Postmodern architecture

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As postmodern architecture is a tendency in today usually architecture called, starting from the ideas of postmodernism emerged in the 1960s in the US and mainly acquired in the 1980s in Western countries of great importance.

The term postmodern

The term postmodern is defined in different scientific contexts and depending on the respective positions. The concept of postmodernism itself goes back to a discourse that was held among philosophers in France. There he was shaped by Jean-François Lyotard (“The postmodern knowledge”, “Postmoderne for children”; Passagen, Vienna). Charles Jencks took up the term circulating in the humanities and literary studies and applied it to architecture in the mid-1970s.

The use of the term postmodernism in the architecture discussion, however, often deviates from definitions of the term in the humanities and social sciences. There, postmodernism is associated with the emergence of a post-industrial society , with the becoming unbelievable of the great utopias of modernity (e.g. socialism or rationality) or other phenomena of fundamental social change.

In the field of architecture and urban development, postmodernism tends to be understood as the rejection of a doctrinal claim to binding force and as a pluralistic attitude towards methods and concepts in the sense of “ anything goes ”.

In this sense, the term was understood by many representatives of architectural postmodernism during the 1980s, and in some cases even today. Postmodern architecture was understood as part of the great postmodern project and thus as a completely new phenomenon compared to the currents of architectural modernism . Since there are already very different views on how the term modernity should be defined in the underlying postmodern discussion in the humanities and social sciences, a clear distinction is not that easy. Critical regionalism can be seen as a contemporary movement towards postmodernism .

The new concepts, principles and ideals, interpreted by many representatives of architectural postmodernism as a fundamental paradigm shift , are now partially questioned, as well as whether it was actually a paradigm shift.

Today, according to widespread interpretation, architectural postmodernism is already considered part of architectural history and is therefore only understood as a kind of architectural style : one of many movements in art and architecture of the 20th century.

Principles and characteristics

Postmodernism is an architecture of memory. She does not see tradition as something that has to be overcome (as it happened in modern times ), but sees it as a collection of possibilities that it makes use of. The return to historical models and roots thus became the guiding thought. Style elements from the past are cited without these necessarily having to fulfill a functional purpose. This creates references to individual motifs from past eras, not to entire styles. This means that postmodernism is eclectic in its essence , "direct Renaissanceism ", which imitates models without hesitation, was rejected, and even more so the romanticizing - and also political - historicism of the later 19th century. The postmodern buildings should always be a mixture between the processed, interpreted, adapted, alienating or ironic use of historical elements and the individual creations of the architect with their own formal language and rationalism. In doing so, the building became a play on quotes from the architectural epochs and thus defied its mere functionality - or took over traditional functionality that was adapted to contemporary needs.

This leads to another tenet of postmodern architecture. Postmodernism rejects mere functionalism . The building concept as well as the facade become the meaning of the building and cause postmodern buildings to tell stories. This is achieved through the use of jewelry, ornaments , symbols or signs. The concrete used is hardly visible (thus also a demarcation from brutalism ), as it can be decorated with a wide variety of materials. In addition to the often provocatively bright colors, glass is also popular.

Furthermore, the created architecture should fit in with what is already there and complement it. Postmodernism thus sets itself apart from the sculpture idea of Expressionism , which sees a building as a completely independent sculptural work, and already anticipates the direction of the ensemble idea. Postmodern architecture should not follow a uniform style, but rather represent an architecture for the specific location. The application of these principles results in a distinctive, surprising and at the same time imaginative architecture that does not fit into any drawer. In principle, form follows function (the guiding principle of modernist design ) does not apply , but form follows fiction .

However, Fredric Jameson denies that postmodern architecture fits into its environment , who points out that the utopian, oversized postmodern building sculptures that have become fetishes fall out of their urban environment.

The later postmodernism then gains a further component, namely internationalism . Just as casually as you can help yourself in your own story, you can also help yourself worldwide. Postmodernism is thus the stylistic expression of the incipient globalization (where it shows parallels to world music and is related to Art Nouveau , for example ). At the same time, more mature postmodernism is increasingly dismantling regionalism by adding (and also opposing) the “foreign” to the local, grown mixture of formal languages ​​- still committed to the ironic.

Postmodern architecture declared the " decorated shed " to be the goal. However, the column played an important role in the “rediscovery of styles” . Postmodernism mainly relied on the application of ancient, classical architectural language. Regional style variations played less of a role. It is therefore not without reason that the allegation of poor intellectual underpinning of postmodernism has arisen. The arbitrariness and the increasing playfulness have counteracted the factually correct claim of reforming modernity. After the rediscovery of styles triggered by postmodernism, however, a convincing application has mostly failed to materialize. Depending on the urban-monumental character of the building, the stylistic features used would have had to be coordinated with the traditional regional and monumental construction methods. A renaissance of postmodernism is therefore only conceivable in the form of a critical regionalism that does not question itself through scenic gimmicks.

Outstanding architects and buildings

The Sony Building , formerly the AT&T Building by Philip Johnson (1978-84)

Paolo Portoghesis and Vittorio Gigliotti's Casa Baldi in Rome from 1959 is considered an early example of postmodern architecture.
The AT&T Building in New York City (1978–84), a skyscraper completed by Philip Johnson and his partner John Burgee with a blown gable like a Chippendale clock , became an emblematic symbol of postmodern architecture .

Strongly historicizing approaches can be found, for example, with the brothers Rob and Leon Krier , who come from Luxembourg . For example, Rob Krier became very well known for his development on Ritterstrasse in Berlin-Kreuzberg at the time of the International Building Exhibition 1984 (IBA). Michael Graves became known for his Portland Building in Portland and built for the Disney group for a long time . Historicizing postmodernism is having its bizarre blossoms in Great Britain with the architect Terry Farrell . A formally and intellectually much stricter approach can be found with the German architect Oswald Mathias Ungers and the Italian architect Aldo Rossi . Here also many urban (ie urban) thought to play a role, these considerations have come from times when modernists their own guild sought to reform, for example, when Team X .

Since then, the architecture discussion can be reduced to the polarity between recourse to cultural identities of the past ('gable modernism') and anticipation of possible forms ('style pluralism'). The style pluralism ( deconstructivism , 'blobs' etc.) as a counterweight to the binding canon of architectural history radically relies on the new, experimental and those options that are opened up to architecture by new scientific knowledge. Other architects are Alexander Freiherr von Branca and Charles Willard Moore .

Postmodernism in the Federal Republic of Germany

Heinz Bienefeld's Haus Nagel was built in Wesseling in the Cologne-Bonn area as early as 1969 , which is retrospectively assigned to postmodernism. In 1976 the Metropolitan Church of Agia Trias was built in Bonn . Postmodernism did not gain acceptance in Germany until the early 1980s and also largely replaced approaches from critical regionalism . The 1984 International Building Exhibition in West Berlin was postmodern and was communicated as careful urban renewal .

Significant postmodern buildings in Germany are the Abteiberg Municipal Museum in Mönchengladbach by Hans Hollein , the New State Gallery in Stuttgart by James Stirling , which opened in 1984 , the Messeturm in Frankfurt am Main by Helmut Jahn and the development of the Saalgasse also in Frankfurt. Other outstanding postmodern buildings in Germany are the Art and Exhibition Hall of the Federal Republic of Germany in Bonn, the Museum of Modern Art in Frankfurt and the extension of the Germanic National Museum with the Street of Human Rights in Nuremberg .


Criticism of Modernity

Jane Jacobs criticized in her 1961 analysis "The Death and Life of Great American Cities" the development of the American cities towards soulless structures without tangible density and human quality. At about the same time, Robert Venturi also dealt with the American city, which was shaped by modern architecture, in “Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture” (1966). In this famous work, his criticism focuses primarily on the lack of iconology and the speechlessness of modern architecture , which he understood as the reason for the lack of human dimensions in such architecture and the large American cities that they have shaped. Great importance is attached to irony in architecture at Venturi, which exemplifies the narrative component of architecture that he called for.

The importance of theory for practice can be seen in the demolition of some fourteen-story apartment buildings built from panel modules in St. Louis in 1972 ( Pruitt-Igoe ). They had been built just twenty years earlier by the architect Minoru Yamasaki and at the time they had found a very positive reception among architects of the 1950s. Similar construction projects were started in many places in Western Europe and the USA in the 1950s, perhaps the most famous of these modern experiments being Le Corbusier's unité d'habitation in Marseille . The Eastern Bloc followed this direction in the late 1960s with the highly pronounced prefabricated construction , especially in East Germany, which was still marked by the war .

Theoretical foundations

If the great turning point in the architectural history of the twentieth century - away from the ideology of modernity (“form follows function”), towards the narrative diversity propagated by Venturi - is equated with the demolition of the houses in St. Louis, this is going on American architectural theorist Charles Jencks returns. In his book The Language of Postmodern Architecture, Jencks used the image of the destruction of the settlement , which has since gone around the world, to symbolically mark the end of classical modernism.

It was Venturi , in turn, who thought further and, together with Denise Scott Brown and Steven Izenour, in Learning from Las Vegas (1972) pointed to the playfulness of Las Vegas architecture as a possible way out. This conception of Venturi should also be reflected in his building practice. The Tucker House, Katonah / NY, built with his partner John Rauch in 1976, takes up historical references as does his Brant-Johnson House in Vail, Colorado .

The “decorated shed” is a theme by Venturi / Scott-Brown, which points out that - as in Las Vegas - a building that is actually a mundane box can be given any appearance by any facade. The French philosopher Jean Baudrillard provides the theoretical background to the phenomenon of the simulated and the simulacrum by explaining that the appearance - here the facade - is increasingly not only becoming detached, but becoming completely independent. The decoration is arbitrary - it can also try to simulate security using historical motifs or even create it in human perception. This variety of architectural postmodernism is not developed by great architects, but discovered and reused by them in everyday architecture.

Paolo Portoghesi is one of the most important theoretical pioneers of postmodern architecture. At the Venice Biennale in 1980 he organized an exhibition on postmodern architecture entitled: The Present of the Past . This exhibition, which was shown in Paris and San Francisco after its dismantling , managed to present a synthesis of the various currents of postmodern architecture that existed at the time. With more than 2,000 visitors every day, the exhibition was a success. Although the technical discussion was controversial, the exhibition sparked a wealth of publications on the subject. It is considered a key event in a comprehensive theoretical preparation of postmodern architecture.

In The Language of Postmodern Architecture , Charles Jencks also summarized for the first time all those different approaches that showed ways out of the crisis of a modern language functionalized by property developers. Jencks , who lives in London, made a decisive contribution to the popularization of a “new” architecture when his book was translated into many languages ​​(also in German: The Language of Postmodern Architecture , DVA) and achieved a large circulation.

In contrast to the public perception of postmodern architecture - with the motifs of classical architecture (rows of columns, architraves and cornices) - since the second half of the 1970s, Lyotard has always emphasized that postmodernism must be about “re-establishing some of the characteristics of modernity. dig ”.

Crucial to this reformation of architecture was the Biennale of Venice in 1980, where a group of American and Western European architectural designs for an exhibition entitled The Presence of the Past anfertigten.

Socialist Postmodernism (1980–1990)

In the socialist states of the Warsaw Pact, the development of postmodern architecture, favored by a political turnaround in cultural and urban planning, did not begin until the early 1980s. Especially in the city centers of the GDR and Poland, which had been stripped of their old structures - and basic functions as city centers - through war destruction and a monolithic, brutal reconstruction in both a classicist and modernist manner, thought was given to the need for a final consolidation of the old town centers in Meaning of Central European traditions. Due to the generally difficult economic situation and the unavailability of many western building materials, architects' collectives mainly worked out concepts based on the prefabricated construction method. Far more than the ironic postmodernism of the West, which was dependent on the individual taste of the architect, the “critical-traditionalist building” of socialism was linked to cultural-political themes and plans and can be viewed as a belated, critical continuation of the national building traditions of the 1950s. In contrast to this politically and ideologically overloaded (battle) architecture, the new premises of urban planning now shaped the new premises of urban planning, relatively small-scale, almost Biedermeier apoliticality and a true-to-scale orientation of the new buildings to traditional city plans .

Plattenbau on Gendarmenmarkt in Berlin
Hanseatic prefabricated building in Rostock's harbor district

Restoration of the old, regional cityscapes in a new, elaborate framework, for example the five-gabled house in Rostock or the buildings on Gendarmenmarkt (square of the academy) in Berlin, went hand in hand with a fairly uniform redesign and redesign of secondary quarters through serially manufactured prefabricated buildings, the differed from their predecessors from the 1960s and 1970s only in their angled floor plans, a few new panel elements in the entrance and stairway area and a standardized monopitch or mansard roof. Examples of this, by far the most common form of socialist urban redevelopment, were Bruno's waiting room in Halle , the north of Erfurt city ​​center, the port district in Rostock, the Wendish quarter in Cottbus and the redesign of the city center of Gera in the area around Greizer Strasse. Prior to this, however, the existing city quarters, often in a ruinous condition, were largely demolished and the developed cityscapes were further standardized. Especially in the smaller towns of the GDR and the VR Poland (often war-destroyed cores in the regained areas , e.g. Glogau, Liegnitz, Cammin, Elbing or Brieg) there was no official alternative to area redevelopment, as state grants and funds for individual redevelopment were very limited or not available at all. The few funds were mostly used for the renovation of intact city centers, e.g. B. Quedlinburg, Greifswald or Freiberg in the GDR ; Gdansk, Breslau and Hirschberg in the VR Poland , Budweis, Krumau, Brno in the CSSR . However, expressive designs with a postmodern look have not been uncommon for both corporate and residential buildings in the PR Hungary and the CSSR since the 1970s. This postmodern era quoted Western models and playful ironies more openly than the more serious GDR architecture.

Apart from the city centers, postmodernism was used primarily in the GDR as a gap filler and placeholder in urban spaces from the Wilhelminian era; Here, due to the similar floor plan structures, the similar roof design (monopitch or mansard roofs) and blockiness, more expedient than in formerly winding old towns like Erfurt or a strict sixties modernism, as in Dresden (Neumarkt). In any case, the new buildings represented an improvement in the quality of living in view of the devastating conditions of old building quarters and the inadequate quality of the industrial residential buildings of previous decades and were popular with the population.

Friedrichstadt-Palast, opened in 1984

In contrast to the 1950s, beyond the re-research and interpretation of the built cultural heritage, a differentiated examination of the bourgeois culture of the West took place for the first time, to which one referred more or less consciously in architectural language and cultural-historical reasons. In addition to conventional historicism, there was also a search for a repositioning towards Art Nouveau, which until then had also been ignored in state research and condemned as a decadent bourgeois reverie, and which has now become an object of investigation. The Friedrichstadt-Palast in Berlin, a mixture of Art Deco and Art Nouveau elements in an otherwise monolithic structure, is probably the most outstanding and most controversial work of this episode.

Inter Hotel Grand Hotel Berlin, 1987 in Friedrichstrasse opened

At the same time, the planning authorities began to look for open cooperation with Western agencies and companies and to reorient themselves towards Western models. This political turnaround was particularly evident in the construction of prestigious hotel and corporate buildings in Berlin and Dresden ( Interhotels ), for whose execution and assistance one commissioned “unsuspecting” western companies from Sweden, Denmark, France and Japan. Well-known objects were the hotel buildings on Neumarkt and the Bellevue in Dresden, as well as today's Hotel Hilton in East Berlin . In the immediate vicinity of the latter, a whole series of representative residential and commercial buildings were built on today's Gendarmenmarkt in Berlin, which were almost reconstructed based on historical models, but maintaining the panel construction. Less reconstructive and authentic, but all the more controversial and politically charged, the Nikolaiviertel in Berlin is seen today as representative of the GDR postmodernism, its strengths and weaknesses in general. To a certain extent, the Nikolaiviertel is based to a greater extent on the building philosophy of western postmodernism, which also rejected a complete reconstruction and accompanying traditionalisms, therefore abstracting rather than copying ornaments and building forms. The ideological contradiction between socialist aspirations and the turn to bourgeois building styles persisted here too, exacerbated by a kitsch debate at home and abroad as a result of an arbitrary relocation of reconstructed buildings ( Zum Nussbaum restaurant ) with unrelated quotations and alienation of traditional styles.

Both quarters were viewed critically from a different point of view, regardless of stylistic and ideological discussions. Precisely because of their complexity and quality, which differed considerably from the new buildings in the province, they were for the rest of the GDR population an example of the increasing aloofness of the GDR leadership, which led to expensive representation and contradicting ingratiation to Western foreign exchange providers fled, while the normal population was still deprived of the convenience of opening up to the west. For example, the hotel buildings like the Bellevue in Dresden were only designated as foreign exchange hotels and not intended for Ostmark owners.

Towards the end of the GDR, however, the designs and new buildings became increasingly western, i.e. the proportion of glass facades, flat and terrace roofs and expensive building materials - in contrast to the ongoing economic misery - higher, and the panel construction method was increasingly questioned due to its limited form repairs. Before the fall of the Berlin Wall, the future forms of steel and glass-dominated investor modernism, which would soon shape the centers of the post-reunification era in East German cities, were already evident in new plans and building exhibitions from the time of the fall of the Wall.

Contemporary postmodernism

Museum of Japanese Art and Technology Manggha ( Krakow in Poland), Arata Isozaki and Krzysztof Ingarden (1994)
Groninger Museum, Netherlands, by Alessandro Mendini a . a. (1994)

In the early 1990s, postmodern architecture in Germany experienced a temporary high point. With the urban redevelopment in the new federal states, the federal capital Berlin as well as the entire former council for mutual economic aid, vacant lots as well as entire city quarters were redeveloped according to postmodern principles and in many cases completely redesigned. Often it was less the intention of the architects than the need of the building owners for messages that could be conveyed quickly, freshness and “anti-socialist” formal language; the abstractness of the individual forms enabled inexpensive, fast, but also technically less sophisticated solutions than in the 1980s by the Western European "founding fathers". Complete new planning such as For example, the Potsdam district of Kirchsteigfeld remained the exception in Germany, but architects such as Hans Kollhoff and Günther Patzschke were able to set new accents at important locations in Berlin-Mitte, Chemnitz and Dresden with a serious, academic-classical design language. However, only a small number of buildings designed in the spirit of postmodernism could have had such influence. By the mid-1990s at the latest, postmodernism in Germany and Western Europe had been on the decline, accompanied by a wave of criticism and distancing from architects, cultural representatives and the press.

Around the year 2000, postmodernism was generally regarded as a closed chapter, replaced by the new minimalism , which attached more importance to detail and the technical design skills of the architect than to the formal facade design. It remains to be seen whether remnants of deconstructivism and blob and integrative media architecture that have entered the “high-tech architecture” will actually find their ideological forerunners in postmodernism or whether it will survive split up. With the increasing differentiation of the “design milieus” and the lack of counterbalance to purely commercial requirements, categories such as “style” and “era” also lose importance. The term potpourri style , borrowed from the music world, best describes the current building, which is composed of popular, regional, national, but also proven, reliable or decorative elements in a variety of ways, especially since the colorful juxtaposition of all possible elements corresponds most closely to the zeitgeist of the event and entertainment mentality.

In the USA, people long for “Small Town America” of the early 20th century. The Disney group has created - along with many other developers - the most famous settlement of the so-called New Urbanism : Celebration (Florida) , a settlement that simulates small-town life, elegantly separated from the environment not by a fence, but by bodies of water and with historic buildings in the style of the 18th and 19th century (“Colonial Revial”, “Federal Style”). However, even during the 1960s and 1970s, this type of (suburban) urban planning never disappeared from the focus of American developers and architects. New plans in the English country house style such as Poundbury / Dorset, UK appear like islands in a completely different, post-war modern environment.

In Germany, past buildings are being rebuilt: for example, the palace is to be rebuilt in Berlin - or modern buildings with historicizing facades. This is not without controversy; In particular, there was fierce controversy about the faithful recreation of the facade of the Berlin City Palace.

It should be noted, however, that reconstructions of war-torn buildings were carried out in all building eras from 1945 onwards, particularly at sites of cultural and historical importance; Nevertheless, there is a (loose) temporal connection between postmodern architecture and the more widespread traditional architecture, such as the half-timbered reconstructions in Hildesheim and Frankfurt / Main in the 1980s.

The large "trapezoidal sheet metal boxes" are often decorated in commercial areas close to the city or on the motorways . Especially when consumer experiences are desired, such as B. at CentrO , a large shopping center in Oberhausen or in factory outlet centers such as Wertheim or Ingolstadt , a complete fantasy city can be simulated.

Hungarian National Theater Budapest in the IX. District after 2002

In the Netherlands , long the European “laboratory” for modern architecture, a turning point has apparently also been reached; new housing projects are z. B. built in the form of a moated castle.

The boom cities of Asia also like to use the unlimited repertoire of design for their major projects : historicizing Asian elements are combined with western elements as well as classic modernism with new high-tech facades.

The situation is similar in the Eastern European countries as well as in the CIS . In Poland, Ukraine and others, postmodernism has not been interrupted in its development since 1990, unaffected by cultural-political debates. With the incorporation of set pieces of local architectural history in completely free "city narratives" (mostly on building sites destroyed by the war), the results range from copies of the post-war building market style with deconstructive sprinkles to high-quality adaptations and paraphrases of former or still existing historical city centers. This is still “postmodern” insofar as the structural collection of quotations there is still not subject to any cultural-political rules anchored in a bundle of ideas (such as socialist realism) and its nature - like all postmodern trends - is fluctuating.


  • Ingeborg Flagge, Romana Schneider: Revision of Postmodernism / Post-Modernism Revisited. Junius, Hamburg 2004, ISBN 3-88506-546-0 (Text in German and English, published on the occasion of the exhibition "The Revision of Postmodernism. In Memoriam Heinrich Klotz" from October 30, 2004 to February 6, 2005 in the German Architecture Museum DAM / Department for culture and leisure, City of Frankfurt am Main).
  • Charles Jencks : The Language of Post-Modern Architecture - Origin and Development of an Alternative Tradition (original title: The Language of Post-Modern Architecture , translated by Nora von Mühlendahl-Krehl). DVA, Stuttgart 1988, ISBN 3-421-02940-7 .
  • Heinrich Klotz : Modern and Postmodern, Contemporary Architecture 1960–1980 , Vieweg, Braunschweig / Wiesbaden 1987, ISBN 3-528-28711-X .

Web links

Commons : Postmodern Architecture  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Fredric Jameson: Postmodern and Consumer Society. In: Dorothee Kimmich, Rolf G. Renner, Bernd Stiegler (eds.): Texts on contemporary literary theory. New edition Stuttgart 2008, pp. 128–145, here: pp. 128 f.
  2. Zeitschrift Architektur der DDR , Ed. 1981–1990, Verlag für Bauwesen, Berlin (GDR)
    Stadtsanierung , Verlag für Bauwesen, Berlin (GDR) 1989
  3. ^ Criticism from architects in: Spiegel Online - Kultur
    As at the end of 2008 in: Spiegel Online - Kultur