A Critical History of Contemporary Architecture
eBook - ePub

A Critical History of Contemporary Architecture


Elie G. Haddad, David Rifkind

  1. 536 páginas
  2. English
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eBook - ePub

A Critical History of Contemporary Architecture


Elie G. Haddad, David Rifkind

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1960, following as it did the last CIAM meeting, signalled a turning point for the Modern Movement. From then on, architecture was influenced by seminal texts by Aldo Rossi and Robert Venturi, and gave rise to the first revisionary movement following Modernism. Bringing together leading experts in the field, this book provides a comprehensive, critical overview of the developments in architecture from 1960 to 2010. It consists of two parts: the first section providing a presentation of major movements in architecture after 1960, and the second, a geographic survey that covers a wide range of territories around the world. This book not only reflects the different perspectives of its various authors, but also charts a middle course between the 'aesthetic' histories that examine architecture solely in terms of its formal aspects, and the more 'ideological' histories that subject it to a critique that often skirts the discussion of its formal aspects.

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Major Developments after Modernism

Modern (or Contemporary) Architecture circa 1959

Peter L. Laurence
When did “modern” architecture become “contemporary” architecture? Although 1968 is often singled out as a turning point in the history of the twentieth century, as Jean-Louis Cohen did in The Future of Architecture, Since 1889, other historians push the transformation of twentieth-century modernity to an earlier moment.1 1959, for example, has been called “the year everything changed,” a claim historian Fred Kaplan has supported with a long list of that year’s many extraordinary events, which included the launching of the Soviet spacecraft, the approval of the birth control pill, the start of racial desegregation in the United States, and the sale of the first business computer by IBM. It was the year, Kaplan argued, when “the shockwaves of the new ripped the seams of daily life, when humanity stepped into the cosmos and commandeered the conception of human life, when the world shrank but the knowledge needed to thrive in it expanded exponentially, when outsiders became insiders, when categories were crossed and taboos were trampled, when everything was changing and everyone knew it—when the world as we now know it began to take form.”2 Although one must take exception with Kaplan’s hook, that 1959 was the year that everything changed, his description of the historical moment is an example of recent histories that recognize the 1950s, and not just the 1960s, as a time of momentous change.
Architecture culture of the 1950s has also become better appreciated with greater distance from the 1960s and the “postmodern” period that followed it. While Charles Jencks famously dated “the death of modern architecture” to the demolition of the Pruitt-Igoe housing project on July 15, 1972, historians have since then explored the complexities and contradictions within architecture culture of the decades preceding Jencks’s declaration. These accounts emphasize the “critiques and counter-critiques,” “extension and critique,” and “continuity and change” in the 40 years between the founding of the Congrès Internationaux d’Architecture Moderne (CIAM) in 1928 and 1968.3 The very title of William Curtis’s Modern Architecture Since 1900 emphasized the continuity of modern architecture into the present. As Curtis noted in the preface to the third edition of his book:
1.1 “The Death of CIAM” at the last CIAM meeting, Otterlo, Holland, 1959. Peter Smithson, Alison Smithson, John Voelcker, Jacob Bakema, Sandy van Ginkel; Aldo van Eyck and Blanche Lemco, below
When the first edition of Modern Architecture Since 1900 was published, it was common to hear that “modern architecture is dead”…Despite the rhetoric about the “end of an era”, postmodernism proved to be ephemeral. In reality there was yet another reorientation in which certain core ideas of modern architecture were re-examined but in a new way.4
Recent research has continued this reexamination of modern architecture before and after World War II, uncovering the heterodoxies of the modern movement and challenging the exaggerations of its early proponents, contemporaneous critics, and subsequent interpreters. For example, Jencks may have been right that a phase of modern architecture expired finally and completely in 1972, after having been “flogged to death remorselessly for ten years by critics such as Jane Jacobs,” but, like most others, Jacobs was unaware of the consequences of modernist urbanism and supportive of urban renewal in the early 1950s.5 Moreover, by the time Jacobs’s Death and Life of Great American Cities (1961) was published, her critiques of modern architecture and its figurehead Le Corbusier were somewhat anachronistic. By 1956, CIAM had all but collapsed—in part because Le Corbusier and others of the “Generation of 1928” felt that the organization had had its day, in part because of dissention about CIAM’s principles of modern urbanism, and in no small part because modern architecture by this time was better characterized by heterodoxy than orthodoxy—despite the totalizing claims of 1960s critics to the contrary.6
In retrospect, we can see that the cultural lag between modern architecture’s avant-garde experimentation in the 1930s and the popular acceptance of modern architecture in the following decades was followed by a subsequent lag between internal critiques of modern architecture in the late 1940s and 1950s and a corresponding popular rejection of it in the 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s. As observed in the following pages, modern architecture was already in crisis in 1950, and by 1959 a new generation of modern architects had already come to reject “modern” architecture in favor of “contemporary” architecture, a term used to distinguish their work from CIAM modernism and favored in the later decades of the century.
1.2 The demolition of the Pruitt-Igoe housing project in St. Louis was not “the death of modern architecture,” as some claimed, but a testament to the accuracy of urban design critiques made decades earlier
So to better understand the forces and ideas that transformed the “modern” architecture of the first half of the twentieth century into the “contemporary” architecture of the second half, we must consider the 1950s and reasons for the decade’s architectural crisis. Moreover, with increasing distance from postmodernism’s historical and populist tendencies—which were lines of inquiry that thoughtful architects of the 1950s rightly believed would come to a dead end— there are new points of connection to earlier decades. An examination of changes in the thinking of both the “Generation of 1928” and the “Generation of 1956” in the post-war period suggests that modern architecture had the capacity to transcend the dogmatism of its early years through a diversity of perspectives and approaches. Moreover, some of these so-called “contemporary” post-war tendencies, such as regionalism and the high-tech, remain current today, representing a continuity of design thinking that suggests a larger history, and future, for modern architecture.


The transition from “modern” to “contemporary” architecture was a generational shift. In planning for CIAM 10, the organization’s tenth international meeting, which was held in Dubrovnik in August 1956, CIAM’s leadership decided that it was time to turn over the organization’s fate to what they called the “Generation of 1956.” At a moment of “crisis or evolution,” as Le Corbusier described it, only this younger generation was “capable of feeling actual problems, personally, profoundly, the goals to follow, the means to reach them, and the pathetic urgency of the present situation.”7 With his keen historical consciousness, Le Corbusier understood that there were significant differences in the experiences of the Generation of ’28, most of whom were born in the 1880s and came of age in the 1920s and ’30s, and the new Generation of ’56, most of whom were born in the 1910s and ’20s.
As children of the Machine Age, the younger generation—among them Jacob Bakema, Aldo van Eyck, Alison and Peter Smithson, and John Voelcker—were too young to have witnessed some of the urban squalor characteristic of the exploding cities at the turn of the century, or to have experienced modernity as “one of the great metamorphoses of history,” as Le Corbusier’s generation had.8 Indeed, as early as CIAM 6 in 1947, a meeting intended to be a post-war “reaffirmation of the aims of CIAM,” Bakema and van Eyck had criticized many of modern architecture’s fundamental principles, particularly those related to city planning. Rather than support the reaffirmation document, van Eyck rejected much of CIAM’s La Sarraz Declaration (1928) and Athens Charter (1933), seeing them as symptomatic of a “mechanistic conception of progress” that was incompatible with his belief that a new civilization would emerge in the post-war period.9
In 1950, the editors of The Architectural Review summarized this post-war disillusion with the idea of progress as follows:
Perhaps the most extraordinary thing about 1950 is that it is no longer possible to treat as silly (as it was in the nineteenth and even the early twentieth century) the people who take a poor view of the future of man. The most sinister thing about the atom bomb is not so much that it may go off as that whether it goes off or not, its effects tend to be the same. Western civilization rests on its oars, awaits the issue. Result, a very appreciable slowing down of what used to be called Progress or the March of Events.10
While Le Corbusier’s generation was by no means blind to these concerns about the future, the younger generation was less invested in CIAM’s work of the preceding decades. Thus, in the early 1950s, van Eyck and Bakema were joined by John Voelcker and the Smithsons in attacking CIAM’s long-standing functionalist city planning principles with the kind of iconoclastic statements usually attributed to the critics of the 1960s. At CIAM 9 in 1953, Voelcker and the Smithsons presented a project on “Urban Reidentification” which observed that the short, narrow street of the slum often succeeded where spacious redevelopment failed, a sociologically oriented observation typically associated with 1960s urban theory.11 Soon thereafter, the group presented the “Doorn Manifesto” (1954), which intended to replace the narrow functionalism of the Athens Charter with an emergent understanding of the “ecological” complexity of the city.12 Undermining two decades of work by the Generation of ’28 to promote modern architecture and city planning ideals, these architects of the new generation rejected CIAM’s Functionalist City concept, with its “Four Functions” of dwelling, working, recreation, and circulation. In 1955, the Smithsons summarized the change in thinking by sharply stating: “we wonder how anyone could possibly believe that in this lay the secret of town building.”13
In the context of such an attack, it is hardly surprising that the Generation of ’56 was determined to bring CIAM to an end, and following a final meeting in Otterlo in 1959, the organization was declared dead.
Terminating the organization, however, was only part of a larger critique of modern architecture. By 1959, even the term “modern architecture” had become suspect among this generation of architects for having become negatively associated with post-war urban renewal projects. As Jacob Bakema explained:
In our Dutch circumstances we no longer like the word l’Architecture Moderne. But why? Why don’t we like it? Because we think that after the war, towns have been built, streets have been built, in a way that makes them look like what people associate with l’Architecture Moderne: we have mass repetition of blocks, [and] houses are placed in these blocks in military fashion…14
However, rejecting the term “modern architecture” necessitated the invention of a new terminology, and a new conception of architecture.
Expanding on his critique of the “mechanistic conception of progress,” van Eyck made a case for moving beyond the positivism of the 1920s and ’30s, arguing that architects and city planners must get out of their deterministic or “Euclidian groove.” He observed that compared with science, positivistic modern architecture and urbanism had been failures. Architects, he believed, had been out of touch with reality and h...


  1. Cover Page
  2. Half Title
  3. Title Page
  4. Copyright Page
  5. Table of Contents
  6. List of Illustrations
  7. Introduction: Modernism and Beyond: The Plurality of Contemporary Architectures
  10. Index