Historic development – Postmodernism and Deconstructivism

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Sony Building New York, Philip Johnson

The recession of 1966/67, the 1973 oil crisis, and the collapse of the Bretton Woods Agreement marked the end of Fordism. Fundamental changes in the international markets forced companies to change production from standardized mass consumer goods to diversified product lines for individual target groups. Reasons for this can be found in the following socio-economic changes.

The invention of the microchip allowed the inexpensive production of smaller batches of non-standardized commodities. The computer not only increased the variety of produced goods, but it also made it possible to instantly analyze one company’s business data, the reordering of raw materials, and production of goods in accordance to imminent demand “just in time”. The micro-electronic revolution enabled a more flexible adaptation thus making smaller series of products economically worthwhile. This increasing flexibility was also reflected in an increasing heterogeneity of occupational skills and payment of the workforce. The orientation of companies towards global markets and the accompanied international competition caused decreasing state-control over national markets, the loss of worker rights, the dismantling of welfare benefits, and an accelerated growth of social class differences. On the consumer side, the saturation of basic needs raised the demand for products which reflected an increasing desire for individualization, differentiation and higher living standards. On the part of companies, post-Fordism led to far-reaching changes in internal organizational structures. Hierarchies were reduced by means of decentralization of competencies and responsibilities. Self-organization was promoted instead of bureaucratic objectives. Employees were organized in temporary networks, and, furthermore, teamwork and evaluation gained importance. Biological processes increasingly served as a model of organization. Outsourcing and project-based employment increased. The production of goods was split into individual steps that were carried out by different specialized subcontractors, instead of single integrated enterprises.19 20

The architectural expression of the time followed this strive for individual fulfillment, authenticity, and self-determination. Post-modernism meant the return to city centers and the emphasis of communicative aspects.21 Modernism’s emphasis on pure functionalism was rejected as monotonous, repetitive, and uncommunicative.22

Fig. 5 Eclectic-House-Series, Venturi, 1977

The „Decorated Shed“23 borrowed its expression from historical models without necessarily maintaining their original functional purpose. With its variegated repertoire of forms it tried to engage in a dialogue with its environment. The façade was revalued to convey a message based on the motto “form follows fiction”. Postmodernism was most prominent between 1975 and 1985, but remained influential until the mid-nineties. The Berlin Chancellery, the Sony Building in New York and the “Piazza d´Italia” in New Orleans are famous examples.24

Piazza d´Italia, New Orleans

Since the mid-eighties, Deconstructivism claims to have replaced Postmodernism. Its roots are, among others, in the Constructivist and Futurist movements of Russian art in the early 20th century. Deconstructivism promoted complex spatial collages with overlapping zones and variegated characteristics. It favored variation over repetition, interpenetration instead of separation and isolation.25 Adequate ideals for the increased complexity of post-Fordist society.

Fig. 7 The world (89 degree), Zaha Hadid, 1983

Fig. 9 Walt Disney Concert Hall, Frank Gehry, 2003

19 Cf.: Amin, A.: Post-Fordism. A Reader. Blackwell, Oxford/Cambridge 1994.
20 Cf.: Hall, S : Brave new world. In: Marxism today, Oktober 1988. Page 24.
21 Cf.: Jencks, C.: Die Sprache der postmodernen Architektur – Entstehung und Entwicklung einer alternativen Tradition. Stuttgart 1988.
22 Cf.: Schumacher, P., Rogner, C.: After Ford. In: Daskalakis, G., Waldheim, C., Young, J. (Hg.): Stalking Detroit. Barcelona 2001.
23 Venturi, R.: Lernen von Las Vegas. Zur Ikonographie und Architektursymbolik der Geschäftsstadt. Gütersloh 2003.
24 Cf.: Heindl, G.: Arbeit Zeit Raum. Bilder und Bauten der Arbeit im Postfordismus. Wien 2008.
25 Cf.: Johnson, P., Wigley, M.: Dekonstruktivistische Architektur. Stuttgart 1988.