With the demolition of Pruitt Igoe in 1976, modernism could be safely laid to rest. Architectures greatest movement was dead, along with its heroes. With no time to start again, architecture was left either to grasp onto the last vital strands of modernism or to completely reject modernisms central tenants (though movements moving out of the modern era seldom stuck to just one of those approaches). After the death of modernism many more ‘isms’ were born, far too many to discuss within these pages, which is why our conversation around the post-modern era will be centered around Frampton’s Critical Regionalism and the postmodernism of Charles Jenks. Critical Regionalism was born out of an intentional opposition to the lack of identity characterized by placelessness in modernism. Post-Modernist architecture, however, wants to completely disassociate (conceptually) with modernism. While postmodernism seeks to act as a complete rejection of the modern standard Critical Regionalism is solidly rooted in the modern narrative, rejecting Postmodernisms inclination towards whimsical individualism and ornamentation, while still expanding modernism through an increased focus on context (both geographical and cultural).
As mentioned in chapter one, Critical Regionalism is one of the ‘isms’ that emerged in the post-modern era that does not seek to altogether destroy modernism. The approach relays highly on the tradition of modernism for its basis, while seeking to expand it. It adds identity and context to modernism which was often cold and could be described as having the feeling of ‘placelessness’. This approach seeks to bring together global and local ‘languages’ or architecture to create works that advance the discourse in a way that doesn’t discount character or context. Though this approach strongly advocates for more freedom than modernism allowed, it also rejects the other side, postmodernism and its inclination towards whimsy and over individualism. In this way, Critical Regionalism is both highly related to postmodernism and modernism, but also finds them both troublesome in their extreme natures. Critical Regionalism is the mediator of the post-modern era.
For Jenks modern architecture had become stiff and unexpressive, in turn losing its unique ability to reference. His dream for postmodernism then is to see the return of wit and ornament in architecture. That the referential, expressive and symbolic value of architecture elements would again be valued. That the lost concern of aesthetics would return into the discourse. For Jenks, the rejection of modernism culminated in a language of signs. This new language can seldom be easier read than in the work of Philip Johnson, exemplified in the AT&T building in Manhattan. The architectural elements are easily read, clear, and in most cases over-articulated. Their amplifications take them from the realm of a single detail to an expressive and referential sign. One needs only to see a single element to understand the category it stands for; each element then is both a player in the part to whole relationship as well as being an example of a clear ‘type’. The modernism of order and correctness gives way to a postmodern era of relative chaos where no building, element.
With the death of the modern project, the field of architecture was fractured, split into highly stylized and conceptual focused ‘isms’ as coined by Jenks. These new and vastly different approaches to architecture, for the most part, were formed by very specific acceptances or rejections of different strands of modernism. So many of these new strands came out of modernism that Jenks, as an attempt at a joke I believe, created a future timeline of various approaches and camps of architecture that would emerge in the coming years. He never backed any of them up or even elaborated their meaning, but just in the simple act of naming these possible offshoots I think he made the sheer volume of fractures within the architectural discourse that had emerged and would most likely continue to emerge due to the death of modernism (modernism for which all of architecture seemed to put its only hope in for so long). This chapter will explore some of the real and some of the false ‘isms’ created by the due death of modernism.
Modern architectural discourse has moved from a discipline concerned with walls and the technical matter of fact realities of the built condition in the form of buildings; to a discourse that is highly contextualized (in time, space, and society) and thus must bow to the contemporaneous conditions of all three. Architecture is no longer pure, it can no longer be separated from its context and remain the same, it can no longer just be architecture (though some would argue that this was in fact never entirely possible). Thus, the modes of analysis, critique, and evaluation must also change. Critique becomes less formal, less grand more practical, and I would argue more internal. The speed and relevance of architectural experimentation has been exponentially accelerated by both modern-day social structures and the advent of the information age. One need no longer wait for a building to be built to asses it because one no longer needs to build a building to have adequate, clear, and advanced representations of the work. Drawings, models and 3D modeling software’s (along with serval other technological and infrastructural advancements) allows for the pace, style, and type of production to be better suited to more immediate, specific, a conversational critique. These more rapid/specific revisions and quicker feedback loops allow for projects to be more fully articulated much more quickly than in any previous time. With more rounds of drafting, more and more ‘imperfections’ and conceits in conception can be considered (either in an attempt to draw them back in or at the very least to recognize and consider the implications of such a conceit).
Even beyond that, these quicker processes allow for more production, more buildings, more experiments, more drawings, more models, all of which lead to a better understanding of things much quicker than before. Such conceits, as mentioned before, are inevitable in a discourse that has become as contextualized as modern Architecture, in the same way that modern society is little more than the culmination of many small (seemingly unimportant or uncompromising) conceits towards the way things used to be, that have led to a society barely recognizable as the product of the original (the Cameo 2016, 72). Meredith believes that in such a discourse the building has become the sole project of architecture (the emblem, the preserved definition), and such narrow consideration has threatened to fracture the field into extremely specific niches, niches that if left to their own devices would, at some point, no longer bare any passing resemblance to one another (Meredith 2015, 13). Thus, keeping the building as the central tenant of architecture undercuts the discipline, giving it too narrow of a definition (effectively strangling it into many smaller discourses). Which is why he proposes the body of work as a complete whole look at architecture in all its forms; allowing the discourse to encompass a larger spectrum of designed objects, that though many may not be architecture in the most traditional sense add to the expanded conception and practice of the modern architecture discipline.
This expansion of both product and processes of production has also lead to a confusion of the issue of authorship. Both in very literal terms but also in conceptual terms. I believe the blurring of roles between critic and architect has confused those lines. Both roles (rather assigned to specific figures, groups, or internalized) blurs the concept of sole authorship and ownership of both conceptions and final output. That being said I believe that it is exactly this blurring that allows for the quicker and truer advancement of architecture. No longer does critique have to happen over years and through peer-reviewed articles, such critique, though valuable often happens too late and exercises no direct influence on the referenced product or process of production. While the new model of critique often occurring in person or more informal settings has the potential to be much more effectual. In turn, this starts the feedback loop going much sooner in the process giving it a much larger scope of influence. I believe it is precisely this change (aided by technological advancements) that has allowed architecture to take on a larger spectrum of the built environment and given the discipline legitimacy when representing and acting as a physical representation for larger life concepts much more tangible then it ever could have hoped for before.
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