Post-Modernism Keypad Jan-issue: Architalk

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Translated by Bonnie Chan (Keypad)


How does one pretend to be an expert in architectural history?
Firstly, remember the six classical styles, followed by the modern era comprising of the three art movements, and then modernism.The next one would be postmodernism, which is what we will look into this issue. After reading this article, you can impress your friends with the term “postmodernism montage”. While they could probably recall some of the Stephen Chow’s movies, you will be seen as the intellect with an expertise in architectural history.





The story begins with the end of the modernism architecture. It is “certified” on 15 July 1972 at 3:32pm, the era’s demise caused by being too rational, boring and disgusting. Imagine someone designing your home similar to your favourite iPhone, at first you may think it is simple and slick, as if living in a spacecraft. Yet, you gradually find that there is only a round button in the whole house, surrounded by the cold, flawless, white wall, with no vitality. You will soon feel tired with it.It is the destiny of modernism. People were getting fed up with these dull and inhuman buildings, just like thousands of concrete or glass boxes. Until 1972, an award-winning modernist housing project in St. Louis, Missouri was blown up because of the lack of maintenance and security problems. Since the project was planned according to the modernist principles, the demolition signified the death of Modernism.





Therefore, post-modernism architecture (in short, PoMo) arose.


What is PoMo? Imagine you have a rebellious daughter, who likes to do the opposite of what you ask. And this is PoMo: they say “no” to everything in modernism, and abolish all the golden rules that modernism advocates.


Modernism advocates “less is more”, the design pursuit of minimalism; PoMo suggests “less is a bore”, simplicity is boring, monotonous and cold. PoMo advocates architectures to be interesting and colourful. Apple’s designers do everything possible to squeeze all the parts in a minimal white tiny box to create a sleek iPhone. Yet there are people who still wants to match it with a meretricious Hello Kitty phone case, where the Kitty ears alone are way bigger than the phone itself. Turning the design into a toy is the typical PoMo approach.


Modernism envisions architecture as a machine. They focus on the functionality of the architectures. Yet, PoMo advocates that architecture design should be a symbol, like a big signage. Who will design buildings
like a signage? The answer is Las Vegas! Look at the miniature Sphinx, the knock-off Statue of Liberty and the replica of Eiffel Tower – everything is symbolic and full of references. Therefore PoMo believes we should learn from Las Vegas.




Modernist suggests “form follows function”. There are still some architects who see this as absolute truth nowadays. However, PoMo believes that is the reason why Modernism is dull and mundane. They contends that if the appearance of a building is defined solely by its function, architect might as well design a hot dog stand like a giant hot dog, or build a huge duck figure for a shop that sell ducks. PoMo ridicules this is the real “form follows function”.




Modernism advocates that “ornament is a crime”, and discards any unnecessary classical decoration. Yet PoMo picks them back up, puts the fragments together piece by piece and creates a building full of classical references. This kind of architectural collage is like the movie shooting technique “montage”, and so people call it the “montage” of postmodernism architecture.





As a result, PoMo made a variety of strange buildings: an ancient grandfather clock-like skyscraper, a hotel with giant geese sitting on the rooftop, a municipal building covered with prize ribbons a colourful office
looks like a bunch of Christmas gifts, a plaza filled with classic stainless steel columns. They make everything unorthodox and provocative. More importantly: opposite to modernism.





PoMo began in the 60s in the United States and it became more popular in the 80s, the era of extravagance. It was also the time when the Japanese economy took-off. There are many PoMo-styled architectures in Tokyo, such as the “M2” designed by architect Kengo Kuma. M2 was an exhibition hall of Mazda; it was a gigantic classical column, designed with typical post-modern whimsical style. Yet, the building was too unsightly and received a lot of negative publicity, which resulted in Kuma being unable to find any project in Tokyo for a whole decade afterwards. M2 eventually turned into a funeral parlour – how symbolic.





The failure of M2 reflects that many PoMo architectures are too flamboyant, and play blindly against modernism. So, the whole trend could only be a flash in the pan, and was then replaced by deconstruction
and new modernism.



PoMo architectures are of diverse appearances that convey many meanings and symbolisms, sometimes extravagant. This coincides with many Chinese weird buildings in recent years. Some believe the giant wine bottle building – Wuliangye Headquarter, or the Tianzi Hotel in the form of three over-scaled Chinese deities to be PoMo style. Some may argue that Hong Kong Central Library with its chaotic facade is actually using PoMo collage approach. Yet the real PoMo was actually the reaction to the modernism. We cannot
consider all awkward designs as PoMo. PoMo is not an excuse for any ugly building.





However, decent PoMo designs do exist – the Entertainment Building completed in the early 1990s is a successful PoMo building in Hong Kong.。