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Postmodernism: Decoration and appropriation, the return of the narrative and content


From the literary philosophy of "Deconstruction" comes the architectural and design school of "Deconstructivism". Inspired by Russian Constructivism, Deconstructivists believe in challenging the basic assumptions of Modernist design (for example, that rooms should be rectangular in shape, or at least that walls should be straight). There is also the influence of Italian Futurist architects such as Antonio Sant'Elia, particularly the striving for dynamic forms.

"The general characteristics of Deconstructivist design are as follows:
  1. Explodes architectural form into loose collections of related fragments.
  2. Destroys the dominance of the right angle and the cube by using the diagonal line and the `slice' of space.
  3. Uses ideas and images from Russian Revolutionary architecture and design -Russian Constructivism
  4. Searches for more DYNAMIC spatial possibilities and experiences not explored (or forbidden) by the Modern Movement.
  5. Provokes shock, uncertainty, unease, disquiet, disruption, distortion by challenging familiar ideas about space, order and regularity in the environment.
  6. Rejects the idea of the `perfect form' for a particular activity and rejects the familiar relationship between certain forms and certain activities.
  7. Note the work of the architects, Peter Eisenman, Bernard Tschumi and Zaha Hadid.

Note that while Memphis designs attack the lack of colour, texture, pattern or sensuality of the Modern Movement, Deconstructivism attacks the closed and precise forms and spaces of the Modern Movement. The same design attitudes are simply directed at different aspects of the design of space. wessexcentre.com/My Webs/Theory papers/decon frameset.htm

Peter Eisenman (1932-still living) - sometimes spelled Eisenmann

Eisenman was at one stage in his career very influenced by Postmodernist theory, as evidenced by his collaboration with philosopher Derrida and architect Bernard Tschumi on a garden for La Villette. As demonstrated in the recent interview for FloorNature linked below, he has now become disillusioned by Postmodern theories such as Semiotics and is aiming for a more 'sensual' style to his designs.

Eisenman paid homage to Gerrit Rietveld by designing his own version of the Zigzag chair, and by using De Stijl colours on many of his works during one period.


Rem Koolhaas (1944-still living): Founder of the Office of Metropolitan Architecture, author of the significant architectural books such as S,M,L,XL (1997), Mutations (2001) and Colours (2001)

Bernard Tschumi (1944-still living): Swiss-born architect of the "Parc de la Villette".

Zaha Hadid (1950-still living) Iraqi-born British architect, first female winner of the Pritzker Architecture Prize (2004). Her work is very much influenced by Supremetism, an offshoot of Russian Constructivism whose emphasis was on the spiritual and cosmic possibilities of design. Painting and drawing is an important part of the exploration of her designs. Quotable quote: "Would they call me a diva if I were a guy?"


Daniel Libeskind: Libeskind shot to international noteriety by winning the competition for a building for New York's World Trade Centre site, the "Freedom Tower". I wonder if his buildings are as aggravating and unsettling to live and work in as his website is to navigate? daniel-libeskind.com


"What is the reality behind all this heavy-weight philosophy and psycho-babble? It is that Deconstructivism has become a fashionable style which is simply different from and perhaps no more 'meaningful' than other styles. What we see is that designers who know nothing about the background to Deconstructivism and care even less, produce what we would 'recognize' as a Decon building. The ultimate test is this, can we tell the difference between a building designed by a card-carrying, fully aware, Deconstructivist architect and a building styled by another designer to look like a Deconstructivist building? The answer is, probably not. It is what the building looks like 'on the ground' so to speak that is the bottom line on this issue. What the designers think they are doing - no matter how 'meaningful' or significant to them - and what they actually do can be seen as two different things. In other words, it does not matter what the designer thinks, it is what he or she produces that is important to us, the users/observers."wessexcentre.com/My Webs/Theory papers/decon frameset.htm

Just as the Deconstructivist Architects designed buildings that broke the rules, so too did Industrial Designers.

Ettore Sottsass (1917-still living)

"Ettore Sottsass was one of the leading members of the Memphis Group founded in 1981 with a group of recently graduated designers and journalist Barbara Radice as public relations/art director. The group's main aim was to revive Radical Design. The products created by the Memphis group included limited production creations of unusual objects and functional designs. Most products featured plastic laminate surfaces, bright colours and bold patterns". jahsonic.com/EttoreSottsass.html



Ron Arad - creator of the Rover Chair. Have you ever noticed that some car seats are far more comfortable that your chairs at home? Well, why not rip some seats out of an old car, stick them on legs and create an exclusive Designer Original?



Jon Jerde - the Mall Man

Jerde makes People Pleasing buildings, such as the world's largest shopping centre the Mall of America (Minneapolis) and the flashy Fremont St Experience (Las Vegas).


Populist Architecture and Design

Populism is giving the people what they want (or, it could be argued, what they think they want because they just haven't seen anything better yet...). Usually, populism is fairly conservative, in favour of the status quo.

As linked above, there is a grass-roots movement in NY against building a new design built on the WTC site. Petitions are being written and rallies organised with the goal to have the WTC rebuilt exactly as it was before 9/11.

As a designer, there is always the dilemma between giving people what they want and telling them what they want. After all, you don't want to keep rehashing the same-old same-old as it would make for a pretty boring job as a designer. Or in fact, no job at all.

"Populism appeals to the audience's taste-one is striving to be a crowd-pleaser, by incorporating themes that resonate with their experience". www3.sympatico.ca/cypher2/style.htm

"As an instrument of the global economy, business often makes design decisions without looking to the longer term. Increasingly, design is required to meet arbitrary deadlines, and to act as a facile novelty machine, allowing no time for reflection or an adequate process of development. Design often contributes to dubious innovations which serve no other purpose but to flood the world with more of everything for those who need nothing". xml.petr.com/premsela/site/opinie/populism.xml/-/en

"...there is the relativist perspective which claims that architecture can never escape from the traditions and cultures of the society into which it must integrate. Here lies the basic belief of populism, with it's emphasis on the commonplace and cultural icons and conventionalism, founded on the historical development of architecture and the commonly held expectations which have followed". arch.usyd.edu.au/~rob/study/DesignThinking.html


Gender and Design

How does the issue of gender affect design? Do 'women designers' design in an intrinsically different way to male designers?

NORDIC COOL: HOT WOMEN DESIGNERS: “A strong tradition of gender equality in the Nordic countries has given women access to educational opportunities, apprenticeships, and directorial positions in design industries,” commented NMWA Director Judy L. Larson, who conceived of the exhibition and is its co-curator. “This exhibition encourages the understanding of design within the context of culture and gender, presenting works of great beauty in a sociological setting.” nmwa.org/exhibition/detail.asp?exhibitid=115

"There are a lot of situations where women are working for male creative directors — putting their creative talents to work for some guy who’s going to put his name on their designs and sell them for big money. Consider, for example, industrial design star Karim Rashid, who has a staff of designers working for him.

This situation perpetuates the age-old male-genius syndrome, where men get to be brilliant minds and women are working bodies, muses, or mediums, channeling their bosses’ life force for profit. Of course, it’s hardly that clear-cut, and there are plenty of women getting attention in various design fields, but let’s not forget that the syndrome still exists, and that it needs to be challenged." soapboxgirls.com/aug01/

"On a philosophical level, while we feel that good design is sexless, we do believe that women bring a sensibility to the field of design that is different from men. Women are excellent at juggling work and family which by necessity they have had to do. Women are also superb practical problem solvers. Women want to be making design decisions as well instead of men making the decisions for all of us". Association of Women Industrial Designers www.awidweb.com

retrokat.com quite nice sites

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