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THE ARCHITECT'S ART. Postmodern design's appeal: fa,cade and fancy, not function

THE HISTORY OF POSTMODERN ARCHITECTURE by Heinrich Klotz, Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 461 pp. $60

IN ``The History of Postmodern Architecture,'' Heinrich Klotz sees the movement of the last 25 years as rescuing and revitalizing popular architecture. Modernism dominated architecture for most of this century. In classical modernism, form followed function (sometimes gracefully, as in the works of Gropius, Mies van der Rohe, or Corbusier). But in the 20th century's headlong rush for efficiency, modernist architecture became increasingly functional; in the process it became unpopular.

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As a movement, postmodernism has had a rather short life. Though it responds to some of the criticism of modernism - and could be seen as a somewhat comic reaction to it (it replaces a bare fa,cade with illusionistic ornament) - postmodernism has failed to garner wide acceptance.

Klotz's book catalogs the twists and turns that postmodernism has taken in its 25-year history. It presents chronologically a mix of photographs, drawings, elevations, and floor plans.

It's more a history than an art book. Through dense columns of text and detailed illustration, Klotz reveals the incredible variety in postmodern experimentation. He points to Charles Moore's Piazza d'Italia in New Orleans; Arata Isozaki's Municipal Museum in Tsukuba, Japan; and Ricardo Bofill's Arena apartment complex in Marne la Vall'ee, France, as vigorous efforts to revise the tired functionalism of modern architecture.

Commercial buildings have some of the most visible postmodern designs. In Vienna, one of Hans Hollein's travel bureaus remakes the inside of an existing building to project the image of a travel destination. Shiny brass pillars sprout metal palm leaves beneath soft light from a false solarium roof, creating vague notions of the tropics or a desert oasis.

Klotz claims that functionalism failed because architects did not use symbolism to stir people's imaginations and aspirations. He shows how inspiration from the past - columns, traditional materials, and elements from a variety of historical sources - are used in postmodernism. Klotz says they supply the symbolism or complexity missing from modern, functionalist architecture.

But he ignores a fundamental question: Why do people want or need symbolism in architecture?

In this book, Klotz does not consider the many failed postmodern experiments. In corporate competitions, postmodern architects do not appeal successfully to the business style. Sober, conservative, efficiency-oriented designs better fit corporate interests. This may be the reason few postmodern designs are actually built.

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In his afterword, Klotz mentions a few architects who are not working in postmodern styles. He does not say that these architects are responding critically to postmodernism. Some of their works seem to draw inspiration from classical modernism, not postmodernism. Zaha Hadid, Frank Gehry, and Coop-Himmelblau are mentioned. Klotz does not try to fit them into his postmodern scheme, because their assumptions (they are modernist but not reactionary) would seriously undermine the thesis of his book - that postmodernism is alive and well.

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