As the prefix already indicates, postmodernism is a turning point in history, thereby proving the willingness of scholars to define this new era based on the rejection of the previous movement. Postmodernism first emerged in the 1960s as a departure from modernism. As a reaction against the austerity, formality, and lack of variety of modern architecture, particularly in the international style advocated by Le Corbusier and Mies van der Rohe, postmodernism defends an architecture full of signs and symbols that can communicate cultural values. Postmodernism is a reaction to homogeneity and tediousness by praising difference and striving to produce buildings that are sensitive to the context within which they are built.
The architect and theorist Robert Venturi played an important role in the history of the field as one of the first authors to write on the subject of postmodernism in his book Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture (1966). In this "gentle manifesto," Venturi defines postmodern as elements that are "hybrid rather than pure, compromising rather than clean, distorted rather than straightforward, ambiguous rather than articulated, perverse as well as impersonal, boring as well as interesting, conventional rather than designed, accommodating rather than excluding, redundant rather than simple, vestigial as well as innovating, inconsistent and equivocal." Venturi goes on to draw a parallel between the characteristics of modernism and their counterparts in postmodernism, such as simplification and complexity, exclusivity and tension, unity and messy vitality. In place of the rigid doctrines of modernism, Venturi proposes incorporating historical elements, unusual materials, and using fragmentation and modulations while giving primary emphasis to the facade. In other words, postmodernism represents new ways of thinking about buildings, so much so that in response to Mies van der Rohe’s famous maxim "Less is more," Venturi responded by saying that "Less is a bore," an anecdote that says a lot about this style.
Alongside Venturi, the style also flourished in the works of Michael Graves, Charles Moore, and Philip Johnson, in the United States, Aldo Rossi in Italy, among others, especially from the 1980s through the 1990s. Johnson's AT&T Building, which opened in 1984 in New York, came to be known as a "Declaration of Independence" from modernism and features a symmetrical tower sheathed in pink granite and topped with a crown resembling a broken pediment. While Johnson helped establish modernist architecture in the United States, what fascinated him most was the idea of the new, so he moved on to experiment with decorative classicism and embrace the reuse of historical elements, in a style that would become known as postmodernism.
In the late 1990s, the movement divided into a multitude of new tendencies, including high-tech architecture, neo-classicism, and deconstructivism. However, it is worth pointing out that trying to define postmodern architecture by identifying and categorizing specific characteristics contradicts the pluralist vision of the movement, which rejects universalism and defends the multiplicity of narratives. For this reason, today, it is used as a generic term for a series of new architectural expressions aimed at criticizing modern architecture.
In this sense, as already described in this previous article, the postmodern becomes, first of all, a way of playing against the rules: a form of avant-garde putting forward the unexpected and the estranged against the dictatorship of the commonplace. From this point of view, to be postmodern does not mean to be part of a new age, or refer to a particular style; it is the ethos of questioning the unsatisfactory circumstances of today, without refusing either the presence of past or the understanding of today’s new cultural conditions and technologies.