Essay Title - Architecture Building Society
Architecture Building Society
When we speak about architecture we automatically think of the design of a building the aesthetics and we how perceive that particular building in today’s society. Within my essay I will try to research these attitudes and peoples lack of understanding to our post-modern architecture the attitude and theories of Baudrillard from the singularity of postmodern buildings to the illusion of the hypo-real world we may actually live in. Do these buildings that surround our space today have a detrimental effect on us and how we live our lives, or are we just frightened of change and is this classed as normality.
A lack of understanding about the form and style of postmodern buildings leads to an antipathy from a majority with regards to many of these buildings.
Postmodernism came about in around the 1960s, although it was in the 1970’s and early 1980’s that it gained prominence and popularity in the arts, technology, philosophy and theology (Conway&Roenisch1994:166-168). This essay is going to focus on postmodernist thought and its application within the field of architecture.
Postmodernist architecture has often been universally derided for its poor sense of composition and illogical mix of modern and historical styles. However, much of this criticism is based upon a lack of understanding regarding the form and style of postmodern buildings. It is a move away from the control of the modernist movement towards a more unpredictable style (Stennott2004:860-863).
This essay will focus on the claim that antipathy towards postmodern buildings is based upon a lack of understanding of form and style within postmodern buildings rather than an actual problem with the buildings themselves. This goes deeper than architecture, and is in fact based on the misunderstanding or criticism of postmodernist thought in general. The essay will address these issues and try to show that postmodernism is in fact a valuable and attractive architectural style once it is fully understood.
In order to achieve this, the main focus will be on the postmodernist thoughts of Jean Baudrillard. Baudrillard, along with Venturi and Lyotard, represent the foremost thinkers within the field of postmodernist thought. Baudrillard’s work has come under widespread criticism, including his views on the real and hegemony, as well as his views on postmodern architecture. However, very few of the critics of Baudrillard’s work actually attempt to reject his principles completely, for their criticism comes more from a dislike of Baudrillard’s hyper prose style than a true understanding or appreciation of his views.
The first section of this essay will look at Baudrillard’s views on hegemony, the postmodernist world and postmodern architecture. This will lay the foundation for an understanding of the inspiration and theory behind postmodern architecture.
The second section will look at critics of Baudrillard, and attempt to answer these criticisms with a further understanding of Baudrillard’s work. The section will also look at the major works of other postmodernist thinkers such as Venturi and Lyotard (Sim2001:3-5), and how their views contribute to an understanding of postmodern architecture.
The final section will focus on the form and style of postmodern architecture, using examples of postmodern constructions. A theoretical understanding of these forms and styles will show how antipathy towards these buildings does not generally stem from a lack of insight or focus within postmodern architecture, but rather through a lack of real understanding of the theories behind the design.
However, before these sections begin it is important to give some theoretical and historical background to postmodern thought and architecture in general. The rest of this introduction will focus on a brief history and definition of postmodernism in general and how this applies to the field of architecture.
Postmodernism is a sort of anti-foundational philosophy, meaning it disputes the validity of the foundations of discourse. Postmodernism is a sort of scepticism regarding authority, wisdom, and cultural and political norms. Influenced by the works of Nietzsche and other antifoundationalist philosopher, it aims to reject the views of progress and modernity. The idea is that history and in fact the very idea of historical progress has in fact been completely destroyed. (ibid)
It can be extremely hard to define the postmodern, because it covers so many different opinions and philosophies over a period of about 30 years. However, in the sense that postmodernist thought will be examined in this essay, postmodernism is to be associated with the idea of poststructuralism. In essence, postmodernism allows for the rejection of all forms of structure – the historical and the modern. The aim is to challenge the authoritarian imperatives within culture, both on a philosophical and a political level.
This thought is perhaps most prominent in the field of architecture, where postmodernist thought has led to a new inspiration and directive behind architecture. This movement became a dominant force in architecture throughout the 1980’s and 1990’s, and is a reaction to the austerity and orthodoxy of International Style of the Bauhaus. Postmodernism is both in front of and behind the modern, and so uses both modern and historical elements in building work.
A sort of hybrid style, is extremely varied and allows for expression in almost anyway, as long as this expression does not conform to the strict norms of traditional or modern style. Buildings such as those by Venturi, Philip Johnson and Arata Isozaki are examples of postmodern architecture. Postmodern buildings offer references to popular building modern and historical building styles, and often include exaggerated decorative elements. It is a very reflective and personal style, as an artistic expression of postmodernist anti-foundationalism.
However, the critics of such a style believe that its irresponsible, free for all style lacks commitment and therefore rather than challenging the status quo in fact helps to maintain it. Furthermore, the illogical composition and lack of design foundation for such architecture leads to poorly designed and impractical buildings that lack focus. However, this claim, as we will see is down to a misunderstanding of what postmodernism and what postmodern architecture actually means. The next section will look in detail at one of the major exponents of postmodern thought – Jean Baudrillard.
Jean Baudrillard is perhaps the most influential of all the postmodernist thinkers, with his influence being felt in the works as far reaching as Fredric Jameson's Postmodernism (Handler1987:137-139)and the Matrix Trilogy movies. This section will examine his theories on hegemony, the postmodern world and postmodern architecture.
Hegemony and postmodern thought, hegemony is the process or processes by which dominant culture maintains its dominant position in society. Examples include institutions to maintain formal power, the abstraction of power through bureaucracy, and the education of the masses in the ideals of the hegemonic group through advertising, schooling (Jagodzinski1997:6-10), and the media (Gane1993:145).
For Baudrillard, the world is already lost because we have lost contact with the real, and are simply obsessed by its disappearance. The hegemony of our society does not allow for opposition or resistance. This attempt to maintain hegemonic reality means that we lose touch with the real, because reality is not as strict or normative as the hegemony. We are seeing, as Baudrillard puts it, the hyper-real. Consumer society has taken over, and has already won out.
There are a number of reasons for Baudrillard’s dystopic view of the world (Kearney1994:8). Firstly, he believes that the loss of history means that we are now open to this age of simulation and consumer society. We know longer have the reference of history to guide us as a force, and therefore nothing to help us cling onto the real.
The fact that the media constantly turn to history as a response shows this loss of history. Baudrillard believes that the recreation of historical events in the media does not help to preserve history, but rather to further destroy it by presenting a ‘more real than real’ version of history.
This is continued with the popularity in society for mass-market and kitsch products. The products are a vulgar reproduction of what was real, and now reflects the sociological reality of consumer society. It is this consumer society that is helping history to disappear, for all reality is filtered through our ideas that we are a consumer society.
All that is produced by consumer society, including the self-conscious elements of pop-culture, represents the collusion of the hegemony. This collusion is seen through the ‘cool smile’, which shows that even those elements of pop-culture that present parody or self-reflection are in fact aiding the consumer society to maintain order (BestKellner1991:116-120).
The most important part of Baudrillard’s postmodern theory is the idea of simulation and simulacra, which explain why he believes the world is lost. He believes that postmodern culture has become completely lost in maps and models, and we now cannot see the real world as it was before the map. Our view of the world is simply an imitation of the model, rather than the real world itself. We have destroyed what is real and replaced it with a model of the real. Baudrillard is going further than saying that the world is artificial: he is in fact saying that we can no longer distinguish between what is real and what is artificial (Best&Kellner1997:100-101).
Baudrillard shows how this disintegration between real and non-real has come about through three orders of simulacra. The first order is in the pre-modern world, where we can clearly distinguish between the real and the non-real. The second order is in the industrial revolution in the 19th century, where due to the beginnings of mass production and copying, the distinctions between the real and its representation begin to fall away. The copies are becoming so good that there is a danger of them replacing the real –for example the development of photography. However, there are still ways, such as through political action, to access the real.
The third order of simulacra is in our postmodern world, where there is no longer a distinction between the real and the representation of it. The representation of the real now precedes and determines the real. Therefore, the real has been completely replaced with the representation of it, and we can no longer distinguish the two. This is a sort of anti-representational view, for the roles of the signified and signifier in the Saussurean system of signs is reversed (Raizman1998).
There are a number of reasons why Baudrillard believes this to be the case. Firstly, the culture of the media now goes beyond relaying information to in fact helping us to interpret our private selves to us. We see the world through the media lens, and commercialisation means we make decisions not based on real needs but based on the desires we are fed through the media. For example, the way in which branding and advertising leads us to buy products that we have no real need for.
This importance of capital is further increased my multinational companies, whereby not even national identity exists above the capital value. We lose touch with how things are made and the real essence of the product. For example, many people do not really identify items such as clothing with cotton plants, or tea with tea leaves. They simply see the final product.
This final product is a symbol of our now urban reality, and the fact we have lost touch with the natural world. We now need signs and areas of protected nature to show us where the natural world really is, because our urban lives are now so far removed from this real, natural world.
Finally, language also keeps us from truly accessing reality. We cannot see outside of ideology anymore, and therefore we cannot express anything outside our current perceptions within language (Gane1991:32-40). We rely so much on the structure of language that any representation of reality has to be constructed by our current ideology, and therefore part of the simulacrum.
This theory of a dystopic, postmodern world might seem to be bleak, confusing, and perhaps not obvious as what we see around us. However, this is exactly the point made by Baudrillard we have no idea what the world around us really is. He believes the world is lost, but he still feels there are some things we can fight for against the banality of the consumer hegemony. One of the most important things in the fight against the hegemony is architecture.
For Baudrillard, architecture is one of the last places we can express ourselves and help to shape reality, exposing the consumer hegemony. However, in most cases Baudrillard appears to be extremely disappointed with architecture and that it is a monument to advertising rather than to space for the public (Davies2004:1).
Baudrillard wants architecture to be away from the consumer norms, but in most cases this is clearly not the case. Society is ruthlessly motivated by capitalist and economic desires, and therefore architecture as an art form is often seen as unnecessary. This is one of the criticisms levelled at postmodern architecture, for its exaggerated aesthetics seemingly are unnecessary and non-functional.
For the postmodern theorist such as Baudrillard, architecture in the postmodern world is often a plainly corporate exercise, with the art and design paired down to economic and consumer needs above expression and context. Baudrillard sees the modern architecture around him as monstrous, and cites examples such as Disneyland, this also became apparent from questionnaire research.
The public perceive some postmodern buildings as a monstrosity due to the size and shape of these designs, indirectly we may be agreeing with Baudrillard and not realise. The interesting fanominen from the questionnaire presented, that people also believe architecture to be works of art.
This is understandable when we look at Organic architecture, Bauhaus and expressionism and neo-expressionism but the interesting factor, this was only raised by the higher educated people or people of a higher class. This portraying the hegemonic culture we have around us in present day.
Baudrillard’s most famous example of his disappointment in modern architecture is the Beaubourg – the popular name for the Georges Pompidou National Centre for Art and Culture. Baudrillard’s attack on this structure has been influential in the postmodernist movement, and explains much of what he dislikes about mass-market architecture.
The Beaubourg is seen by many as a popular structure with its pipes and ducts displayed on the outside of the building, but Baudrillard sees these features as resembling the black monolith out of the movie 2001. Rather than the building giving out energy or being explosive, it is in fact implosive, sucking away the life from the area to create its own bubble of security.
The inside is no better, and shows the building as an example of a building, which tries to represent the past with traditional style. However, the outside function and inside appearance differ from the high security to the antiquated inside. The Beaubourg is modelled on a nuclear power plant, and is meant to symbolise our modern age, yet inside it houses classic art. The contradiction between these elements means that the Beaubourg in fact represents nothing – it is the death or implosion or art along with the potential implosion of its poor construction. Rather than showing history and being a product of modernity, the Beaubourg has become the place where people conduct cultural activities, and so has replaced the real with its representation of nothingness (Gane1991:143-150).
For Baudrillard, this type of architecture is not what he would call ‘singular’. Baudrillard identifies with architecture that is singular. By singular he means structures that are fully aware of their culture, time, context and space. They are irreplaceable and transcendent cultural artefacts.
Although these structures are extremely hard to identify, Baudrillard saw the Twin Towers as an example of a singular object. He saw this even before the events of 9/11, describing the buildings as translating the hyper-real, showing the post-apocalyptic climate of New York through their height. They also show the biological and metaphorical copying within society through the duality of the two buildings.
It is this concept of singularity that is at the heart of what Baudrillard thinks is great art, and this is the concept of truly postmodern architecture that is not understood. Truly postmodern architecture needs to have singularity, and to be aware of its place, context, culture, time and space. The architecture of the postmodern era needs to move away from the hegemony of the modern world. The world is already lost, and so the only buildings, which can represent realism, are those which go beyond the hyper-real.
This is where Baudrillard begins to form his ideas regarding architecture and what makes a building singular. Although he claims to have never actually been interested in architecture in the technical sense, he is interested in the way in which buildings are either part of the hegemony or are a last bastion for seeing the real.
The way in which these postmodern buildings are created is about understanding the concepts of transparency, illusion, implosion and hyper-reality. These concepts as outlined by Baudrillard are not only understood within postmodern architecture, but are enacted within them through the ironic referencing to past styles. Moving away from the serious and utopian approach of modern architecture the postmodern architecture (Copeland1983:27), the postmodern architecture espoused by Baudrillard contains humour, irony, exaggeration, decoration, and the innocent pastime of form play.
There is move away from the grand themes, and inspiration is drawn from popular culture and common tastes. It opens up issues of simulation and cyberspace, and helps to shape both art and life through the embracing of difference and diversity (Best&Kellner1997:158).
This is the sort of architecture that is part of Baudrillard’s postmodern world, and the sort of architecture that is often criticised and seen with antipathy by those who do not fully understand the postmodern movement. Some of this criticism is from a philosophical standpoint, whilst some is from the perspective of architecture. The philosophical arguments against postmodernism as espoused by Baudrillard are much to do with his style, which is often verging on the sensationalist and hysterical. It also has to do with confusion as to what constitutes postmodern, modern or late-modern, depending on which text or scholar is looked at.
From an architectural standpoint, the criticism of postmodern architecture comes from a lack of understanding of the style and form of the buildings, and what they show and represent. There is often a feeling that postmodern architecture is excessive and unnecessary, and that there is too much in the way of decoration and aesthetics over practicality and usability. This was also stated in an interview with Mr Mike Berryman “It’s all to do with fashion.”
That was a simple way to describe postmodern buildings of today from a working architect. From the interview it was becoming evidently clear that the expressive way of Mr Berryman's clients, it was very important to them on the initial looks of the buildings design. Mr Berryman went onto say “once the structure of any building is finalised clients then think about the inside, aesthetics are very important in architecture as in our personal lives but people still have to remember that a building has a purpose.
Having to restructure the geometry of a building can be a common task once the client realises they can not actually use the building to it’s full potential we are as a society becoming vain with our architecture as with the way we dress.” I asked Mr Berryman where do you foresee architecture going in the future and what are the main issues that need to be addressed? He replied, “The fundamental issue now is the environment but this will always be fought against cost. Parliament are always trying to enforce a zero carbon but as with everything it all depends on what the client can afford.”
In the next section we are going to look at the philosophical arguments against Baudrillard’s postmodern views, and look to stifle these objections with replies from Baudrillard and other prominent postmodern theorists.
The final section will then look at the architectural criticisms, and how these criticisms are also based on a lack of understanding of the nature of form and style within postmodern architecture. There will be further explanation of the definitions of what postmodern, modern and late-modern architecture are, in order to fully understand the nature of postmodern architecture. When combined with the replies from section two, this can show how the lack of understanding of postmodern architecture leads to antipathy for it, and that once properly understood the merits and significance of Baudrillard’s work and postmodern architecture becomes clear.
The objections to Baudrillard’s postmodern view, which are at the core of the lack of understanding of examples of postmodern expression are such as postmodern architecture. This will incorporate the objections to Baudrillard, as well as replies to these arguments from Baudrillard and support from other postmodern theorists.
Many of the criticisms of Baudrillard’s work stem from his radical views on many subjects(Kellner1995:297-299), including his ideas about the Gulf War having not happened and his sexist views on seduction and women as the temptress (Leach2002:48-52). Despite his outspoken and often controversial nature, these criticisms are not of consequence to his fundamental ideas on postmodernism. This is why Baudrillard is frequently attacked, but infrequently are his ideas on postmodernism completely rejected (Rojek&Turner1993:9-10).
One of the biggest critics of Baudrillard is Harvey, who through his look at postmodernity, shows constant antipathy towards virtually all postmodern thought. He is a historical materialist, but in most of his works leaves his theories as assumption and merely attacks the postmodern arguments. He does this because he wants to remove differences and say that postmodernists do not look at issues of meaning and rationality (Dear1991:533-535).
Harvey’s main motivation is to show that there is no real distinction between the modern and the postmodern, to show that the postmodern society as by Baudrillard is in fact just a change in the way capitalism works. A new society has not emerged, but merely a face-value change of capitalist processes has occurred.
Harvey does not want to move away from the enlightenment/modernist approach, and believes that the postmodernists who see the world’s recent history as undermining the modernist view are confusing a problem of modernist thought with a problem of its application. Harvey believes that modernist thought is still relevant, and the fragmented world of the postmodernist is a myth (Dear2000:78-80).
Harvey wants to deny fragmentation at all costs, and whilst this might seem appealing this doesn’t’ mean that it is the case. Simply wanting there to be no fragmentation in the worldview does not mean this will be the case. He does not engage with the consequences of difference, and therefore does not show that difference is not occurring.
His axe against postmodernism fails because he is so obsessed with trying to get rid of the theory he fails to really detail his own. Therefore, Harvey’s criticisms seem to be more a case of his own feelings about postmodern thought rather than a well-rounded critique of postmodernist philosophy. He simply wants postmodernism to go away, but does not give us enough reasons to make this happen (Dear1991:536-537).
Many of the arguments against Baudrillard are of this form – they challenge the nature of his writings and the way in which many of his views might seem outrageous or even ludicrous at some points, but they do not fully challenge his core views on postmodernism.
However, there are some criticisms of postmodernism that can be looked at, which in turn can be replied to through the works of other postmodernists.
One such scholar who criticises postmodernism in favour of defending history is Richard Evans. He goes against postmodernism in order to defend history, although it seems that even in Baudrillard’s view history does not need defending in this way, even if we no longer have a true sense of it (Evans1997).
Even if history does need defending by destroying postmodernism, it seems that Evans misunderstands a number of the premises of the postmodernist thought. This confusion is a reflection of the general confusion regarding postmodern thought, including postmodern architecture.
For example, Evans argues that postmodernism holds a multiplicity that contains truths that are equally valid. However, as John Arnold points out it seems this is not really the case for postmodernism, for in fact there is no real truth. The copied truth has overtaken the real truth, and so what we think of as truth is in fact a copy and represents nothing (Arnold1997).
This is again another attack on postmodernism that fails to see the true meaning of the theory. Another example of this can be seen in the criticisms of Rosenau (Rosenau1992:8). Rosenau levels a number of criticisms at postmodernism. Firstly, he says that postmodernism is contradictory because it is an anti-theoretical approach, yet it makes a theoretical stand by saying this. This objection seems fairly vacuous, and a common one levelled at any sceptical argument.
There surely needs to be a distinctive between theories and the theoretical framework of the hegemony. Whilst postmodernism rejects the theoretical standpoints of modernism, this does not mean it cannot leave room for the theoretical standpoint that it occupies. Many of Rosenau’s other objections follow similar lines, such as that postmodernism stresses the irrational, yet uses instruments of reason to forward its perspective.
In this case, postmodernism does stress irrationality, but not as a norm. It stresses the use of rationality and irrationality in any shape or form as an example of the irrational. What postmodernism is trying to avoid is the rational norms and practices of the hegemony.
Whilst all of these criticisms of postmodernism show that the movement is clearly met with antipathy and even hostility by many, it also shows that many of these criticisms are not down to the flaws within postmodernism, but down to a lack of understanding of the theories themselves.
Of course it is natural for us to question views that paint the world as a depressing and lost dystopia with no sense of true reality, but whether or not we actually find these views emotionally appealing is not so much the issue. However, perhaps it is an issue within postmodern architecture, for after all architecture is a form of art and so it needs in some way to be appealing to us on an emotional level.
However, before getting into the issues of postmodern architecture, a look at some of the other theorists regarding postmodernism, with a particular look at Lyotard and Jameson. This will improve the understanding of critical postmodern theory before entering the section on the misunderstanding of the form and style of postmodern architecture.
Lyotard and Jameson, along with Baudrillard, are two of the most important postmodern scholars. Lyotard was one of the first to write on postmodernism, and rejected the rules of traditional scientific and analytic discourse. It was his writings that were at the forefront of the refractory stance that began postmodernist thought.
Lyotard uses philosophical inspiration from Nietzsche and Kant to espouse his version of the postmodern. He believes that the postmodern is in fact a part of the modern, and something can only be modern if it is first postmodern. The postmodern is not the end of modern, but rather at its birth or beginning. This is a constant state.
He understands the difference between the modern and the postmodern aesthetic as the difference between the unpresentable. Modern aesthetics are of the sublime, although a nostalgic version of the sublime. The unpresentable in this case can only be put forward as missing contents. However, the postmodern aesthetic within the modern presents the unpresentable within the presentation itself (Pefanis1991:3-4).
Jameson is also another postmodern theorist with some influence. In one of his pieces he concentrates on distinguishing postmodern art. He says that can be identified as specific reactions against established forms of modernism. Jameson believes that in postmodern art the structure of certain minor elements within modernism are transformed into major elements that offer something new and different – pastiche being one example of this.
As with Baudrillard, Jameson sees postmodernism rising with consumer capitalism, and that through this we lose our sense of history (Pefanis1991:4-6). Eventually, we live in a world of constant present whereby our past is constantly erased. Postmodernism not only reinforces the consumer capitalism, but also resists that logic by allowing for expression not in line with the modern society before it (Mills1988:180-185).
What we can see is that the core messages of postmodern thought are fragmentation, the loss of history and the images or representations of the real replacing the real. These aspects are the core elements of postmodern architecture, which attempts to understand these concepts and then play with them through the experimentation of form, decoration, irony and humour.
The misunderstanding of postmodern architecture: Criticismand replies this is where the problems for postmodern architecture begin to materialise, because it is unclear what the real meaning or objective of this type of architecture is. That is why it is often seen as frivolous, muddled and without real purpose.
This section will present a clarification of postmodern architecture versus late-modern and modern architecture as espoused by Jencks, and will also look at the criticisms of postmodern architecture. From these details we will see how the criticisms and antipathy towards postmodern architecture is caused by a lack of understanding of the form and style of such buildings. This will be further illustrated by looking at the works of Venturi and Gehry amongst others.
Dutton is one of the most vocal critics of Baudrillard’s views on postmodern architecture. He believes that Baudrillard does not look at contrary evidence for most of his claims, and also that he completely totalizes most of his claims without limitation or qualification. He goes even further to say that when Baudrillard is not unintelligible, what he says is usually either trite or false.
He is critical of Baudrillard’s claims about America being the desert of culture and the original symbol of the modern reality (Genosko1994:121-124), with all others being a transposition or copy of American hyper-reality. He doesn’t see the same meta-vulgarity and replacement of history with hegemony of perpetual present.
However, again the problem appears that many of Dutton’s arguments are not based upon a deep critique of Baudrillard’s theories, but critical of his writing or claiming he is unintelligible. This again points to a lack of understanding, which again leads to antipathy towards the postmodern.
Dutton is not willing to give up his modernist views because that is the architectural tradition that he was taught to value, and see deconstructionalist forms of architecture such as postmodernism as harmful to his ideas of purpose before form or aesthetic. (Dutton1991:3-5)
He also criticises postmodernism for its narrow appeal to the high classes of society, for it values the beauty of art above simple purpose. It seems that whilst certainly many postmodern buildings contain references to the once high-class societies of Greece and Rome for example, this does not mean the nature of such buildings can only be appreciated by the current upper classes (Dutton1991:7-9).
However, there are some clear issues with postmodern architecture from a number of critics. It seems that postmodern architecture flies in the face of what most people, including those established within the architectural community, expect from architecture (PiotrowskiA&Robinson2001:14). It is non-conformist, and is meant to be interpreted as well as used and seen.
The nature and aesthetics of postmodern architecture can often only be fully appreciated through the study of plans and models to show how the building might be seen as well as used. Those of the modern tradition in architecture often see postmodernism as a useless pile of rhetoric and shallow meaning added to cover the unnecessary or unpredictable form of the building.
However, as we will see, this is a misunderstanding of the nature and reasoning behind postmodern architecture. One of the main reasons for these criticisms of postmodern architecture are the lack of understanding, even amongst postmodern scholars, of the differences between modern, late-modern and postmodern buildings. Perhaps the best clarification of this issue is by Jencks, who is one of the foremost exponents of postmodern architectural theory (Jencks1991).
Much of the problem with the distinction between these types of architecture stems again from confusion, but also from the fact that not all buildings within a category are successful. Although Baudrillard gives his criteria of singularity for postmodern buildings, this does not mean that all buildings within the postmodern style are successful in meeting these criteria.
Indeed, examples such as the Pyramid in Le Louvre are an example of a postmodern building that many agree does not meet the singularity criteria, but instead is actually a modernist advertisement for the culturally vulgar – despite the fact that it is completely disconnected and different from the rest of Le Louvre (Moyer2008:4,11).
Again this could be argued that this is a perfect example of Architecture built without the consideration of the people who have to view this everyday, this also being a proven point in the questionnaire I produced. Various people stated “it would be nice to be asked our opinion before these buildings are erected.”
Also, there can be confusion as to what ‘post-modern’ really is. The Twin Towers were seen as more of modernist structures, yet Baudrillard felt that they fitted the singularity model extremely well. However, he also criticised the Beaubourg, which many see as a post-modern building. However, Jencks helps to sort the confusion by labelling buildings such as Beaubourg ‘late-modern’ (Rose1991:78-84).
These are buildings, which ran alongside post-modernism, but came later than traditional modern building. He says that some buildings may have more than one label, and generally the label assigned to it depends on how successful the labeller thinks the building is. This is why the essential difference between late modern and postmodern needs to be double coding – postmodern buildings have an eclectic mix of traditional signs or codes with modern ones (Sim2001:78-79).
We can see this double coding in the best examples of postmodern architecture – these are the buildings that show the true meaning of postmodernist theory, and explain away the misunderstandings of style and form put forward by those who have antipathy towards postmodern architecture.
Perhaps some of the most famous examples of postmodern architecture are those of Robert Venturi. Venturi went away from the minimalism of modern architecture to a ‘less is a bore’ standpoint. He frivolously played with form, colour and shape within his buildings. The issue that modern architects have with the postmodern is often this frivolous form, but there was a definite sense of purpose behind Venturi’s designs.
This is not purpose in the sense of practical purpose, but rather purpose as in the reflection of modern experience (Bertens1995:53-55). This modern experience gives Venturi’s buildings meaning over the minimalist modern buildings, which often have little meaning apart from their basic function as a building. Both harking back to pre-modernist styles like the Baroque as well as embracing modern popular culture aspects, Venturi created a number of exciting yet functional buildings, including the Gordon Wu Hall at Princeton. This building is visually stunning and has meaning as both a visual hyphen and entrance to the College as a whole, yet still functions to connect the buildings and dormitories (Hornqvist2004).
Another more recent example of postmodern architecture are the rapidly developing Asian cities. Although the modernist strictures of master planning and function are often legal requirements, the hugely rapid pace of urban construction and the desire for success born out of rampant capitalism has allowed for the flexibility of radical postmodern structures to become popular in these areas. This has taken postmodernism to an almost convenient and functional level as the rapid expression of a country’s growth that also suits the needs of practicality and usability (Friedmann2005).
Again, it can be seen that whilst postmodern buildings put meaning and aesthetic above purpose and function, the issues of function and purpose are still met by these buildings – sometimes to a higher degree than modernist structures. One of the best examples of this is the new desire for taller and taller buildings around the world.
This breaks away from modernist functionality in many ways, for the form of the building expressed in its height gives some sort of meaning rather than simply being functional. However, these buildings, particularly those in the Middle East and Far East, serve functionality and purpose by providing large capacity in increasingly cramped conditions. They also provide meaning -their reach towards the skies echoing the relentless reach of developing nations to get to the level of the developed (Ali&Moon2007:205-207)
In contrast, many of the modernist attempts to construct urban structures have failed miserably due to their lack of aesthetic appeal as well as their strict ideas about function over form. This is where the clear misunderstanding can be seen. Whilst modernists see postmodernism as merely frivolous form over function, the real reason for postmodernism is to give the world around us some sort of meaning.
If we stick to the current modernist building ethos then we will be left with endless areas of grey, decaying settlements and shantytowns for the poor. The modernist plan has failed, and that is why postmodernism is being embraced (Davey2000). This antipathy towards postmodernism is not to do with the buildings being of poor quality or impractical, but rather the misunderstanding of the nature of postmodern architecture.
Rather than being a jumbled and unnecessary exaggeration of old and new styles, postmodernism actually combines many of the function elements of modernity with the local flavour, meaning and aesthetics of the old style. In its extreme it does suggest that no one form is better than another, and whilst it might seem an unsettling prospect to have no professions, traditions or strict styles at all, the fluidity and ambiguity of postmodern architecture allows for new ways of thinking. In our increasingly expanding world, this is crucial if we are to maintain an appreciation of diversity and difference rather than falling further into the modernist hegemony (ibid).
Now that the misunderstandings and controversies within postmodernism and more specifically postmodern architecture have been discussed, it is time to draw conclusions about how these misunderstandings cause the antipathy towards postmodernist theory.
Postmodernism rose to popularity in the 1970’s, and in the field of architecture has been a dominant force for the last twenty years. However, there are still a large proportion of people who look at postmodern architecture with antipathy. The accusations against this form of architecture are that it is frivolous in its form, and puts aesthetics above functionality. This results in buildings, which are exaggerated, jumbled examples of old and new styles. Those of the modernist movement believe that more functional and rigid style where function is put above aesthetics is more important.
However, this view of postmodern architecture is merely down to confusion about postmodernism, both on a philosophical and architectural level. The lack of understanding or even fear of postmodern thought as well as the misunderstanding of the nature of style and form within postmodern architecture has led to this antipathy.
One of the main reasons behind this is the controversial nature of the prominent speaker within postmodern thought Jean Baudrillard. Baudrillard believes that the hegemony of the modern has overtaken the real within the world, and what we see is no longer the real but rather the hyper-real the representations or images of the real. Our history has been eroded away, and all that is left is this nothingness-copy version of our previous reality.
This dystopic view of our society is quite disturbing (Clarke2003:74-76), and the way in which Baudrillard writes about the issues can be confusing and sometimes hard to accept. However, the critics of Baudrillard find it hard to dismiss his theories. Their attacks on him mainly consist of criticisms regarding his writing style, and not the actual theories he espouses.
Architecture comes into the picture because Baudrillard believes that architecture is one of the last places that we can challenge the hegemony and potentially break through to the real. In order to do this, we need to move away from the rigid style of modernist architecture towards something that has meaning and can reflect this lost world around us.
However, Baudrillard believes most of the architecture around us does not show this meaning or reflect the world. It in fact represents nothingness, and is merely helping to maintain the consumer hegemony that traps us. For Baudrillard, postmodern architecture most show singularity it must be an irreplaceable and irrefutable part of our lives, something to give us a sense of our lost history as well as give meaning to the current world we live in.
Meeting this criteria of singularity is tricky, but there are postmodern architects who have followed this idea of moving away from modernity and embracing all styles in new ways. Venturi is one who moved away from the minimalism of modern architecture to produce buildings with bold and exciting form.
The main issue with postmodern architecture is this idea of form over function. However, this is clearly down to a lack of understanding of the form and style of postmodern architecture. Rather than the buildings in embracing form at the sacrifice of function, many postmodern buildings combine these aspects in a more effective way than modernist buildings. The postmodern buildings offer us a glimpse of our lost history by taking on aspects of historical styles, whilst still maintaining the functionality of modernist structures. These buildings offer local and cultural meaning along with the functionality of the modern.
In conclusion, the problems of antipathy towards postmodern architecture are down to problems with the movement itself or the buildings, but down to a lack of understanding regarding their true form and style. Rather than putting form first at the cost of functionality, postmodern buildings offer us a unique aesthetic to combat the dystopic and confusing world in which we now live.
Ali, M.M., and Moon, K.S., 2007. Structural Developments in Tall Buildings: Current Trends and Future Prospects. Architectural Science Review, 50(3), pp. 205+.
Arnold, J., 1997. Letters regarding ‘In Defence of History’. The Times Higher Educational Supplement. 19TH and 26th September 1997.
Baudrillard, J., 1988. Selected Writings. Stanford: Stanford University Press
Baudrillard, J., 1999. Revenge of the Crystal. London: Pluto Press.
Bertens, H., 1995. The Idea of the Postmodern: A History. New York: Routledge.
Best, S., and Kellner, D., 1991. Postmodern Theory: Critical Interrogations. New York: The Guilford Press.
Best, S. and Kellner, D., 1997. The Postmodern Turn. New York: The Guilford Press.
Clarke, D.B., 2003. The Consumer Society and the Postmodern City. New York: Routledge.
Conway, H., and Roenisch, R., 1994. Understanding Architecture: An Introduction to Architecture and Architectural History. New York: Routledge.
Copeland, R., 1983. Postmodern Dance Postmodern Architecture Postmodernism. Performing Arts Journal, 7(1), pp. 27-43.
Davey, P., 2000. Postmodern Urbanity. The Architectural Review, 207(1236), pp. 34+.
Davies, C., 2004. Mass. identity. architecture. architecture writings of Jean Baudrillard. The Architectural Review, July 2004.
Dear, M., 1991. Review of ‘The Condition of Postmodernity: An Inquiry into the Origins of Cultural Change’ by David Harvey. Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 81(3), pp. 533-539.
Dear, M., 2000. The Postmodern Urban Condition. Blackwell Publishing.
Dutton, T.A., 1991. Voices in Architectural Education: Cultural Politics and Pedagogy. New York: Bergin and Garvey.
Evans, R.J., 1997. In Defence of History. Granta Books.
Friedmann, J., 2005. Asian Ethical Urbanism: A Radical Postmodern Perspective. Pacific Affairs, 78(4), pp. 679+.
Gane. M., 1991. Baudrillard's Bestiary: Baudrillard and Culture. New York: Routledge.
Gane, M., 1993. Baudrillard Live: Selected Interviews. New York: Routledge.
Genosko, G., 1994. Baudrillard and Signs: Signification Ablaze. New York: Routledge.
Handler, R., 1987. Heritage and Hegemony: Recent Works on Historic Preservation and Interpretation. Anthropological Quarterly, 60(3), pp. 137-141.
Hornqvist, M., 2004. Robert Venturi, Aldo Rossi and post-modern architecture. (Online). Available at: http://www.idehist.uu.se/distans/ilmh/pm/pm-venturi-rossi.htm
(Cited 10th March 2008).
Jagodzinski, J., 1997. Postmodern Dilemmas: Outrageous Essays in Art & Art Education. Mahwah: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Jencks, C., 1991., The Language of Post-Modern Architecture. Rizzoli.
Kearney, R., 1994. The Wake of Imagination: Toward a Postmodern Culture. London: Routledge.
Kellner, D., 1995. Media Culture: Cultural Studies, Identity, and Politics between the Modern and the Postmodern. New York: Routledge.
Leach, N., 2002. The Hieroglyphics of Space: Reading and Experiencing the Modern Metropolis. London: Routledge.
Mills, C.A., 1988. Life on the upslope: The postmodern landscape of gentrification. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 6(2), pp. 169 – 189.
Moyer, R.L., 2008. M. Pei’s La Pyramide du Louvre: A Diamond in the Rough or Merely Junkspace? (Online). Available at: http://www.nyu.edu/pubs/counterblast/louvre.pdf
(Cited 19th March 2008).
Pefanis, J., 1991. Heterology and the Postmodern: Bataille, Baudrillard, and Lyotard. Durham: Duke University Press.
Piotrowski, A., and Robinson, J.W., 2001. The Discipline of Architecture. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Raizman, N., 1998. Baudrillard, Postmodernism, and the Reinforcement of Power. Cyberspace, Hypertext and Critical Theory. (Online). Available at: http://www.thecore.nus.edu.sg/cpace/theory/baudrillard/raizman.html
(Cited 19th March 2008).
Rojek, C., and Turner, B.S., 1993. Forget Baudrillard?. New York: Routledge.
Rose, M.A., 1991. The Post-Modern and the Post-Industrial: A Critical Analysis. Cambridge University Press.
Rosenau, P.M., 1992. Post-Modernism and the Social Sciences: Insights, Inroads and Intrusions. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Sim, S., 2001. The Routledge Companion to Postmodernism. London: Routledge.
Stennott, S., 2004. Encyclopedia of 20th Century Architecture: Volume: 2. New York: Fitzroy Dearborn.