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The Story: Criticisms of Modernism
Criticisms of Modernism
There are many criticisms of modernist architecture. The emphasis on art has been lost to many modern architects. Modern commercial graphic techniques and visual effects are produced using computer-generated images. The general reliance on technology as opposed to personal mastery is a modern trend. The cubist forms and reductionism of modern architecture is aesthetically boring. "Less is bore" was a reference to the minimalist motto of "less is more". The International Style that gave the impression of a common design - as if one architect produced them - became a representation of a lack of art and creativity.
The patron-architect-builder role had changed. Modern architects have been criticized for the religious adherence to the Manifestos and their theoretical pursuits. The result of this was that "Modern architecture had failed to remain credible partly because it didn't communicate effectively with its ultimate users - the main argument of my book 'The Language of Post-Modern Architecture' - and partly because it didn't make effective links with the city and history." [Jencks, 1989, p.14]
In his book, "From Bauhaus to Our House - a devastating and timely attack on the hideous follies of modern architecture", Tom Wolfe refers to Gropius and other European architects of the International Style as "compound architects". This is in reference to their closed pursuit of the utopian ideals outlined in their manifestos. Wolfe also expresses little regard for the young American architects who he referred to as a "Lost Generation" who held a misguided belief that "they do things better in Europe" [Wolfe, 1993, p.9]. Wolfe was appalled by the lack of relevance placed on the client. "And if American architects wanted to ride the wave, rather than be wiped out by it, they had first to comprehend on thing: the client no longer counted for anything except the funding" [Wolfe, 1993, p.40].
Not everyone believed in the new methods in art education and the departure from the Beaux Art tradition of teaching. "Studying architecture was no longer a matter of acquiring a set of technical skills and a knowledge of aesthetic alternatives. Before he knew it, the student found himself drawn into a movement and entrusted with a set of inviolable aesthetic and moral principles. The campus itself became the physical compound, as at the Bauhaus." [Wolfe, 1993, p.54]
Wolfe also makes reference to the emphasis on drawings as designs on paper that are never built. Le Corbusier was known for his style of drawing using watercolors. Modern architectural drawings were not art but more a technical form of graphic art. Much of the original artistry, Wolfe decries has been lost. In May 1980, Michael Graves won the Arnold W. Brunner Memorial Prize for Architecture for a drawing of a building not yet built.
Another criticism of modern architecture is its pursuit of honest and clean lines but its failure to apply this principle in the integrity of materials. At times the materials used in the construction of modern architecture emulate one material but are made of another. In the 1930s, Le Corbusier covered block work with Stucco to make it look like concrete. [Foster, 1983, p.208].
Perhaps the most notable failing of modernism is in its promise to address the problems of housing workers. In 1955 a vast worker-housing project called Pruitt-Igoe was opened in St. Louis. Le Corbusier and his concept of houses as “machines for living in” inspired the design by Minoru Yamasaki. The buildings were rectangular in form separated by open spaces of lawn. The workers for whom it was built avoided them and referred to them as the "projects". Those who moved in were from the rural surrounds of the southern states. They were not accustomed to the densely populated spaces. When a task team met with the workers for whom the projects were intended in 1971 and asked for their opinion, the crowd chanted repeatedly, "Blow it up! Blow it up!"
The demolishing of the Pruitt-Igoe projects was regarded as an event, which heralded the end of modern architecture. Ironically, Yamasaki was also the architect of the twin towers, which were destroyed in the terror attacks of September 11 2001. Yamasaki's modern design was considered by some to be dull. Yet, it was symbolic of the modernity of the Western world, something that undoubtedly motivated the choice of the attacks. Whilst, it may not have been aesthetically appealing, it may have helped to save lives. The lifts were still working after the attack. While the collapse killed the remaining people inside the building, its vertical nature helped to save those in and around the surrounding buildings [Pearman, 2002].
Charles Jencks referred to the demolishing of the Pruitt-Igoe projects in his studies of postmodern architecture. He is responsible for determining the period of postmodernism as well defining architecture in three phases: premodern, modern and postmodern.
"Post-Modernism, like Modernism, varies for each art both in its motives and time-frame, and here I shall define it just in the field with which I am most involved - architecture. The responsibility for introducing it into the architectural subconscious lies with Joesph Hudnut who, at Harvard with Walter Gropius, may have wished to give this pioneer of the Modern Movement a few sleepless nights. At any rate, he used the term in the title of an article published in 1945 called "the post-modern house" (all lower case, as was Bauhaus practice), but didn't mention it in the body of the text or define it polemically. Except for an occasional slip here and there, Philip Johnson or Nikolaus Pevsner didn’t use it until my own writing on the subject which started in 1975." [Jencks, 1989]
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