Coming to terms with modern architecture, we must read through such seminal statements through their sensibilities and societal myths which they exemplify. Now, we shall explore parallel themes to do with new myths of modernity, poetic expressions of technology, the reemergence of abstraction, and analogies between architecture and other realms such as minimalist sculpture, landscape art and nature.
Architecture oscillates between the unique and the typical where the old and new may reunite in unexpected ways. Example, the Navarro Baldeweg’s Congress Hall in Salamanca which underlines the complexity of ideas, fantasies, memories and aspirations that may operate in a single function. If this interconnections work on the surface the result would be stylish and superficial. If they work in depth, a new synthesis of form and content becomes possible.
Even those architects who asserted the romanticism of engineering or the rhetoric of new avant-garde have pedigrees and belong to tradition. When casting an eye over the wide range of buildings relying upon features of earlier modernism, it is important to carry a general distinction in mind between mere “signs” referring to past modernity and the substantial transformations resulting in inventions that are vital extensions of earlier lines of thought.
“High-tech” figures are such as Richard Rogers whom tended towards techno-romanticism in its almost picturesque handling of shiny silver ducts, tubes and mechanical services. Roger’s ex-partner, Renzo Piano, aspired towards the natural inevitability of forms arising from considerations of structure, function, day lighting, and assembly. Norman Foster was somewhere between the two where his ideas were often rooted in structural facts or metaphors, but he was also concerned with light, space and the elaboration of detail besides mechanical and natural analogies woven into his works.
Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank (1979-85). While Foster made appeals to a “structural rationalist” philosophy, it was obvious that his architecture existed somewhere between commercial fact and technocratic fantasy. The bank had a complex pedigree which included the Futurist notion of a building as a dynamic mechanism, Constructivist paper projects from the 1920s, rocket launching platforms, Frank Lloyd Wright’s conception of a textured tower as an abstraction of a tree and Le Corbusier’s idea of a louvered skyscraper with upper-level social floors. The building proclaimed high technology and capitalist ingenuity – a building for “The Pacific Century”.
Renzo Piano’s museum for the Menil Collection in Houston, Texas (1981-6) might just as easily be described as “high-craft” as well as “high-tech”. It had a slight tropical delicacy about it as Piano set out to achieve the distillation of the modern and the old in forms that were poetically attuned to climate and light.
“ Building is about putting together material elements. I feel that one needs to invent something new but at the same time quite old within our craft; to return to the close association between thinking and doing...”
Both Foster and Piano designed airports terminals by combining technical standardization and the control of an overall formal idea. Both poetically expressed by interests in the principles of man-made inventions.
Economic forces which led to the commercialization of postmodernism, pushed “high-tech” towards seductive visual effects emulating those of product design. Consumerism shifted attention from function and structure towards external styling and associative imaginary.
Mechanical analogies might be blended with some organic ones, or else become part of a system of polarities between the “technological” and “natural”.
“Environment architecture… drawing nature into abstraction… and using nature on a massive scale… An ample domain where the found and the made, the natural and the artificial, coexists…”
One of the seminal...
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