With reference to your design discipline identify and discuss the key characteristics of Postmodernism


Introduction: You are wondering what Postmodernism means? Well, Postmodernism literally means 'after modernism'. “Charles Jencks gave the definition of postmodernism as ‘the continuation of Modernism and its transcendence'.” [1] The idea of “taste cultures” can offer different views of life. Beginning in the 1960's and lasting through today, the post-modern movement took origin as a response to modernist design. This movement, at first began in America and then spread internationally across the globe. Whereas modernism was often related with identity, unity, authority, and certainty, postmodernism is often related with difference, separation, and skepticism. In Postmodernism movement, designers tend to reject the functional, minimal use of materials and lack of embellishment adopted by modernist designers. Seeking to free themselves of restraining rules, post-modernists place form over function when desired. So on, in architecture and design, Postmodernism is marked by the re-emergence of surface ornament, reference to surrounding buildings in urban architecture, historical reference in decorative forms, and non-orthogonal angles. Some of the key characteristics of it are the double coding style, humor, irony, kitsch, eclecticism, historicism, decorative ornaments, playfully extravagant forms, eccentricity, tastelessness, strong colors and forms. Below we will be discussing these characteristics with examples of some designers work.

Main body: Postmodernism, concerns the symbolism, ornament, technology and the relation of existing and past cultures. Postmodern design is borrowing from the past to create eclectic designs in architecture, furniture and design. It's used classical form but did not give it new life. So, postmodernism wants to reinterpret traditional architecture and design in a way of the Modern expression. Post Modernism views culture not as a unity, but as individual experiences that then lead us into our own perceptions of the world. The Post- Modernist's wanted to go back to more traditional aesthetics utilizing all types of materials and technology available to designers and architects, while discarding the white box principles set onward by masters such as Walter Gropius. “Robert Venturi was one of the first architects to put forth these new ideas in design theory around the 1960's where he states “less is more, less is boring”. “ [2]Unlike the International Style, this dictated adherence to the form-follows-function cliché, postmodernism attempts to reflect the personality and wishes of not only the architect, but the community as well. It can be ugly, expressive, austere, graceful or monumental—or all the above.

The cultural turn implied in Postmodernism challenges the belief that the object of study can be an independent unit - it is said that an object is not able to speak for itself, but is in fact 'spoken for' by its social and political context. The values associated with the object are determined by the position from which the object is viewed and aesthetic appeal is regarded not as a universal value, outside of history, but rather as an ever-changing quality relative to the situation within which the object is consumed. In consequence, the true nature of things is to be found in social processes and structures that surround them, rather than in an inherent, unchallengeable quality of the things themselves.

This view challenges the ability of the designer's decision making. Rather than there being one ideal aesthetic solution to a design brief, there is an acknowledgment that different solutions exist for different circumstances. The aesthetic preference of both the designer but also and the consumer is a socially determined instead of being based on an absolute judgment. In other words, in postmodernism, there is no ‘correct' form for an object, but a number of different possible forms, with their authenticity being dependent on the historical conditions of their reception.

Let's discuss now, the characteristics of Postmodernism. The first characteristic of Postmodernism is the double coding. Double coding meant the buildings express many meanings simultaneously. The Sony Building in New York does this very well. This double coding is a widespread trait of Postmodernism. Furthermore the A.T & T. office building also has a double coding. “The office building is a giant skyscraper which brings with it implications of incredibly contemporary technology. Yet the top disagrees with this. And this is because as we can see in the picture below, the top section conveys components of classical antiquity. The entrance of this building is through a vast arch-form portal which leads into a marble lobby with details that suggest a medieval monastery. In the center is the glided statue that once topped the A.T & T. building in downtown New York. The majestic of a giant conglomerate appear to be understood ironically in whimsical and decorative terms. “ [3]

Another characteristic of Postmodernism is the history and eclecticism. Part of the fundamental eclecticism is the tendency for postmodern architecture and design, to put together a collage of historical styles.” Jameson has defined this as a “random cannibalization of all the styles of the past, the play of random stylistic allusion and in general the increasing primary of the “neo” (Jameson, Postmodernism, p.18). The important issue is the randomness of history here: history as meaningless collection of aesthetically interesting images. “[4]An example of this is Stirling's Clore Gallery Extension. Stirling's last major work, the addition to the Staatsmuseum in Stuttgart, Germany (1979-84), has the characteristic of historic precedents. Gallery spaces are set around a circular courtyard where marble walls, statuary (from the museum's collection) and a portal using stubby versions of Tuscan columns make references to past architectural and designing styles. The building is totally original, but still suggests complex relationships to design and architecture of the past. It is tempting to suggest that Stirling had moved toward the approach of Postmodernism. What is more Venturi has also embraced the decorative ornament and references to historic precedents, in un-built projects and actual buildings. An example of his work is the 1997 proposal for a house in Greenwich, Connecticut, is a version of George Washington's mansion at Mount Vernon, oddly condensed and distorted. Moreover “radical eclecticism utilizes a wide variety of styles, traditions and codes. It is simplicity that produces the “schizophrenic” aspect that many theorist of postmodern architecture have identified. As Venturi's books make clear, whereas modernist architecture tended to adopt its sources from “high culture”, postmodernists erase the high modernist distinction between high and low culture, often exploiting the latter for its aesthetic effects. Examples of this eclecticism are Stirling's Stuttgart Art gallery, Moore's Piazza d' Italia, Grave's Humana Medical corporation HQ, and Isozaki ‘s Tsukuba Civic Center. “[5]

Other examples of these characteristics, in Venturi's work, it's his furniture designs of 1984 for Knoll which introduced both decorative patterns and references to historic precedents. “A number of chairs were developed, all structurally alike-simply two elements of molted plywood, one the seat and front legs, the other the back and rear legs. A variety of versions was generated by cutting out the plywood planes in decorative forms reminiscent of Chippendale, Queen Anne, Sheraton and Art Deco. The surfaces of some are silk-screened with playful, decorative designs suggestive of conventional wallpapers, while others have patterns in bright colors. “[6] What is more, in their own home, both Venturi and Denise Scott Brown, his partner and wife, have used traditional furniture and decorative patterns in wallpapers to generate an atmosphere that is both eclectic in the literal sense and also comfortable. The Venturis have also produced such office spaces as a showroom and conference area for Knoll International in New York and furniture with a strongly postmodern character for the same firm.

Moreover, after many years of being neglected, ornament returned. For example, this can be seen in Frank Gehry's Venice Beach house, built in 1986. The house is littered with small ornamental details that would have been considered excessive and needless in Modernism. These are the ornamental features. The Venice Beach House has an assembly of circular logs which exist mostly for decoration. The logs on top do have a minor purpose of holding up the window covers. However, the mere fact that they could have been replaced with a practically invisible nail makes their exaggerated existence largely ornamental. For an even more prominent ornament, Michael Graves' Portland city office Building (1980), Oregon, proves wholly adequate. The two obtruding triangular forms are at most largely ornamental features. They exist for aesthetic or their own purpose. The return of ornament was a necessary one. Graves' growing reputation as the foremost proponent of Postmodernism was dramatically advanced when he won a competition in 1980 for this office building. “The building is an enormous cubical block, but its extraordinary and varied surface treatment, with the projecting wedge-shaped elements, changes in surface material and window shapes and its bands of ribbon-like decoration, shocked the established architectural profession. One critic asserted that it had ‘set American architecture back by fifty years.' The interiors of the building are largely unremarkable, although the main entrance lobby is an essay in the eccentric vocabulary of Postmodernism.”[7] What is more, the two hotels for the Walt Disney World at Buena Vista, Florida - The Swan and the Dolphin (1990) - are vast masses, each holding up sculptural ornaments on roof tops; they have offered Graves the opportunity to design interiors with flamboyantly eccentric forms and colors.

The most prominent among the characteristics of Postmodernism are the playfully profligate forms and the humor of the meanings the buildings expressed. Wit and humor are common elements in postmodern buildings, houses and their interiors. Postmodernists try to create comfortable spaces for the body, mind and soul. That's why postmodern architecture and design evolved from Modernism but nevertheless it rebels against that style. Modernism is viewed as excessively minimalist, anonymous, monotonous, and boring but on the other hand, Postmodernism has a sense of humor. The style often combines two or more very different elements. Postmodern houses and their interiors may be humorous or shocking but they are always unique.

And last but not least, are the “Kitsch” and irony characteristics of Postmodernism. Let's see more examples of them. Graves except from other buildings, has also designed offices for Disney and a Paris Disney project. These buildings and their interiors are a source of amazement and delight to the public. Such design is always at the border of “kitsch”, that is, design that is deliberately foolish and tasteless in an effort to reflect the human appetite for mischief. The determination of postmodernism to escape from logic and order may be a reflection of a modern world in which logic seems to have disappeared into the excesses of an affluent society. Eccentricity and tastelessness have become tools of design, and the garish and the banal are seen as legitimate means of communication with a population whose ideas come from the entertainments offered by television, film, the internet and the cults of celebrities. We can now see an example of irony from Philip Johnson, in the interiors of the A.T & T. building. As I told before, in the center of this building is the glided statue that once topped the old A.T & T. building in downtown New York. The majestic claims of a giant corporation appear to be interpreted ironically in whimsical and decorative terms.

Conclusion: ………………………………………………………………..


* A history of Interior Design

* Interior design since 1900

* Beginning Postmodernism






[3] A history of interior design

[4] Beginning Postmodernism

[5] Beginning Postmodernism

[6] A history of interior design

[7] A history of interior design

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