Through their pioneering theory and provocative built work, husband and wife duo Robert Venturi (born June 25, 1925) and Denise Scott Brown (born October 3, 1931) were at the forefront of the postmodern movement, leading the charge in one of the most significant shifts in architecture of the 20th century by publishing seminal books such as Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture (authored by Robert Venturi alone) and Learning from Las Vegas (co-authored by Venturi, Scott Brown and Steven Izenour).
Standing on a rise overlooking the Spanish Mediterranean coast, there is an odd structure which could easily be mistaken for an vast pile of forgotten blocks. Kafka’s Castle, built in 1968, was one of the earlier projects completed by Ricardo Bofill, a Spanish Postmodern architect known for apartment buildings as monumental as they were thought-provoking. While his later work indulged in Postmodern historicism, the modular and mathematically-derived Kafka’s Castle was an unabashed break from any local or global tradition – as much the case now as it was in the 1960s.
British architect and Pritzker Laureate Sir James Stirling (22 April 1926 – 25 June 1992) grew up in Liverpool, one of the two industrial powerhouses of the British North West, and began his career subverting the compositional and theoretical ideas behind the Modern Movement. Citing a wide-range of influences—from Colin Rowe, a forefather of Contextualism, to Le Corbusier, and from architects of the Italian Renaissance to the Russian Constructivist movement—Stirling forged a unique set of architectural beliefs that manifest themselves in his works. Indeed his architecture, commonly described as "nonconformist," consistently caused annoyance in conventional circles.
In this essay by the British architect and academic Dr. Timothy Brittain-Catlin, the very notion of British postmodernism—today often referred to as intimately tied to the work of James Stirling and the the thinking of Charles Jencks—is held to the light. Its true origins, he argues, are more historically rooted.
I grew up in a beautiful late Victorian terrace with ornamental brickwork, shaped ‘Dutch’ gables and pretty arts and crafts stained glass windows – and so I didn’t think then, and I don’t think now, that I had much to learn from Las Vegas. It turns out that I wasn’t the only one. Of British architects who made their names as postmodernists in the 1980s, not a single one would say now that they owed much to Robert Venturi, the American architect widely considered to be a grandfather of movement.
The "architectural pilgrimage" is much more than just everyday tourism. Studying and admiring a building through text and images often creates a hunger in architects, thanks to the space between the limitations of 2D representation and the true experience of the building. Seeing a building in person that one has long loved from a distance can become something of a spiritual experience, and architects often plan vacations around favorite or important spaces. But too often, architects become transfixed by a need to visit the same dozen European cities that have come to make up the traveling architect's bucket list.
The list here shares some sites that may not have made your list just yet. Although somewhat less well known than the canonical cities, the architecture of these six cities is sure to hold its ground against the world's best. The locations here make ideal long weekend trips (depending of course on where you are traveling from), although it never hurts to have more than a few days to really become immersed in a city. We have selected a few must-see buildings from each location, but each has even more to offer than what you see here—so don't be afraid to explore!
In the 1960s James Stirling asked Ludwig Mies van der Rohe why he didn’t design utopian visions for new societies, like those of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Broadacre City or Corbusier’s Cité Radieuse. Mies replied that he wasn’t interested in fantasies, but only in “making the existing city beautiful.” When Stirling recounted the conversation several decades later it was to the audience of a public enquiry convened in London – he was desperately trying to save Mies’ only UK design from being rejected in planning.
It couldn’t be done: the scheme went unbuilt; the drawings were buried in a private archive. Now, for the first time in more than thirty years, Mies’ Mansion House Square will be presented to the public in both a forthcoming exhibition at the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA)—Mies van der Rohe and James Stirling: Circling the Square—and, if it is successful, a book currently being funded through Kickstarter by the REAL foundation.
The Architectural Review has recently published an article celebrating the 50th anniversary of Robert Venturi’s book, Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture, which is regarded as one of the most important writings about architecture since Le Corbusier’s Vers une Architecture. In the article, Martino Stierli—Chief Curator of Architecture and Design at the Museum of Modern Art—delves into the significance of Venturi’s work, the motivation behind it, its continuing impact, and more. Read the full article at the Architectural Review, here.
A new collection of five minute-long On Design stories—developed by the team behind Section D, Monocle 24's 24's weekly review of design, architecture and craft—profile a person, survey a place, or unpack an idea that’s changing or shaping design and architecture today. We've selected fourteen of our favorites from the ongoing series, examining issues as wide as Postmodernism and the architectural competition, to five-minute profiles of Alvaro Siza, Josef Hoffman, Kengo Kuma and Superstudio.
Though the Las Vegas Strip may be garish to some, with its borderline intrusive décor and “pseudo-historical” architecture, some professional architects, most notably Robert Venturi and Denise Scott-Brown, have become captivated by the “ornamental-symbolic elements” the buildings present. The two architects developed the curious design distinction between a “duck” and a “decorated shed”, depending on the building’s decorative form. In his essay for 99% Invisible, Lessons from Sin City: The Architecture of “Ducks” versus “Decorated Sheds”, Kurt Kohlstedt explores how the architects implemented their knowledge of ornamentation in their own works and began an architectural debate still ongoing today.
As a firm believer in the importance of making good design accessible to the public, Michael Graves (July 9, 1934 – March 12, 2015) produced an enormous body of work that included product design alongside his architecture. Graves brought Postmodernism to the public eye through his emphasis on ornament and aesthetics, and stood firmly behind his design philosophy even as it went out of vogue.
The city of Venice has been caught in a tug of war between progress and traditionalism for many years, and particularly since the construction of a railroad viaduct in 1846 linked the island city to the Italian mainland for the first time in its history. Over a century later, the Venetian government commissioned Louis Kahn to design a new Palazzo dei Congressi for the city; his proposal, while paying respect to the histories of both the Republic of Venice and a unified Italy, could not escape similar controversy.
Situated in a former industrial district in the southern Dutch city of Maastricht, it’s perhaps fitting that the Bonnefantenmuseum has often been called a “viewing factory.” The museum, with its ‘E’-shaped plan and distinctive domed tower, is one of the most prominent landmarks along the River Meuse that flows around the city center. Europe’s rich cultural history was a key impetus for architect Aldo Rossi’s design, which employed a number of historical architectural gestures to place the Bonnefantenmuseum within a collapsed European canon.
Designed shortly before Zaha Hadid left the Office of Metropolitan Architecture (OMA)—led by Rem Koolhaas—to found her practice, Zaha Hadid Architects, the proposed extension for the Dutch Parliament firmly rejects the notion that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Rather than mimic the style of the existing historic buildings, OMA elected to pay tribute to the complex’s accretive construction by inserting a collection of visibly postmodern, geometric elements. These new buildings, unapologetic products of the late 1970s, would have served as unmistakable indicators of the passage of time, creating a graphic reminder of the Parliament’s long history.
The British Twentieth Century Society (C20) have announced a forthcoming conference in London on Postmodernism. Speakers including Sir Terry Farrell, Piers Gough and Charles Holland (Ordinary Architecture) will join Alan Powers, Emily Gee and Elain Harwood of Historic England to "raise the profile of Britain’s best Postmodernist buildings following concerns over proposed changes to leading examples of this much maligned style."
For nearly two millennia, European architecture was closely affiliated with and shaped by Christianity. Prior to the advent of Modernism, there was scarcely a style that was not promoted, or more likely defined, by the designs of churches. Such a hypothesis makes it difficult to imagine Medieval England outside the purview of Gothic Cathedrals, or Renaissance Italy as separate from its Basilicas. But with the Industrial Revolution and the economic and population growth that ensued, infrastructure and housing became the new symbols and necessities of cultural representation, finding their ultimate expression in the ease and simplicity of Modernism. The field of architecture, so long shaped and dominated by the church, had been subsumed by the changing concerns of a commercially driven society. Of course there were still churches being built, but the typology that once defined architecture in its ubiquity became novel and rare. Or so we’ve all been lead to believe.
Surprising as it might be, in the wake of World War II and under Soviet control, Poland built more churches than any other country in Europe. The majority were built in the 1980s, at a time when church construction was neither authorized nor forbidden, and as a result played a pronounced role in Cold War politics. The construction of these churches was a calculated affront to the proletariat-minded Modernism of the Soviets. In their project Architecture of the VII Day, Kuba Snopek, Iza Cichońska and Karolina Popera have sought to comprehensively document these Polish churches and the circumstances of their construction. Unique not only in how they defied the prefabrication and regularity of the Eastern Bloc, the churches were community-led endeavors that relied on local funding and input, long before these practices became buzzwords in 21st century architectural circles.
Venturi Scott-Brown’s National Gallery Sainsbury Wing extension (1991) was born into a precarious no-man’s land between the warring camps of neo-Modernists and traditionalists who had been tussling over the direction of Britain’s cities for much of the prior decade. The site of the extension had come to be one of the most symbolic battlefields in British architecture since a campaign to halt its redevelopment with a Hi-Tech scheme by Ahrends Burton Koralek had led to that project’s refusal at planning in 1984.
The Colossus of Rhodes, a thirty-metre high sculpture depicting the Greek Titan God Helios that once stood guard at the entrance to the city's harbour, may be realised once again. Standing for only 54 years until it was destroyed by an earthquake in 226BC, its position in the ranks of Seven Wonders of the Ancient World has become almost mythological. Plans to construct a new, much larger inhabitable statue—that will stand almost four times taller at 122 metres—have now been put in motion by a small collective of architects, engineers, and tourism agents.
According to one survey, images of the BEST Products Showroom in Houston, Texas, designed by SITE (Sculpture in the Environment), appeared in more books on 20th-century architecture than any other building. The intentionally crumbling brick at that Houston store, known as “Indeterminate Façade,” and the eight other showrooms SITE designed, were simultaneously iconic and controversial, and most importantly for BEST, they brought in customers. Although SITE-founder James Wines never considered himself a Postmodernist architect, his designs for BEST, completed between 1972 and 1984, steeped in whimsical social commentary, came to symbolize the essence of Postmodernism. Today, all but one of the BEST showrooms have been demolished or altered beyond recognition, but they set a lasting precedent, and continue to influence the use of architecture in corporate branding today.