Postmodern architecture is a style or movement which emerged in the 1960s as a reaction against the austerity, formality, and lack of variety of modern architecture, particularly in the international style advocated by Philip Johnson and Henry-Russell Hitchcock. The movement was introduced by the architect and urban planner Denise Scott Brown and architectural theorist Robert Venturi in their book Learning from Las Vegas. The style flourished from the 1980s through the 1990s, particularly in the work of Scott Brown & Venturi, Philip Johnson, Charles Moore and Michael Graves. In the late 1990s, it divided into a multitude of new tendencies, including high-tech architecture, neo-futurism and deconstructivism.

Origins

Postmodern architecture emerged in the 1960s as a reaction against the perceived shortcomings of modern architecture, particularly its rigid doctrines, its uniformity, its lack of ornament, and its habit of ignoring the history and culture of the cities where it appeared. In 1966, Venturi formalized the movement in his book, Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture.

In place of the functional doctrines of modernism, Venturi proposed giving primary emphasis to the façade, incorporating historical elements, a subtle use of unusual materials and historical allusions, and the use of fragmentation and modulations to make the building interesting. Accomplished architect and urban planner Denise Scott Brown, who was Venturi’s wife, and Venturi wrote Learning from Las Vegas (1972), co-authored with Steven Izenour, in which they further developed their joint argument against modernism. They urged architects to take into consideration and to celebrate the existing architecture in a place, rather than to try to impose a visionary utopia from their own fantasies. This was in line with Scott Brown’s belief that buildings should be built for people, and that architecture should listen to them. Scott Brown and Venturi argued that ornamental and decorative elements “accommodate existing needs for variety and communication”. The book was instrumental in opening readers’ eyes to new ways of thinking about buildings, as it drew from the entire history of architecture—both high-style and vernacular, both historic and modern—and In response to Mies van der Rohe’s famous maxim “Less is more”, Venturi responded, to “Less is a bore.” Venturi cited the examples of his wife’s and his own buildings, Guild House, in Philadelphia, as examples of a new style that welcomed variety and historical references, without returning to academic revival of old styles.

In Italy at about the same time, a similar revolt against strict modernism was being launched by the architect Aldo Rossi, who criticized the rebuilding of Italian cities and buildings destroyed during the war in the modernist style, which had had no relation to the architectural history, original street plans, or culture of the cities. Rossi insisted that cities be rebuilt in ways that preserved their historical fabric and local traditions. Similar ideas were and projects were put forward at the Venice Biennale in 1980. The call for a post-modern style was joined by Christian de Portzamparc in France and Ricardo Bofill in Spain, and in Japan by Arata Isozaki.

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