Thesis: Post Modernism Architecture

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Postmodern Architecture

Postmodernism in Architecture: A Flawed but Permeating Style of Building

Physical surroundings are a determinant factor in the defining the human experience. The communities, neighborhoods and buildings where we find familiarity and comfort are also those same hosts upon which we rely for sustenance, socialization and survival. And to that end, the interaction between man and nature defines the shape taken by each of these pursuits. Though such is a premise which has always persisted as an overarching theme in the infinite architectural philosophies that have adorned and scarred the earth, today's architectural dilemmas suggest that the emphases on nature and humanism have become destructively obscured by the thrust of post-modern design.

The end of the 19th Century brought with it a host of technology-driven changes and the spread of urban culture. These conditions would share a reciprocal relationship with the Industrial Revolution. Factories, tenements and immigrants filled the cities of Europe, the United Kingdom and the United States, and with them came overcrowding, urban blight, aesthetic conformity and the seedling of mass consumerism. The artistic community produced an organic resistance to this social impulse that would be represented by its commitment to abstract visual forms. As early as the 1880's, the modernist movement of art, literature and design logic began to present itself as a refuge from rigid Victorian ideals of aesthetic appeal or even the definition of that which could be labeled as art. It was from this intercession of sociological and economic conditions that the post-modern tradition would come into prominence, influenced by the sensibilities of modernist architecture, the intercession of industrial values, the availability of new materials and the desire to preserve or renew elements of urban living. As Craven (2007) denotes, by "combining new ideas with traditional forms, postmodernist buildings may startle, surprise, and even amuse. Familiar shapes and details are used in unexpected ways. Buildings may incorporate symbols to make a statement or simply to delight the viewer." (Craven, 1)

Indeed, at the turn of this century, the violent mutation created by the Industrial Revolution led the way to a whole host of new philosophical precepts, artistic innovations and technological leaps in architecture and interior design, furniture and fabrics, glass and tableware, jewelry and perfume bottles, posters and wallpaper, textiles and lighting. New materials were used and combined during this time, producing a novel set of uses for materials previously unavailable to the public. Proliferating technological processes would reveal ingenious new uses for woods, metals and glasses that not only stimulated the advances of economic infrastructure but also significantly altered the discussion on that which could be considered art. Indeed, in the massive new towers which thundered toward the sky, post-modernism would come to define the cityscape in a way that is today accepted without question and which has defined for better or worse the visual and spatial nature of urban habitation.

During the height of post-modern innovation through the 1950s and the 1960s, there were elements of the modernist tradition which were both evident in postmodernism and which provoked no small amount of artistic scrutiny. So is this shown in a compelling text by Wolfe (1981) which deconstructs the postmodern urban building tradition in somewhat unfavorable terms. The key indicator that his critique was justified had been in the reliance in postmodern architecture upon the great 'glass box' skyscraper that was for decades proposed as the structural manifestation of the grand ambition and uncompromising fortitude of the American identity. Its enormous scale and the relative uniformity of its aesthetic mode, however, demonstrate the fundamental paradox in employing such homogenized units of architectural expression to reflect the psyche of a building style renowned for its endorsement of individuality.

Herein is most suitably represented an overarching motive for Wolfe's work. The author is concerned with the admirable qualities of artistic and intellectual ambition as they are failed in modern and post-modern architecture. Most pointedly, he argues from the standpoint that the idealized aesthetic of the modern city, a cubist grid of metal, concrete and glass, neither appeals to the humanistic sensibilities of those that might inhabit or utilize such structures nor satisfies the architect's need to employ said structures as the means to personal or universal expression, as these imperatives are opposed to theoretical abstractions regarding the value of simplicity on an intensely large scale.

Wolfe traces the path of the group of influential thinkers whose theoretical development in Germany would beget the post-war dogma in the American architectural establishment, precipitating a movement with widespread subscription and limited emotional appeal. Such ideologues as those in the Bauhaus school, though progressive and gifted, were together given over to an artistic concentration of architecture that was rigidly formulated by the quest for purity and consistency. The streamlined austerity of the urban landscape is the outcome, with such creature comforts as air quality, light accessibility and appropriation of internal space being denied in exchange for the execution of principle. Where the ornate elaborations of classical architecture could often be seen as an indicator of class divisions and status orientation, the modern structures set in Wolfe's sights were to meet the most egalitarian of impulses. In a manner, the preponderant emphases in postmodern architecture had produced a wildly non-humanist set of outcomes.

Ironically, the drive to abide a movement toward such progressivism would actually bear an alienating effect on all. The isolation and discomfort which many urban dwellers have suffered amid the towering metal constructs are seen in Wolfe's text as indicative of the unnatural divorce between the artist's individual impulse and the movement's strict theoreticism. In this divide, modern architecture is portrayed effectively as failing both the will of the artist and the needs of the people.

In light of these criticisms, there have been incarnations of the post-modern aesthetic which reflect the desire to create something which is more harmonious within the context of its environment while still attending to the ambitions of the industrial age. Thus, such examples stand in Europe, Asia and the U.S. As a testament to the relative creativity enabled by post-modernism. In many ways, such examples as the Pirelli Tower in Milan would be a symbol of this development, simultaneously achieving notoriety for its enormity and gaining respect for its innovative design. Erected between 1956 and 1961, it would be something of a break from the prevailing architectural conventions of its time, even as it was constructed in line with the skyscraper boom of the mid-20th century.

Here, we can see some of the more positive impulses in post-modernism being manifested. According to Paradis (2008), "postmodernism coincides with both the historic preservation movement and the new urbanism movement quite well. Contemporary skyscrapers (office towers) and their designers are basically thumbing their collective noses at the now-bland 'anonymous glass box' architecture of the International era" (Paradis, 1)

The unique qualities of the Pirelli Tower are a useful example of this nuance. While it would be consistent with the towers reaching ambitiously to the sky throughout North America, Europe and the most progressive parts of Asia, it would also set itself apart as an altogether more artfully imagined approach to the dominant trends in construction. The availability of technology, resource and need would launch the approach to metropolitan construction still preeminent today, compensating for the diminishing availability of sprawling urban real estate by finding creative ways to utilize vertical space.

With the massive Pirelli Tower though, the most salient departure in the approach taken to using this space would be in its aesthetic presentation. Eschewing the square art deco spires of such template setters as the Sears Tower and Empire State Building, Gio Ponti would instead conceive of a thin cartridge shaped structure, beveled angularly on the sides. (MiMoa, 1) One compelling description which is frequently encountered in studying the building is… [END OF PREVIEW]

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