament, and an accumulation of citations and collages borrowed from past styles.

It borrowed freely from classical architecture, rococo, neoclassical architecture, the Viennese Secession, the British arts and crafts movement, the German Jugendstil. Postmodern buildings had curved forms, decorative elements, asymmetry, bright colors, and features often borrowed from earlier periods.

Colors and textures were unrelated to the structure or function of the building.

While rejecting the "puritanism" of modernism, it called for a return to ornament, and an accumulation of citations and collages borrowed from past styles. Nonetheless, classifying a building as "postmodern" is not necessarily approved by the architects themselves.

Given that there was no real movement or group that gathered these architects, and no manifesto either, you might as well come across architects who never considered themselves as postmodernists, and some even get offended when they get labeled as one. This could be due to the slightly unfavorable reception of postmodern architecture among the upper class, being that it is often given some unsolicited, faultfinding attributes, such as superficial, plagiaristic or even, simply, ugly.

However, now that the time has passed and postmodernism has become a part of art history, we are close to realizing the importance and the immense value of the movement that helped aesthetics move forward through a radical, yet inevitable paradigm shift. It was quite obvious that postmodern architecture is not going to become a lasting trend, yet it was a crucial stepping stone that finally relieved us of the form-follows-function burden.

More significantly, PoMo has shown us that not everything needs to be so darned serious, as modernism had suggested, despite the large scale and the physical gravity of an architectural project. While postmodern buildings were meant to serve a function—as with modernism—postmodernism encouraged creativity and strayed from the rigid rules of modern ideals that dictated simplicity, abstraction, and simple shapes.
Other Examples Of Postmodern Architecture

Postmodernism is Chicago

Read David Sunnyside's (Civil/traffic engineer in Los Angeles) post on 311 South Wacker.

The Japanese architects Tadao Ando and Isozaki Arata introduced the ideas of the postmodern movement to Japan. Before opening his studio in Osaka in 1969, Ando traveled widely in North America, Africa, and Europe, absorbing European and American styles, and had no formal architectural education, though he taught later at Yale University, Columbia University, and Harvard University.

Most of his buildings were constructed of raw concrete in cubic forms but had wide openings that brought in light and views of nature outside. Beginning in the 1990s, he began using wood as a building material, and introduced elements of traditional Japanese architecture, particularly in his design of the Museum of Wood Culture. His Bennesse House in Naoshima, Kagama, has classic Japanese architecture elements and a plan that subtly integrates the house into the natural landscape. He won the Pritzker Prize, the most prestigious award in architecture in 1995.

What Made Modernism Evolve into Postmodernism?

The concept of postmodernism finds its definitive articulation in architecture, even though postmodern thought far exceeds the use of the term postmodern in architectural discourse. In practice, the creation of this new space entails the erasure and replacement of old buildings and city fabric as well as old subjectivities and sensibilities.

While a handful of star architects continue to bask in glamour and celebrity, there is widespread suspicion that the profession as a whole is in disarray. The confident rise of postmodernism in the Seventies and early Eighties has been succeeded by a period of doubt and reassessment. There is not much indication that the paraphernalia of postmodernism is losing popularity.

Robert Venturi was both a prominent theorist of postmodernism and an architect whose buildings illustrated his ideas. After studying at the American Academy in Rome, he worked in the offices of the modernists Eero Saarinen and Louis Kahn until 1958, and then became a professor of architecture at Yale University. One of his first buildings was the Guild House in Philadelphia, built between 1960 and 1963, and a house for his mother in Chestnut Hill, in Philadelphia.

In the 1960s and 1970s, he went on to design a series of buildings that took into account both historic precedents and the ideas and forms existing in real life of the cities around them.

Rem Koolhaas designed a fireplace, and Piers Gough contributed a Jacuzzi based on an upside-down version of Borromini's dome. Rem Koolhaas also Designed the MTCC Building at Illinois Institute of Technology. Following the postmodern riposte against modernism, various architecture trends established, though not necessarily following principles of postmodernism.

Concurrently, New Urbanism and New Classical Architecture's recent movements promote a sustainable approach towards construction that appreciates and develops smart growth, architectural tradition, and classical design.

This is in contrast to modernist and globally uniform architecture and leaning against solitary housing estates and suburban sprawl.

The Driehaus Architecture Prize is an award that recognizes efforts in New Urbanism and New Classical Architecture and is endowed with a prize money twice as high as that of the modernist Pritzker Prize.

Some postmodern architects, such as Robert A. M. Stern and Albert, Righter, & Tittman, have moved from postmodern design to new interpretations of traditional architecture.

Whereas modern architecture is abstract, postmodern architecture is referential.

Key Characteristics Of Postmodern Architecture

Postmodern high-rises often flaunt bright colors and rich decorative detail. Many architectural critics have observed that postmodern architecture was characterized by superficiality, excess, and derivation.

Postmodernism’s focal point is more about incorporating the historical elements and creating a unique style to associate the buildings with their culture and history. Modernism and Postmodernism architecture refers to a design movement that emerged in the 20th century.

Learn more on why you should work with an architect here!

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