Modernism

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  • Topic: Modernism, Modern architecture, Robert Venturi
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  • Published : January 12, 2013
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As some critics contended, postmodernism represents a break with the modernist notion that architecture should be technologically rational, austere and functional, discuss the ways in which one postmodern architect has developed strategies which overcome these tendencies. 

Juxtaposition is seen between the characteristics of early 20th century modern architecture and the artistic endeavours of postmodernism that followed.  To represent the ‘Less is More’ (R.Venturi, 1966, pg16) notion the modernist tendencies had adopted, Robert Venturi built a ‘Ghost Structure’ to imply architecture had no longer become an art form and was merely just a ‘spectator’ (Architecturerevived, 2011) in society.  This essay will discuss ways in which the architect Robert Venturi adopts methods to overcome these tendencies that architecture has lost meaning and ways in which he attempts to remove himself with any links with the ‘post-modernist’ movement that he is viewed in having. 

Modern Architects saw their role as ‘reformers,’ (R.Venturi, 1966, pg16) and tended to break with tradition and start anew. Considering it was a new revolutionary movement they tended to ignore potential problems and focused on the new modern advancements available.  A modernist tendency was to build individually however Venturi claimed that a ‘building derives meaning from its context’ (Out Of the Ordinary, 2002) and evidently each individual location requires a different form of architectural style to represent this. In Venturi's book ‘Complexity and Contradiction’ he quotes ‘familiar things seen in unfamiliar context become perceptually new as well as old’ (R.Venturi, 1966, pg43) here he perhaps means in order for art to become worthy of aesthetic appreciation the viewer needs to see it in a different context. For example, Tracy Emin’s unmade bed was placed in an art gallery and was more acceptable and appreciated as ‘art’ rather than being viewed in its original, everyday context.  Venturi was focused on the reason behind and the visual perception of architecture, he believed that in applying a ‘medley of styles’ (S.V.Moos, 1987, pg32) opposed to an ‘either/or ‘(R.Venturi, 1966, pg16) mind-set would offer a varied combination of architectural styles. Thus enabling to a successful response to the multitude of tastes society desired, as he was well aware that there were an array of underlying problems of everyday life. Problems that modernist architects tended to ignore due to their concern of the solution not corresponding with what they believed to be their perfect design. 

Venturi disregards modernist tendencies as he favours a more eclectic style rather than the ‘less is more’ (R.Venturi, 1966, pg16) approach modernism supports.  Venturi aims to ensure his buildings have ties with historical architecture thus to draw meaning and value. This was to evoke a sense of familiarity whilst still staying in context with a more modern environment. Venturi believed in using his knowledge from what he had learned and new had worked in the past, so sought to apply these techniques to his designs. 

An example of this is Venturi’s State Mosque of Iraq; (Ref 1) finished in 1982. Here Venturi sought to draw from numerous styles and periods, specifically, Art Nouveau. The purpose of incorporating so many previous instances was to provide meaning and depth to architecture once more. Venturi was inspired by the work of Edwin Lutyen’s Capital Buildings in New Delhi as Lutyen had successfully managed to integrate historical themes to look postmodern however with an underlying modernist culture. 

Post-modernist architects questioned the modernist tendency that form depends on function. Walter Gropius quoted ‘aesthetic image and monumentality of a design are more important than functionalism.’ (Architecturerevived, 2011) However the context of the building was all the more important. Venturi championed this and consequently revived the tendency to ‘change things around’...
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