Friday, March 27, 2009

Deconstructivist Architecture

Deconstructivism can be considered as a group of independent stylistic developments within the post-modern period (Norris and Benjamin, 1988, Papadakis et al., 1989, Jencks and Kropf, 1997). Its origin can be traced back to the Russian avantgarde of the 1920s as manifested in the work of Malevich and Tchernikov and the Suprematism of El Lissitzky and Swetin. In Europe it had its roots in the Dada movement. In the USA one of its birthplaces was the East (primarily New York), the other being California. It discontinued the historical architectural language, the autocracy of horizontal and vertical elements and deconstructed the tectonic and orthogonal system (Bonta, 2001).

The partnership Coop Himmelblau designed the first actual deconstructivist realizations in Europe: the lawyers’ practice in Vienna, Falkenstrasse (1983–85) and the Funder factory building in St Veit Glan, Austria (1988–89). Zaha Hadid’s Vitra fire-fighting station in Weil am Rein (1993) went on to world fame.

Funder Factory Works 3, in St Veit/Glan, Austria, architects: Coop Himmelblau, Wolf D. Prix
and Helmut Swiczinsky. Deconstructivist architecture, with ‘red comb’, a power station with ‘dancing chimney stocks’. © Taschen.

In the USA Peter Eisenman, one of the group New York Five, designed buildings with crossing frames and distorted building grids. A special innovation was the use of folding applied by Eisenman at Colombus University (1989) but also by Daniel Libeskind at the Berlin Jewish Museum (1988–95).

The theoretical impact of deconstructivist architecture, however, only emerged after the Second World War when the French philosopher Jacques Derrida defined its principles in art and literature. During preparations for the design of the Paris La Villette complex, Bernard Tschumi contacted Jacques Derrida and invited him to participate in a discussion about deconstructivism in architecture (Wigley, 1993). As Tschumi reported: ‘When I first met Jacques Derrida, in order to convince him to confront his own work with architecture, he asked me, “But how could an architect be interested in deconstruction? After all, deconstruction is antiform, anti-hierarchy, anti-structure, the opposite of all that architecture stands for”. “Precisely for this reason,” I replied!’ (Tschumi, 1994). Deconstructivist architects, after analysing the project brief and the site conditions, usually reach quite unconventional design solutions. The main initiator of the style in the USA was Frank O. Gehry in California who often applies the techniques of scenography, movie making and theatre, using inexpensive, stage-set materials. In Japan, Hiromi Fuji followed the style. His buildings have been described as having a grid-based light framework, shaken out of order by an earthquake.

The 1988 Exhibition at the New York Museum of Modern Art curated by Philip Johnson and Mark Wigley promoted the deconstructivist architecture of Frank O. Gehry, Peter Eisenman, Daniel Libeskind, Rem Koolhaas, Zaha Hadid, Bernard Tschumi and the group Coop Himmelblau (Johnson and Wigley, 1988). Mark Wigley wrote in the prospectus: ‘In each project, the traditional structure of parallel planes – stacked up horizontally from the ground plane within a regular form – is twisted. The frame is warped. Even the ground plane is warped.’Whilst deconstructivism never attained dominance amongst architectural styles, it continually attracts adherents. Undoubtedly, the most spectacular example of the style hitherto is Frank O. Gehry’s titanium-clad Guggenheim Museum at Bilbao, Spain. Considering the high cost of titanium, only the use of thin sheets made the application possible. Consequently, the individual cladding sheets move and distort, due to thermal and mechanical stresses, thus displaying a range of colour variations and reflections according to lighting conditions (Jodidio, 1998, van Bruggen, 1997). Also titanium cladding was proposed in the winning competition project for the Beijing Opera by the Frenchman Andreu. It equally based its façade design on thin titanium sheet.

Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, Spain, 1993–98, architect: F.O. Gehry. Following other realizations, this is a masterpiece of deconstructivist architecture. © Van Bruggen: Frank O. Gehry: Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, Guggenheim Foundation, New York.

Philip Johnson hailed the Bilbao museum building as the century’s greatest work and Gehry declared: ‘Poor Frank. He will never top Bilbao, you only get to build one miracle in a lifetime!’ However, Gehry’s Los Angeles Disney Concert Hall (2275 seats), completed after a halt and several design revisions, is also a (deconstructivist) masterpiece.

Walt Disney Concert Hall, Los Angeles, California, USA, architect Frank O. Gehry. Deconstructivist architecture, a typical F.O. Gehry design, thin titan sheet cladding (as also at the Bilbao museum, Spain), a technological innovation in construction and also with new aesthetic effect.

Another deconstructivist building, Gehry’s Nationale Nederlanden Building in Prague, Czech Republic (1992–96) has a curved glass façade, in striking contrast to the historic ambience of its surroundings.

Nationale Nederlanden Head Office, Prague, Czech Republic, 1996, architect: F.O. Gehry. Deconstructivist design ignoring usual functional requirements (nicknamed ‘Fred and Ginger’ because its two towers seem to be dancing). © Van Bruggen: Frank O. Gehry: Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, Guggenheim Foundation New York.

Sebestyen, Gyula. 2003. New Architecture and Technology.

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