- Project plans
- Project activities
- Legislation and standards
- Industry context
Last edited 27 Nov 2018
Modernist architecture had faced increasing criticism for its rigid doctrines, uniformity and perceived lack of local and cultural context. There were also those who derided the modernism of Le Corbusier and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe for being too bleak, formal and austere.
The failure of building methods and materials, such as the collapse of Ronan Point in 1968, and the gradual deterioration of once-‘utopian’ housing estates, also contributed to the backlash against modernism.
In 1966, the architect and theorist Robert Venturi published ‘Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture’ the catalyst for the postmodern movement. Venturi argued that the ancient cities of Rome spoke in historical layers and vivid juxtapositions rather than one homogenous voice. He also claimed that buildings, as well as being designed objects, were feats of placemaking and should seek to accommodate local conditions of neighbourhood and public behaviour; as individual and rich as the building occupants themselves.
In practice, postmodern architecture moved away from the rigid formalities of modernism and began to incorporate stylistic references that were often playful and symbolic, using techniques such as shape, colour and trompe l’oeil; applying elements and structural forms from classical architecture to modern designs.
Postmodern architecture tends to be characterised by its highly decorative, whimsical and kitsch aesethetic; above all refusing to draw inspiration solely from a single source, and often focussing on form over function. It also has a metaphoric nature. This refers to structural designs that are based on forms which are non-architectural. A well-known example is the Lotus temple of New Delhi which is based on the shape of a lotus flower; and the Sydney Opera House which is inspired by the sails of ships.
However, it has also faced its fair share of criticism, with many deriding it as ugly, superficial, derivative, and, in the words of Fredric Jameson, ‘the cultural logic of late capitalism’. Indeed, the huge urban expansion of Dubai has led to it being referred to as the ‘global capital of postmodernism’.
Postmodernism flourished during the 1980s and 1990s, sub-dividing into other styles such as high-tech, deconstructivism, and neo-classicism. Leading architects of the movement included; Philip Johnson, Charles Moore, Frank Gehry, Michael Graves, Terry Farrell and James Stirling.
Notable postmodern buildings include:
- SIS Building by Terry Farrell [see top image].
- Piazza d’Italia by Charles Moore.
- Portland Building by Michael Graves.
- Bank of America Center, Houston by Philip Johnson.
- Neue Staatsgalerie by James Stirling.
- No.1 Poultry by James Stirling.
 Related articles on Designing Buildings Wiki
Featured articles and news
Achieving sustainable roads funding in England.
Your chance to comment on the draft BS 851188 - flood resistance products and flood protection products.
Rebuilding could take 20 to 40 years.
RSHP’s high-rise residential towers win a tall buildings award for excellence.
BSRIA study reveals strong growth in 2018.
Dame Judith Hackitt confirmed as keynote speaker – one year on from the Hackitt Report.
Save £100 on tickets.
Modern slavery in the construction sector.
What to bear in mind when claiming damages in construction.
How do we achieve sustainable clean-water infrastructure for all?
What you should know when appointing an architect.
A brief history plus some new developments.
How computational fluid dynamics (CFD) helps building design.