Postmodernism in Architecture essay
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Postmodernism is a very important stage of the world's cultural development. There may be, and, in fact, there are different thoughts and a lot of debate about to what degree the works of postmodernism are esthetically valuable, and, of course, tastes differ and there might be many people both among experts in the field of culture and among regular people, who simply dislike and put themselves, so to say, in opposition to the whole movement, still in general it is impossible to overestimate the role of this movement in recent history of culture and philosophy. This role is significant and it is critically important to realize it, have a very deep understanding of the processes, which caused the movement, movements, which forerun postmodernism in different spheres of art, it is also critically important to understand the outcomes of the postmodern art development, the movements, which followed it, their philosophy and in which way they were different from postmodernism and what is it they found wrong with this movement. However, it is nearly impossible to discuss the whole integrity of postmodernism in its diversity of forms and manifestations within the framework of a short paper. This is, rather, a subject for a large monograph, and it may be the subject for further scientific research and, in the final score, may result in such a monograph in a long-run perspective, but meanwhile the focus of this particular paper is going to be mainly postmodernism in architecture, however it will discuss some other aspects of this movement, as much as it is important to do for better understanding of postmodern processes and tendencies in architecture. The paper will also discuss the most outstanding architects, who belonged, or, rather to say, who developed the philosophy of postmodernism in architecture. What inspired them and whom they managed to inspire. All these questions are to be thoughtfully discussed in order to at least very roughly understand the role of postmodernism in the world around us. And architecture, out of all other artistic forms, influences the world around us in the most intense way, it directly influences people, leaves impressions and provokes thoughts, as no other form of art. It is understandable, though. One may not read modern books; one may care very little about philosophy and up-to-date trends in philosophical thinking. One may not care very little about music and never attend artistic exhibitions. One may believe art to be absolutely inapplicable to life, waste of time and effort, as some people do, but pieces of architecture surround us and we, one way or another, consume, if this is a proper word for the art, the product of artistic thought, we see the buildings and have our attitude to them. One may not be an expert in the field, however he will see the pieces of architecture, which surround him, and are very likely to be influenced with what he sees. In general, however, we can speak of postmodernism as of the art of avoiding traditional or regular forms. Instead, postmodernism will presuppose developing new forms for the sake of the forms themselves only, or, rather to say, for the sake of creating something new. This novelty was actually an attempt of search of the individuality, uniqueness and so on. As a matter of fact the term "postmodernism" is often associated with deconstruction, which is mainly due to the fact that this term became widely known or even popular at the same time as the post-structural thought started being spread. One of the names, which are mainly associated with the postmodern movement, is Jacques Derrida. This philosopher believed the world to have the structure of the text. He is known for saying "Il nay a pas de hors-texte (there is no such thing as outside-of-the-text) (Derrida, 158).
The term "postmodernism" has been used since the second part of the XIX century. Different people gave different meanings to it; there were times, when everything new in the art was automatically called "postmodern. However, this term was first used in application to a general theory in the year 1939 by Toynbee, who wrote: "Our own Post-Modern Age has been inaugurated by the general war of 1914-1918."
Postmodern architecture starts from the dissatisfaction with modern architectural tendencies. It can be said, that it is architecture, which gives the start of postmodern movement in all the arts. And in the final score postmodernism in all the arts basically stands for the refusal of modern values, which belong to the imperialistic part of capitalistic era. These are called "modernism" and it is their manifestations and trends, which postmodernism stands up against. Postmodernism is known for its tendency to return to old, historic techniques. While, for instance, modern architecture was seeking harmony between its form and its function. It was against the form as a goal in itself. Postmodernists from architecture, in contrast, did their best to make use of all the means available in order to create beautiful forms. It is Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, a bright representative of his era of modernism, who said the well-known phrase, which then became a cliché: "less is more". To oppose this, a post-modern architect Venturi stated: "less is a bore". This phrase also becomes a widely used slogan of postmodernism in the following decades. Postmodernism was the first cultural movement, which seriously opposed itself to modernism, which preferred individualistic values to norms and standards. In the final score the whole era of late 1900s, with its new service-based economy, new views of marriage, family and other social aspects of life. In terms of urban planning, the tendencies changed dramatically as postmodernism appeared. Previously modernism was aimed at standardization, disregarded any esthetics and was mainly aimed at pure functionality often despite public opinion. This had negative effects, since the buildings for the majority were built by the minority of professionals, who were basing their decisions rather on theory, than on the post-war practice of urban life, of which they had little knowledge. This resulted in the cities and dwellings being overcrowded, overplanted and that, in its turn, led to the increase of diseases. Irving (489) subdivides postmodern tendencies into "reaction modernism"", which rejects the modernism tendencies, but is aimed at creating new cultural forms, based on old, historical esthetics. Meanwhile the other sort of postmodernism, called "postmodernism of resistance" mainly is aimed at deconstructing modernism, without making an attempt to return to the roots.
However, it is impossible to speak of postmodernism in art and about postmodernism in architecture in particular without mentioning major figures, which played essential role in establishment and development of this movement. Since this paper is mainly focused on postmodernism in architecture, it is critically important to mention such an outstanding figure, as Robert Venturi. It is him, who said the immortal "less is a bore" having by this short phrase nulled the whole modern esthetics. According to Kahl (ND) "Many of Venturi’s buildings were small in stature, designed for a specific location and site, and only large when necessary. Designing for a specific site was not traditionally done during the first half of the 20th century. The Modern movement was a stark, plain, and disengaging form of architecture from which Venturi took enormous strides to distance himself."
Venturi's belief was that a school building built for one state of the US, should be very much different from a school building, designed to be built in a different state. Not speaking of various countries and the buildings of various purposes. It is important to have an overview of his life and his contributions into postmodern architecture to understand the significance of his role in the development of the movement. Venturi was born in the year 1925 and in the year of 1947 he graduated from Princeton University. It is three years later, in 1950 that he obtains his master of fine arts degree from the same university. According to Blancey (198), he published his book “complexity and contradiction in architecture”. This book was not warmly accepted by the majority of architects, especially by those who belonged to the modern tradition. They managed to see an attempt to destroy all the principles, which were in the base of modern architecture; however it was not Venturi’s message. His worked was aimed at merely presenting his own arguments, with which he criticized modern architecture, stating however, that there used to be certain advantages about the movement. But this message was not heard by the audience. As a matter of fact, he did not write his books with a goal of convincing anybody of anything. On the contrary, he was far from this thought. He did not think about himself much as a writer. His books were, so to say, written exercises, a part of his research practice, which helped him get a better understanding of the nature of architecture. Venturi disagreed with existing tradition, stating that ““Many architects find the vernacular of the middle class of America to be so repugnant, distasteful, and unappealing that they have a difficult time in examining it open-mindedly to discover its true functionality” (Venturi, 153). Venturi strongly believed that middle class Americans would rather prefer homes, which would remind them about the past, about old symbols to pure’ and austere statements of orthodox Modernism” as stated by Caren) 30). To his mind, Americans would prefer homes, which would give them some personal feelings; they need to bare a part of personality of people living in them. This is why he tended to regional architecture and believed it to be the best type of architecture. However, during a longer period of his life Ventury was considered to be a sort of a rebel among architects.
Unfortunately, Ventury’s architectural workouts are not as widely known as his writings however it was him, who caused a very serious effect on American architecre and it is due to him, that it became much more exploratory. He helped the architecture of the US learn from the mistakes of the past and at the same time to become much more meeting the needs of an up-to-day American city.
Among the most famous works by this architect are the Guild House, located on Spring Garden Street (Philadelphia) and a Chapel near the Episcopal Academy, situated on the Newtown Square, in PA.
Philip Jonson was another very notable representative of postmodern architecture. He was born in July 1906 in Ohio, and lived a long life. He died at the age of 98 in the year 2005. Jonson graduated from Harvard. In the beginning of his architectural career Jonson travelled a lot to Europe, and was in love with its new architecture, the principles of which he tried to popularize in the States. In the very same period, during the early years of his life, he openly symphasized with Nazism and was a member of several fascist unions. However, he greatly regretted those actions later. He stated, in particular: "I have no excuse (for) such unbelievable stupidity... I don't know how you expiate guilt. as cited by Varnelis (ND).
Johnson was very well known for heavily using glass in his works. Especially it refers to the early ones. One of the most famous among his early works is the Glass House, which he designed as his own residence. Close to the Glass House, he designed a guest house, also a part of his residence. It repeats the proportions of the glass house, but entirely is built of brick. It has two guest’s bedrooms and a study, each one of which rooms has got one circular window, framed in wood. Jonson said that he purposely made this house not very comfortable, since he strongly believed: guests should not stay for too long.
Soon Jonson was chosen to be an associate architect for the Seagram building. And Johnson had the honor of designing the lobby and many other important elements of the building. This was a major accomplishment in his career, and after it his career began to go up substantially. He started getting orders of national importance, such as, for instance, the Lincoln centre. At this time Johnson started to be disappointed at the orthodoxies style, in which he had pioneered in the USA. He refused to use the plain lines made of metal and glass and started producing more lively structures. Johnson was constantly balancing between two major trends in the US post-war architecture. One of them was considered to be more serious, and it may be referred to as minimalism, and the other one was pop-art. Probably, the most popular building, designed by Johnson together with John Burgee was the ATTI building, which is now known as Sony Building. It is hard to overestimate the role, played by Johnson and his works in the development of postmodern architecture.
Another figure, which cannot be left aside, when talking about postmodernism in architecture, is Michael Graves. This architect, who belongs to the well-known New York Five, was born in 1934 in Indianapolis. He obtained his bachelor's degree at the Cincinnati University, and his master's degree at Harvard. This architect is also very influential on the postmodernism movement n the US architecture, and the most important works, which need to be mentioned, include Team Disney Building in California, built 1986, the New Art Museum, built in New Jersey 1982, the Humana Building, built in Louisville, 1982, Tijuana Cultural Centre in Mexico, Roma Interrotta Exhibition in Rome built in 1978. Michael Graves is one of the people, who are believed to have moved the architectural thought in the US from abstract modernistic approach to postmodernism with its diverse approaches, which take into consideration the needs of the client, the function of the building and its surroundings. In 2003 a severe disease left Michael Graves tied to the wheelchair. And even in this position he keeps on working on architectural projects. However now, part from other peculiarities, he is especially concentrating on the matters of accessibility.
Michael Graves, however, was not only designing large buildings. He is also very well known for designing items of domestic use, things, like teapots, furniture and other similar items.
All the three architects, mentioned above, are tightly associated with the postmodern architecture in the USA. In fact, they are the best known postmodern architects of the USA. However, it would be very wrong to say, that their influence was limited to the US only. They had a very serious influence on architectural tendencies all over the world and their names are the first, which come to mind when one speaks of postmodern architecture. Postmodern architecture gave birth to the whole postmodernism movement. And therefore it can easily be concluded, that these three people had a very significant influence upon the whole urban style of life all over the world, though it is not always realized and recognized by regular people.
The role of modernism movement in everyday life is so great, that it is impossible to imagine, which sphere it has not influenced. One may tend to believe, that postmodernism is only a movement in certain spheres of art. But this approach is very wrong and is based either on ignorance regarding the factors, which gave birth to postmodernism, or/and the outstanding changes it caused in the life of average people all over the world. It influenced everything: the way we live, the way we see ourselves, the way we work and make money. But it is wrong to think, that it was a moving force of all the processes in the world, without itself being influenced by objective factors. On the contrary: postmodernism has become the style of life, the integral part of human culture and everyday living, an integral part of our social behavior and interpersonal relations. It has gone way beyond the limits of art and stepped firmly on the ground of science, business, and almost any other sphere of our lives. This is exactly why the studies of postmodernism are so important. Every research in this field is closely related to life and therefore is of life importance. There is a lot left to be researched and, no doubt, a great number of scientific findings are to be made in this field. This is why for every scientist almost in any field of the subject postmodernism offers a wide variety of subjects for research. Postmodern archicture is just one of them, a very narrow compared to the whole integrity of the matter, but, probably, one of the most important spheres of postmodernism studies, since it is the architecture, which gave birth to the movement, or, maybe it is more accurate to say, that it it was architecture, with which postmodernism started to influence our world. It is hard to tell the reason from the consequence here, and it is yet another field for fruitful scientific research. In any case, the understanding of the roots, and in our case it is the architecture, which can be referred to as roots, gives us the better understanding of the whole plant, and the plant is our contemporary style of life, including our modern psychology, our interpersonal relations, our world outlook and many other things. It is impossible to refer to postmodernism in terms of negative or positive attitude. It is very wrong to judge it using such categories. It is much wider than right and wrong taken together, but it is important to understand it, to see it as an independent picture, as an objective process, state of things, which needs to be dealt with and not given names to or judged. And it is, no doubt, the great challenge for any scientist to see this picture, understand and describe it, thus making it available and understandable for people of the world.
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