European History & Theory of Architecture

DIA 3rd Semester

Winter 2021/22

 

Post-Modernism revisited

In July 15th, 1972 at 3.32 p.m. Modern Architecture died in St. Louis, Missouri (USA). This was Charles Jencks’ well known polemic statement in his book The Language of Post-Modern Architecture first published in 1977. If we are to follow Jencks’ logic, we can assume that Post-Modern Architecture died 41 years later in the winter days of February 13th, 2013 in Berlin, Germany, Lützowplatz, Nr. 2–18.

What had happened? In St. Louis the large-scale Pruitt-Igoe housing estate, built in 1952–55 and designed by architect Minoru Yamasaki, (The architect of the New York Twin Towers, destroyed by terrorist attack of Sept. 11th, 2001) became a symbol of the fallacies of modern architecture and urbanism. Originally built as a slum clearance project for a community at the northern outskirts of St. Louis, Pruitt-Igoe soon became a symbol of social and racial disintegration and decay in the 1970ties as a result of modern architects believe in the progressive ideals of modernism. When the first blocks were blown up Jencks demanded a preservation of the ruins. In Jencks’ words, “… so that we can keep a live memory of this failure in planning and architecture.”

 

In Berlin the End of Post-Modernism was less spectacular. An apartment block designed by Oswald Matthias Ungers for the International Building Exhibition in Berlin, 1987 was destroyed to give way for a mediocre row of hotel and office blocks promising more market capitalization than the 30 years old houses for lower income residents. In 2013 Post-Modernism at least in Berlin turned into a historic period and passed away silently. The double coding of post-modern pop culture produced a wave of “historic” mimicry and neoliberal laissez-faire architecture thereafter but Post-Modernism itself is gone.

 

Both events obviously mark arbitrary choices for historic data and periods of predominant theories but we are going to investigate closer the various “-isms” debated in the second half of the last century from “Modernism” to “Postmodernism”. To look back into the history 20th century architecture theories helps to understand the contemporary situation more clearly. Firstly, as we need to know what happened in the past and what went wrong in architecture to (eventually) learn from it. Furthermore we need to be critically aware of the fallacies not only of architectural practice but of architectural theory itself. This is why critical reading and writing is an essential part of the learning experience in this class.