A Very Brief History of Architecture 3. Contemporary Architecture

3. Postmodern Architecture. In the 70s architects were already starting to look beyond the principles of modernism; Kenneth Frampton published his book, ‘ Towards a Critical Regionalism ‘, in which he sought to provide a modern architecture tied to a place’s geographical and cultural context. Other architects like Mario Botta, Aldo Rossi, James Stirling, revisited the principles of pre-modern architecture and aimed to reinterpret them in order to find new means of expression. Others like Charles Jencks, Peter Eisenman, Frank Gehry, Juhani Pallasmaa, derived their architecture from theoretical fields like Complexity Science, Deconstructivism or Phenomenology. All these became identified with the so-called Postmodern Architecture. Their works still owed a great deal to the Modernist principles and aesthetics, while often displaying a specific flamboyance, whimsicality and self-irony. Modernism had disintegrated into multiple factions which only kept its structural and functional norms as their only unifying factor.

For lack of better inspiration many architects continued to produce bland, predictable functional buildings; in most cases financial and structural constraints tend to limit the architects’ vision and creativity. Many high end architects, sometimes referred to as ‘starchitects’, developed a signature visual style by designing complex, twisted forms (Frank Gehry, Zaha Hadid), either derived from a theoretical background or simply gratuitous, while a third category of architects continued to engage in theoretical fields, aiming not so much to create a visual style, as to root their design in a characteristic paradigm. Some focused on philosophical currents such as Deconstructivism, Phenomenology, Structuralism, others focused on Complexity Science, Sociology, Anthropology, participative design, while others focused on the emerging technologies – generative algorithms, fractals, parametric design software, non-Euclidean geometry.

At present we’re probably witnessing a new crisis within the profession; architects find it hard to keep pace with the rapid evolution of technology; older professionals who managed to become successful depend on tech savvy fresh graduates, who in turn lack practical experience and familiarity with building yards. More and more tangent fields are drawn into the picture, requiring further specialisations, forcing individual architectural masterminds to give way to entire teams of professionals.  Those students who are more attracted to the theoretical side of the profession will often find little use for their knowledge in a common architectural practice, and in many cases decide to pursue an academic path and abandon the design field.

The overcrowding and the intense urbanisation that happened in the last decades is contributing to the crisis within the profession; universities are producing an excess of professionals, while design opportunities become more rare. Young architects are thus forced to seek alternatives to design, focusing on rehabilitation, conversion of old buildings, conducting analyses of the urban environments in order to propose improvements, specialising in architectural visualisation, CGI etc.

The rapid evolution of CGI, 3D environments, video games and virtual reality allowed for the development of virtual worlds created exclusively for entertainment purposes. A series of SciFi genres emerged, each accompanied by its own architectural aesthetics. These might be seen as tools of progress, contributing to a glorious future, or, on the contrary, as useful tools for investigating the past in creative ways and bringing it to life. The ‘alternate history’ approach produced genres such as Steampunk, Cyberpunk, Gothicpunk, Post-apocalyptic dystopia. Most of these genres deliberately mix the culture of a past age with the present culture; some speculate on futuristic developments of our world, some are based on ancient myths, while others imagine completely parallel worlds. ‘Lord of the Rings’ and ‘Game of Thrones’ fans can not only watch their favourite series, but also immerse themselves in Tolkien’s world by becoming characters in Multiplayer online role-playing games like ‘The Elder Scrolls’.

Those passionate about architectural design now have the opportunity to contribute to the creation of virtual worlds by using 3D modeling and realistic visualisation tools. In the same time, virtual reality glasses are currently becoming more and more widespread, along with the development of augmented reality devices. It seems we’re witnessing a new liberation of architecture, a total detachment from functional, structural and financial constraints. The newly emerging virtual architectural environments are becoming pure materialisations of our fantasies, fever dreams that seek to explore all possible worlds, all possible alternatives and outcomes of our collective and individual existence.

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1 Response to A Very Brief History of Architecture 3. Contemporary Architecture

  1. dalivis says:

    I believe architecture is one of the most astonishing skills and attractions human beings possess. When most if not all of us visit different countries and places, usually the first thing on the list is to see or view architecture. The more different and unique the more interesting! I find it fascinating to embark on a voyage taking me through the evolution and progress of human architecture from its earliest times to present times. To look at the details among the cultural influences, beliefs, available technologies, and the knowledge present at a certain time in history and how they all played a role in the created architecture it’s something that gives me a profound awe.

    Liked by 1 person

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