August 30: Decon at MOMA

2016/08/30 § Leave a comment

On this day in 1988 the exhibition Deconstructivist Architecture closed.

Running from June 23 at MoMA and curated by Mark Wigley and Philip Johnson, exhibition #1489 codified the way the term deconstructivist, which had been lifted from lit crit, would be applied to architectural design.   In some ways this was a repeat of Johnson’s participation in the exhibition that introduced the term International Style fifty-six years earlier.  Whereas in 1932 the emphasis was on the clean industrialized Neues Bauen of the Bauhaus et al., in 1988 he and Wigley selected seven architects/firms that illustrated “a new sensibility in architecture” characterized by work that recognized the “imperfectibility of the modern world” and addressed “the pleasures of unease.”  Their shared stylistic qualities  included slashing lines, leaping arcs and warped planes.  The curators suggested a link with Russian Constructivist architecture due to formal and material relationships, but with the recognition that the aims were completely different among this new tribe of Deconstructivist architects.

The exhibition and its sharp, small catalogue was helpful in explaining the ideas behind all the crooked walls and wilting surfaces.  Especially as it skates closely to the work of French philosopher Jacques Derrida, Decon theory can quickly become as skewed and off-kilter as the buildings it tries to explain. But in the catalogue, Wigley–in remarkably straightforward prose quite different from his academic publications–was as straightforward as a Miesian I-beam, disturbing the old Modernist axiom ‘form follows function’ with the proclaimed that for the new architects, ‘function follows deformation.’

If only the exhibitees all agreed that this was their point (which they didn’t).  Still, the exhibition was helpful in giving a name to the strange new stuff showing up in journals and by suggesting there was a common link that was more than just (egads) formalist among this crew (although none such was proven).  Representative projects from the exhibitoin, which included Coop HimmelblauPeter Eisenman, Frank Gehry, Zaha HadidRem Koolhaas, Daniel Libeskind and Bernard Tschumi reveal the embryonic status of the moment (if ‘movement’ it was) in 1988.

These projects illustrate that Decon worked/works best (maybe only) at small scale, for leisure facilities, and in graphic imagery–certainly the later work of these seven has been a mixed bag.  Indeed Decon probably best achieves its goals in the latter, since the laws of physics knock the stuffing out of Deconstructivism, raising the question, if the theory cannot survive the built world, can there actually be such a thing as Deconstructivist architecture at all?

Image: the catalogue (from this source)

April 25: Deco Mecca

2016/04/25 § 1 Comment

On this day in 1925 the Exposition internationale des arts décoratifs et industriels modernes opened in Paris.

Of all the world’s exhibitions, this one may have been the best (but Clio would love to hear your arguments to the contrary).  1851 London gets certain props for being the first one out of the gates and for its Paxton-designed building that revolutionized construction process (if not architectural design); likewise, 1899 Paris made great strides in construction technology, offering up the world’s tallest structure and its broadest open interior.

But 1925 Paris was the one that was, frankly, the most gorgeous, and the most stylistically diverse.  Decades later the glitzy, elegant, jazzy version of Classicism that the Exposition inaugurated would take a name derived as a shorthand version of the event itself: the style of des arts décoratifs was, of course, Art Deco.  The (sadly temporary) buildings were designed in a new manner that showcased Classicism’s ability to adapt to changing tastes.  They also housed decorative arts that were extraordinary examples of the “new” movement’s aims toward sleek, linear forms fused with exotic motifs (Aztec and Egyptian, most prominently) and featuring luxury materials.  This contemporary art form grew from traditional roots, flowering as art and architecture that is at once grounded, recognizable, legible, exciting, modern.  Have a hankie ready, and stroll through some of Clio’s souvenirs: baubles by Van Cleef & Arpels, Cartier and Chaumet; knickknacks by RapinJoseph Bernard, and Baccarat; a favorite chair by Leleu that stands by the Dunand screen; the Christofle pot from which she pours her elegant daily brew.

Immediately the Exposition soared to prominence in Europe and America, but Art Deco’s brilliant, stylized wings were clipped by the impending financial doom of the 1930s (somewhat presaged by other entries at the fair, like this by some optimistic Russians), not to mention the growing popularity among small circles of architects who never got along with Clio (in spite of all I’ve done for them!), who instead came under the spell of a Swiss immigrant who set up his defiantly  un-Deco pavilion in a corner of the Expo grounds.  What is it, a hot dog stand?  bathroom shack?  car repair shop?  It may be “Nouveau,” Monsieur Buzzkill, but we prefer l’essence de Déco to your L’Esprit.

Image: La Maîtrise Pavillon for Galeries Lafayette (from this source)

August 30: decon at moma

2012/08/30 § Leave a comment

On this day in 1988 the exhibition Deconstructivist Architecture closed.

Running from June 23 at MoMA and curated by Mark Wigley and Philip Johnson, exhibition #1489 codified the way the term deconstructivist, which had been lifted from lit crit, would be applied to architectural design.   In some ways this was a repeat of Johnson’s participation in the exhibition that introduced the term International Style fifty-six years earlier.  Whereas in 1932 the emphasis was on the clean industrialized Modernity of the Bauhaus et al., in 1988 he and Wigley selected seven architects/firms that illustrated “a new sensibility in architecture” characterized by work that recognized the “imperfectibility of the modern world” and addressed “the pleasures of unease.”  Their shared stylistic qualities  included slashing lines, leaping arcs and warped planes.  The curators suggested a link with Russian Constructivist architecture due to formal and material relationships, but with the recognition that the aims were completely different among this new tribe of Deconstructivist architects.

The exhibition and its sharp, small catalogue was helpful in explaining the ideas behind all the crooked walls and wilting surfaces.  Especially as it skates closely to the work of French philosopher Jacques Derrida, Decon theory can quickly become as skewed and off-kilter as the buildings it tries to explain. But in the catalogue, Wigley–in remarkably straightforward prose quite different from his academic publications)–was as straightforward as a Miesian I-beam, disturbing the old Modernist axiom ‘form follows function’ with the proclaimed that for the new architects, ‘function follows deformation.’

If only the exhibitees all agreed that this was their point (which they didn’t).  Still, the exhibition was helpful in giving a name to the strange new stuff showing up in journals and by suggesting there was a common link that was more than just (egads) formalist among this crew (although none such was proven).  Representative projects from the exhibitoin, which included Coop HimmelblauPeter Eisenman, Frank Gehry, Zaha HadidRem Koolhaas, Daniel Libeskind and Bernard Tschumi (check out the links to see projects that were on display) reveal the embryonic status of the moment (if ‘movement’ it was) in 1988.  They include a rooftop addition, a personal house, a stalled office block project and three failed competition entries.  The most significant project of them all was Tschumi’s Parc de la Villette.

These projects illustrate that Decon worked/works best (maybe only) at small scale, for leisure facilities, and in graphic imagery–certainly the later work of these seven has been a mixed bag.  Indeed Decon probably best achieves its goals in the latter, since the laws of physics knock the stuffing out of Deconstructivism, raising the question, if the theory cannot survive the built world, can there actually be such a thing as Deconstructivist architecture at all?

Image: the catalogue (from this source)

April 25: déco mécca

2012/04/25 § Leave a comment

On this day in 1925 the Exposition internationale des arts décoratifs et industriels modernes opened in Paris.

Of all the world’s exhibitions, this one may have been the best (but Clio would love to read your arguments to the contrary in the Comments box below).  1851 London gets certain props for being the first one out of the gates and for its Paxton-designed building that revolutionized construction process (if not architectural design); likewise, 1899 Paris made great strides in construction technology, offering up the world’s tallest structure and its broadest open interior.

But 1925 Paris was the one that was, frankly, the most gorgeous.  Decades later the glitzy, elegant, jazzy version of Classicism that the Exposition inaugurated would take a name derived as a shorthand version of the event itself: the style of des arts décoratifs was, of course, Art Deco.  The (sadly temporary) buildings were designed in a new manner that showcased Classicism’s ability to adapt to changing tastes.  They also housed decorative arts that were extraordinary examples of the “new” movement’s aims toward sleek, linear forms fused with exotic motifs (Aztec and Egyptian, most prominently) and featuring luxury materials.  This contemporary art form grew from traditional roots, flowering as art and architecture that is at once grounded, recognizable, legible, exciting, modern.  Have a hankie ready, and stroll through some of Clio’s souvenirs: baubles by Van Cleef & Arpels, Cartier and Chaumet; knickknacks by RapinJoseph Bernard, and Baccarat; a favorite chair by Leleu that stands by the Dunand screen; the Christofle pot from which she pours her elegant daily brew.

Immediately the Exposition soared to prominence in Europe and America, but Art Deco’s brilliant, stylized wings were clipped by the impending financial doom of the 1930s, not to mention the growing popularity among small circles of architects who never got along with Clio (in spite of all I’ve done for them!), who instead came under the spell of a Swiss immigrant who set up his defiantly  un-Deco pavilion in a corner of the Expo grounds.  What is it, a hot dog stand?  bathroom shack?  car repair shop?  It may be “Nouveau,” Monsieur Buzzkill, but we prefer l’essence de Déco to your L’Esprit.

Image: La Maîtrise Pavillon for Galeries Lafayette (from this source)

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