When I went to architecture school, there seemed to be an unspoken rule about architectural history and taste: We don’t talk about postmodernism. Architecture is a serious profession - it is either earnest in its utopian aspirations or it is severe in its expressive forms.
By contrast, postmodernism was colorful, humorous, self-referential, and ironic. But just like hair metal, shoulder pads, and parachute pants, many peopled viewed it as a curiosity of history to be left in the 80s.
This is beginning to change. In the last couple years, we’ve begun to see a renewed interest in the era and a revival in form. This past year Arata Isozaki was awarded the Pritzker Prize, the recent deaths of Michael Graves and Robert Venturi have brought added attention to their work, historians are writing more about it and calling for preservation of existing buildings, and designers are reintroducing what was once thought of as lost. So what’s different this time? Is architecture beholden to trends like bell-bottoms coming back into style? Or are we seeing a new movement underway? But first…
What is Postmodernism? A Quick History Lesson
Postmodernism was a response to the perceived architectural elitism and coldness of brutalism’s obsession with concrete. Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown believed that architects should not ignore the symbols and vibrancy of the kind of gaudy, populist architectural expression seen on the Las Vegas Strip. Rather than reject historic forms, the postmodernists sought to play with them through scale, pastiche, color, and humor.
Postpostmodernism can be used to describe the subsequent movements that followed, either as successive outgrowths or as rejections of postmodernism. Deconstructivism became the dominant style among everyone’s favorite starchitects e.g. Frank Gehry, Zaha Hadid, and Daniel Libeskind. Though the projects of this period are serious and sober, discarding color and historic ornament, it can be argued that they are successors to postmodernism as their chaotic and fluid forms are also highly ornamental and provocative.
Postpostpostmodernism (my preferred term 😊) refers to a reaction to deconstructivism, as once again the pendulum swung too far towards obsession over severe forms, history was being ignored, and architecture stopped being fun. Renewed interest in bright colors, calls for preservation of important postmodern buildings, and a recent slew of books and awards show that postmodernism is back.
But is it different this time?
Below are a couple examples of this new wave of bright colors, architectural satire, and general garishness to make a case for the movement:
Title Image: Inntel Hotel by WAM Architecten in Amsterdam, Netherlands, 2010. Image Source: Wikimedia Commons