Wednesday, December 6:

POST-MODERN ARCHITECTURE


Reading: Architecture, chapter twelve; pp. 540--545; 550-551; chapter thirteen, pp. 553; 563--570; 672--575. Also read the article that follows, by Robert Benson: "Unconventional: Peter Eisenman's Greater Columbus Convention Center," Inland Architect (July/August 1993):53- 58.

If, with the opening of the Seagram Building in 1957, western architecture once again achieved an international unity that had eluded it for two hundred years, that unity was short-lived. Critics could not long ignore the fact that this unity was achieved at a cost of the honesty of materials Mies and Wright had earlier championed. It was achieved only with other sacrifices, too. One was the sacrifice of the city: the great modern towers abandoned the city as much as their medieval prototype towers withdrew and dominated the Italian hill-towns. A second was the sacrifice of personal or local character: these office towers were so classical and elegant that they could be copied--not with the same creativity, to be sure--in the cookie-cutter rows that so deadened western cities. The third was the sacrifice of history: modern architecture believed for a good while that it had no past, only a future.

There have been several reactions to Modernism. Le Corbusier bridged the gap between abstract and expressive architecture, as well as between the tectonic and sculptural approach to building. Mies van der Rohe never wavered from his early design formulations, but other "early modern" architects did. Wright's last works were strange and highly personalized visions of history (Guggenheim Museum, Marin County Civic Center). Le Corbusier's chapel at Ronchamp went against a score of his early positions, and admitted history, representation, and eccentric use of materials where they had formerly been banished. Eero Saarinen's TWA terminal at JFK Airport caused Americans in particular to ask if there were not some alternatives to "classical" modernism (although elsewhere Saarinen was all corporate elegance, as in the CBS Building). Finally, Robert Venturi's Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture, written in Rome in 1962 and published by the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1966, argued that the American city had a logic and a strength that should be frankly incorporated in contemporary style, rather than papered over. Venturi saw architectural history as far more quirky and eccentric than the "classic" and progressive view that had formerly been propagated. This opened the floodgates to new departures in architectural design, embracing history, populism, anthropomorphism, and vernacular design. The result--our contemporary expression in architecture--has been known since the mid 1970s as Post-Modern. Post-Modernism is effectively a pluralistic approach in which colorful, decorative, sometimes whimsical buildings mark a return to historicism. Vocabulary from the past, however, is abstracted in personal, expressive ways.

Key works:

1. LeCorbusier: Chapel at Ronchamp, France, 1950-55 [ 134 plan; 135 view; 137 interior]; figs. 866--868; colorplate 69.
2. Eero Saarinen, TWA Terminal, Kennedy International Airport, N.Y.C., 1962 [ 187 detail of facade]; fig. 876.
3. Robert Venturi, Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture, written 1962, published 1966.
4. Robert Venturi, Venturi House, Chestnut Hill, Philadelphia, 1962; fig. 897.
5. Piano and Rogers, Centre Pompidou (also called Centre Beaubourg), Paris, 1977 [ 313]; fig. 923.
6. Philip Johnson: AT&T Building, New York City, 1978-84 [ 314 model]; figs. 907--909.
7. Philip Johnson and John Burgee: PPG Place, Pittsburgh, PA 1979-84 [ 315].
8. Charles Moore, Piazza d'Italia, New Orleans, 1975-80 [ 316]; fig. 878.
9. Michael Graves, Portland Public Service Building, Portland, OR, 1977 [ 319]; colorplate 73
10. Peter Eisenman, Greater Columbus Convention Center, Columbus, Ohio, 1993 [ 318 interior view of lobby; 317 aerial view of rooftop] (see accompanying article in Sourcebook)
11. Frank O. Gehry: American Center, Paris, 1994 [ 320]

Works in context:

  • Maya Ling Yin, Vietnam War Memorial, Washington DC, 1983
  • Peter Eisenman, Wexner Center for the Arts, Columbus, Ohio, 1983--89