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Modernism Art Essay

As some critics contended, postmodernism represents a break with the modernist notion that architecture should be technologically rational, austere and functional, discuss the ways in which one postmodern architect has developed strategies which overcome these tendencies.

Juxtaposition is seen between the characteristics of early 20th century modern architecture and the artistic endeavours of postmodernism that followed. To represent the ‘Less is More’ (R.Venturi, 1966, pg16) notion the modernist tendencies had adopted, Robert Venturi built a ‘Ghost Structure’ to imply architecture had no longer become an art form and was merely just a ‘spectator’ (Architecturerevived, 2011) in society. This essay will discuss ways in which the architect Robert Venturi adopts methods to overcome these tendencies that architecture has lost meaning and ways in which he attempts to remove himself with any links with the ‘post-modernist’ movement that he is viewed in having.

Modern Architects saw their role as ‘reformers,’ (R.Venturi, 1966, pg16) and tended to break with tradition and start anew. Considering it was a new revolutionary movement they tended to ignore potential problems and focused on the new modern advancements available. A modernist tendency was to build individually however Venturi claimed that a ‘building derives meaning from its context’ (Out Of the Ordinary, 2002) and evidently each individual location requires a different form of architectural style to represent this. In Venturi’s book ‘Complexity and Contradiction’ he quotes ‘familiar things seen in unfamiliar context become perceptually new as well as old’ (R.Venturi, 1966, pg43) here he perhaps means in order for art to become worthy of aesthetic appreciation the viewer needs to see it in a different context.

For example, Tracy Emin’s unmade bed was placed in an art gallery and was more acceptable and appreciated as ‘art’ rather than being viewed in its original, everyday context. Venturi was focused on the reason behind and the visual perception of architecture, he believed that in applying a ‘medley of styles’ (S.V.Moos, 1987, pg32) opposed to an ‘either/or ‘(R.Venturi, 1966, pg16) mind-set would offer a varied combination of architectural styles. Thus enabling to a successful response to the multitude of tastes society desired, as he was well aware that there were an array of underlying problems of everyday life. Problems that modernist architects tended to ignore due to their concern of the solution not corresponding with what they believed to be their perfect design.

Venturi disregards modernist tendencies as he favours a more eclectic style rather than the ‘less is more’ (R.Venturi, 1966, pg16) approach modernism supports. Venturi aims to ensure his buildings have ties with historical architecture thus to draw meaning and value. This was to evoke a sense of familiarity whilst still staying in context with a more modern environment. Venturi believed in using his knowledge from what he had learned and new had worked in the past, so sought to apply these techniques to his designs.

An example of this is Venturi’s State Mosque of Iraq; (Ref 1) finished in 1982. Here Venturi sought to draw from numerous styles and periods, specifically, Art Nouveau. The purpose of incorporating so many previous instances was to provide meaning and depth to architecture once more. Venturi was inspired by the work of Edwin Lutyen’s Capital Buildings in New Delhi as Lutyen had successfully managed to integrate historical themes to look postmodern however with an underlying modernist culture.

Post-modernist architects questioned the modernist tendency that form depends on function. Walter Gropius quoted ‘aesthetic image and monumentality of a design are more important than functionalism.’ (Architecturerevived, 2011) However the context of the building was all the more important. Venturi championed this and consequently revived the tendency to ‘change things around’ (Architecturerevived, 2011) to develop and discover a more motivating form. He believed that the simplicity of modernist designs were so minimal that they therefore could easily be manipulated to communicate historic and ornamental tendencies of the past whilst taking advantage of the modern advancements in technology and construction all the while considering the users requirements.

An example of this is the Vanna Venturi House, (Ref 2) completed in 1961 which has multiple references to past periods and styles. Firstly the street façade denotes Michelangelo’s Porta Pia in Rome, Alessondra Vittoria’s Villa Barabo at Maser and finally the Nymphaeum at Palladio. Venturi quotes to ‘recognising the complexities and

contradictions’ (S.V.Moos, 1987, pg244) in which this building instils, nevertheless was an ideal way to overcome his statement that ‘less is a bore.’ (R.Venturi, 1966, pg17) Additionally Venturi’s love of distortion over ‘straightforward’ and ‘ambiguous’ over ‘articulation’ (R.Venturi, 1966, pg16) notion is a prime example of how he overcame the modernist tendency of clean, designed and hence forth the exclusion of design traits. Venturi was similarly intrigued by the parallel of how design in the past related to the hierarchy of upper and lower classes of his today and whether or not the aesthetics of said classes could be outlined into categories that reflected the social divisions.

More precisely he connected classical modern architecture with that of ancient upper classes such as ruins of palaces and the contrast of how they were erected differently from that of how Venturi describes as ‘ordinary’ peoples buildings. (Learning from Las Vegas, 1972) Everything appears to be in relation to, form, space and social responsibility also implying modern architecture seems to have forgotten the art of steganography in which was not only significantly spanning across four centuries from the 15th to the 19th century but was also how architects learnt to progress, appreciate and respect the aesthetic awareness of form. This can be related back to the Renaissance in which the development of form has been linked to the visual for centuries.

Venturi wanted to instil ‘new perceptions of old functions’ (Architecturerevived, 2011). He sought to draw from the past and carefully extract relevant features and characteristics and with the buildings context in the forefront of his mind, apply them. An illustration of is how he exhibited historical examples from Baroque and Egyptian architecture to symbolise frames and overwhelm small window openings. He symbolically implied unconventional messages or problems he thought society needed to address, an example of this being The Guild House, completed in 1963, (Ref 3) Philadelphia. It displays a system of layers with artistic meaning, organisation and a well thought out design process which represents the importance of historical and architectural discourse.

By instilling a gold-plated TV Ariel on top of the building signified what Venturi described as the ‘relevant revolution of today.’ (Architecturerevived, 2011) It communicated the underlying idea that the importance of architecture could potentially be forgotten with the advancement of TV and media. Venturi was concerned that the development of these new technologies were influential on art, ‘a machine for living while practical, is emotionless,’ (Molly Jacques, 2009) and that all reference to historical architecture could be perceived as irrelevant or even worse, lost in the progressing society he found himself in. Therefore the TV Ariel became demonstrative of this, a representation based on the theme of classical architecture. It was also said to represent the buildings inhabitants, by simply stereotyping the occupants, believing they watch too much TV, and alas the symbolic connotation of classical statues in cathedrals.

Modern architects had pragmatic views. They believed technological advances allowed for the disregard of all historical periods and movements. Led by the new approach of ‘machines for living’ (The Arts – Le Corbusier, Dominic Gallagher) as Le Corbusier cited, inevitably led to the demise of decorative and aesthetics in favour for more organised and geometrical buildings, in addition to this there was a new enthusiasm for building vertically. Venturi believed that the introduction of this technologically motivated notion advertently simplified architecture so much so it had seen a departure from the ‘experience of life.’ (R.Venturi, 1966, pg17) Consequently becoming focused on what characterised as Realism. Venturi studied people in their everyday life and routines, purposely so as not to exclude designing for social problems and consequently to design for the truth. A somewhat stark contrast to the modernist notion of designing for simplification or the ‘Less is More’ (R.Venturi, 1966, pg16) idea, as stated by Miles Van De Rohe.

This evidently left many social questions unanswered or as Paul Rudolf, a prominent modernist architect quoted ‘all problems can never be solved.’ (R.Venturi, 1966, pg16) Furthermore the development of new materials and constructional technological advances allowed for modernist architects to design freely with focus on spatial forms and geometric proportions. Miles Van De Rohes Pavilion’s illustrate this as they lacked any sort of reference to the past as his desire and purpose was to exploit new technologies to the fullest and have no recognized relation to the past whatsoever. Venturi opposed this as he looked to past historical architecture for inspiration and saw relevance in previous movements and styles. This allowed him to design with meaning and by combing new methods of construction and technology allowed him to develop and erect innovative buildings that reflected historical traits whilst still fitting into a modern society. A further modernist view was that architecture was about a blend on technology and art, and to inevitably reform some sort of style they believed had become lost in tradition.

They admired the emerging new developments, especially in transportation and new materials becoming available. They tried to instil this new, sleek, streamlined look in their buildings. It was almost as if they wanted to draw a line under the past and render a new concept of design to follow with the new advances that were being made in other fields. Nonetheless Venturi held on to his belief that architecture hadn’t become so much as lost but instead had been forgotten. Stating that ‘conventional elements’ (R.Venturi, 1966, pg43) could be applied using the advanced methods the modernists championed, and that some sort of balance could be achieved.

It suggests a complete rejection of the past is not relevant in order to move forward in not only a social aspect but also to cater for what appeared to be, a demand for a new architectural style. Venturi was positive in regards to the new materials and construction methods now available and did not deny that they were not beneficial to society in his today and stating ‘conventional elements’ (R.Venturi, 1966, pg43) constructed in ‘unconventional ways’ (R.Venturi, 1966, pg43) supports this. As does his design for the Vanna Venturi House, (Ref 2) constructed in 1961 in which an array of modernist materials were used, such as steel. Yet he chose to mix both development in techniques and materials with historical features to create a design that was visually, functionally and constructed successfully in design.

Venturi became interested in the Las Vegas Strip (Ref 4) leading him to write the book ‘learning from Las Vegas’ published in 1972. He came to the conclusion that the city had been built to accommodate for the technologically savvy society. The architectural advertisement method Vegas seemed to have

adopted had all been carefully angled to appeal to the people now driving down the strip. This was an original concept in which to appeal to an audience not necessarily on foot. The architecture almost becomes an advertisement in itself and the landscape inadvertently develops into its notorious messy, chaotic and fast paced form, which also reflected the traits the city and people in it had undertook. The architecture became a direct contrast to the modernist tendencies as the strip ‘serves culture rather than dictates it.’ (Architecturerevived, 2011) this was perhaps as Vegas was competitive and needed to directly interact with its audience in order to entice them. Venturi was inspired to take aspects of how Las Vegas had so forcefully removed the constraints of which had seemed to be put upon architecture and apply it, however in a not so embellished manner.

Venturi states how The Guild House (Ref 3) was built with these intentions as well as having a ‘vernacular’ (Perkowitz, 2002) idea in mind. He went on to exploit every available inch of building space obtainable, by building up six-stories high. An attribute in fact of the modernist conception, however Venturi came to this design conclusion to enable the inhabitants to interact more conveniently with the outside. This was said to be purposely done so as not to break up the prevailing aesthetics of the street, nonetheless still managed to introduce another dimension to it. A fragmented outline of the Southern façade directly contrasts with the smooth surface of the North. This intentionally done so as the building was built for the elderly so rather than isolate, the distorted façade in fact drew the outside in, to allow for maximum interaction in a visual nature.

Venturi attempts to imply a Baroque Palazzo style upon the Guild House (Ref 3) by the introduction of white tiles on the lower and upper levels of the building. Which was believed to have ‘symbolic’ and ‘representational’ (S.V.Moos, 1987, pg25) components that merge as a whole which in avertedly was to reflect the architectural connotation of the structure. It was understood that the Guild House (Ref 3) was built on a system of layers. Layers of artistic meaning and organisation, each one symbolising the importance of the historical and architectural discourse.

This is reinforced by Venturi testifying ‘knowledge instead of learning’ (R.Venturi, 1966, pg12) supports the fact he draws upon what was effective in the past and relates it to his own compositions. He breaks up the historical foundations and is driven and instils a sense of the past throughout his designs. The modernist notion of designing for what the architect believed society wanted rather than needed impacted primarily upon the poorer societies. Hence forth Venturi was particularly careful when building The Guild House perhaps to show designing with the context and user in mind can be achieved successfully without social problems having to be ignored or forgotten, again a tendency modern architecture seemed to adopt in fear of losing aesthetic value. Venturi sought to prove you could have both.

In reflection it can be said that Venturi is extremely knowledgeable and has an in-depth understanding and appreciation for historical architecture in which he feel shouldn’t be forgotten but instead should be admired and inspire future movements. Despite modernism striping what Venturi believed was the ‘art’ from architecture he fought to overcome these tendencies are drew upon relevant historic features and characterisations and applied them liberally to his design, in accordance to their context. Nevertheless he understood that designing for the user was significant and not to exclude social problems. He undertook the modernist concept of advanced ways to construct and recognised and understood the developing society, yet he chose not to ignore historic references and applied them in a system of layers within his designs to accommodate for the advanced civilization whilst electing to apply asceticism for both a functional and visual experience.

As some critics contended, postmodernism represents a break with the modernist notion that architecture should be technologically rational, austere and functional, discuss the ways in which one postmodern architect has developed strategies which overcome these tendencies.

Juxtaposition is seen between the characteristics of early 20th century modern architecture and the artistic endeavours of postmodernism that followed. To represent the ‘Less is More’ (R.Venturi, 1966, pg16) notion the modernist tendencies had adopted, Robert Venturi built a ‘Ghost Structure’ to imply architecture had no longer become an art form and was merely just a ‘spectator’ (Architecturerevived, 2011) in society. This essay will discuss ways in which the architect Robert Venturi adopts methods to overcome these tendencies that architecture has lost meaning and ways in which he attempts to remove himself with any links with the ‘post-modernist’ movement that he is viewed in having.

Modern Architects saw their role as ‘reformers,’ (R.Venturi, 1966, pg16) and tended to break with tradition and start anew. Considering it was a new revolutionary movement they tended to ignore potential problems and focused on the new modern advancements available. A modernist tendency was to build individually however Venturi claimed that a ‘building derives meaning from its context’ (Out Of the Ordinary, 2002) and evidently each individual location requires a different form of architectural style to represent this. In Venturi’s book ‘Complexity and Contradiction’ he quotes ‘familiar things seen in unfamiliar context become perceptually new as well as old’ (R.Venturi, 1966, pg43) here he perhaps means in order for art to become worthy of aesthetic appreciation the viewer needs to see it in a different context.

For example, Tracy Emin’s unmade bed was placed in an art gallery and was more acceptable and appreciated as ‘art’ rather than being viewed in its original, everyday context. Venturi was focused on the reason behind and the visual perception of architecture, he believed that in applying a ‘medley of styles’ (S.V.Moos, 1987, pg32) opposed to an ‘either/or ‘(R.Venturi, 1966, pg16) mind-set would offer a varied combination of architectural styles. Thus enabling to a successful response to the multitude of tastes society desired, as he was well aware that there were an array of underlying problems of everyday life. Problems that modernist architects tended to ignore due to their concern of the solution not corresponding with what they believed to be their perfect design.

Venturi disregards modernist tendencies as he favours a more eclectic style rather than the ‘less is more’ (R.Venturi, 1966, pg16) approach modernism supports. Venturi aims to ensure his buildings have ties with historical architecture thus to draw meaning and value. This was to evoke a sense of familiarity whilst still staying in context with a more modern environment. Venturi believed in using his knowledge from what he had learned and new had worked in the past, so sought to apply these techniques to his designs.

An example of this is Venturi’s State Mosque of Iraq; (Ref 1) finished in 1982. Here Venturi sought to draw from numerous styles and periods, specifically, Art Nouveau. The purpose of incorporating so many previous instances was to provide meaning and depth to architecture once more. Venturi was inspired by the work of Edwin Lutyen’s Capital Buildings in New Delhi as Lutyen had successfully managed to integrate historical themes to look postmodern however with an underlying modernist culture.

Post-modernist architects questioned the modernist tendency that form depends on function. Walter Gropius quoted ‘aesthetic image and monumentality of a design are more important than functionalism.’ (Architecturerevived, 2011) However the context of the building was all the more important. Venturi championed this and consequently revived the tendency to ‘change things around’ (Architecturerevived, 2011) to develop and discover a more motivating form. He believed that the simplicity of modernist designs were so minimal that they therefore could easily be manipulated to communicate historic and ornamental tendencies of the past whilst taking advantage of the modern advancements in technology and construction all the while considering the users requirements.

An example of this is the Vanna Venturi House, (Ref 2) completed in 1961 which has multiple references to past periods and styles. Firstly the street façade denotes Michelangelo’s Porta Pia in Rome, Alessondra Vittoria’s Villa Barabo at Maser and finally the Nymphaeum at Palladio. Venturi quotes to ‘recognising the complexities and contradictions’ (S.V.Moos, 1987, pg244) in which this building instils, nevertheless was an ideal way to overcome his statement that ‘less is a bore.’ (R.Venturi, 1966, pg17) Additionally Venturi’s love of distortion over ‘straightforward’ and ‘ambiguous’ over ‘articulation’ (R.Venturi, 1966, pg16) notion is a prime example of how he overcame the modernist tendency of clean, designed and hence forth the exclusion of design traits. Venturi was similarly intrigued by the parallel of how design in the past related to the hierarchy of upper and lower classes of his today and whether or not the aesthetics of said classes could be outlined into categories that reflected the social divisions.

More precisely he connected classical modern architecture with that of ancient upper classes such as ruins of palaces and the contrast of how they were erected differently from that of how Venturi describes as ‘ordinary’ peoples buildings. (Learning from Las Vegas, 1972) Everything appears to be in relation to, form, space and social responsibility also implying modern architecture seems to have forgotten the art of steganography in which was not only significantly spanning across four centuries from the 15th to the 19th century but was also how architects learnt to progress, appreciate and respect the aesthetic awareness of form. This can be related back to the Renaissance in which the development of form has been linked to the visual for centuries.

Venturi wanted to instil ‘new perceptions of old functions’ (Architecturerevived, 2011). He sought to draw from the past and carefully extract relevant features and characteristics and with the buildings context in the forefront of his mind, apply them. An illustration of is how he exhibited historical examples from Baroque and Egyptian architecture to symbolise frames and overwhelm small window openings. He symbolically implied unconventional messages or problems he thought society needed to address, an example of this being The Guild House, completed in 1963, (Ref 3) Philadelphia. It displays a system of layers with artistic meaning, organisation and a well thought out design process which represents the importance of historical and architectural discourse. By instilling a gold-plated TV Ariel on top of the building signified what Venturi described as the ‘relevant revolution of today.’ (Architecturerevived, 2011)

It communicated the underlying idea that the importance of architecture could potentially be forgotten with the advancement of TV and media. Venturi was concerned that the development of these new technologies were influential on art, ‘a machine for living while practical, is emotionless,’ (Molly Jacques, 2009) and that all reference to historical architecture could be perceived as irrelevant or even worse, lost in the progressing society he found himself in. Therefore the TV Ariel became demonstrative of this, a representation based on the theme of classical architecture. It was also said to represent the buildings inhabitants, by simply stereotyping the occupants, believing they watch too much TV, and alas the symbolic connotation of classical statues in cathedrals.

Modern architects had pragmatic views. They believed technological advances allowed for the disregard of all historical periods and movements. Led by the new approach of ‘machines for living’ (The Arts – Le Corbusier, Dominic Gallagher) as Le Corbusier cited, inevitably led to the demise of decorative and aesthetics in favour for more organised and geometrical buildings, in addition to this there was a new enthusiasm for building vertically. Venturi believed that the introduction of this technologically motivated notion advertently simplified architecture so much so it had seen a departure from the ‘experience of life.’ (R.Venturi, 1966, pg17) Consequently becoming focused on what characterised as Realism. Venturi studied people in their everyday life and routines, purposely so as not to exclude designing for social problems and consequently to design for the truth. A somewhat stark contrast to the modernist notion of designing for simplification or the ‘Less is More’ (R.Venturi, 1966, pg16) idea, as stated by Miles Van De Rohe.

This evidently left many social questions unanswered or as Paul Rudolf, a prominent modernist architect quoted ‘all problems can never be solved.’ (R.Venturi, 1966, pg16) Furthermore the development of new materials and constructional technological advances allowed for modernist architects to design freely with focus on spatial forms and geometric proportions. Miles Van De Rohes Pavilion’s illustrate this as they lacked any sort of reference to the past as his desire and purpose was to exploit new technologies to the fullest and have no recognized relation to the past whatsoever. Venturi opposed this as he looked to past historical architecture for inspiration and saw relevance in previous movements and styles. This allowed him to design with meaning and by combing new methods of construction and technology allowed him to develop and erect innovative buildings that reflected historical traits whilst still fitting into a modern society.

A further modernist view was that architecture was about a blend on technology and art, and to inevitably reform some sort of style they believed had become lost in tradition. They admired the emerging new developments, especially in transportation and new materials becoming available. They tried to instil this new, sleek, streamlined look in their buildings. It was almost as if they wanted to draw a line under the past and render a new concept of design to follow with the new advances that were being made in other fields. Nonetheless Venturi held on to his belief that architecture hadn’t become so much as lost but instead had been forgotten. Stating that ‘conventional elements’ (R.Venturi, 1966, pg43) could be applied using the advanced methods the modernists championed, and that some sort of balance could be achieved.

It suggests a complete rejection of the past is not relevant in order to move forward in not only a social aspect but also to cater for what appeared to be, a demand for a new architectural style. Venturi was positive in regards to the new materials and construction methods now available and did not deny that they were not beneficial to society in his today and stating ‘conventional elements’ (R.Venturi, 1966, pg43) constructed in ‘unconventional ways’ (R.Venturi, 1966, pg43) supports this. As does his design for the Vanna Venturi House, (Ref 2) constructed in 1961 in which an array of modernist materials were used, such as steel. Yet he chose to mix both development in techniques and materials with historical features to create a design that was visually, functionally and constructed successfully in design.

Venturi became interested in the Las Vegas Strip (Ref 4) leading him to write the book ‘learning from Las Vegas’ published in 1972. He came to the conclusion that the city had been built to accommodate for the technologically savvy society. The architectural advertisement method Vegas seemed to have adopted had all been carefully angled to appeal to the people now driving down the strip. This was an original concept in which to appeal to an audience not necessarily on foot.

The architecture almost becomes an advertisement in itself and the landscape inadvertently develops into its notorious messy, chaotic and fast paced form, which also reflected the traits the city and people in it had undertook. The architecture became a direct contrast to the modernist tendencies as the strip ‘serves culture rather than dictates it.’ (Architecturerevived, 2011) this was perhaps as Vegas was competitive and needed to directly interact with its audience in order to entice them. Venturi was inspired to take aspects of how Las Vegas had so forcefully removed the constraints of which had seemed to be put upon architecture and apply it, however in a not so embellished manner.

Venturi states how The Guild House (Ref 3) was built with these intentions as well as having a ‘vernacular’ (Perkowitz, 2002) idea in mind. He went on to exploit every available inch of building space obtainable, by building up six-stories high. An attribute in fact of the modernist conception, however Venturi came to this design conclusion to enable the inhabitants to interact more conveniently with the outside. This was said to be purposely done so as not to break up the prevailing aesthetics of the street, nonetheless still managed to introduce another dimension to it. A fragmented outline of the Southern façade directly contrasts with the smooth surface of the North. This intentionally done so as the building was built for the elderly so rather than isolate, the distorted façade in fact drew the outside in, to allow for maximum interaction in a visual nature.

Venturi attempts to imply a Baroque Palazzo style upon the Guild House (Ref 3) by the introduction of white tiles on the lower and upper levels of the building. Which was believed to have ‘symbolic’ and ‘representational’ (S.V.Moos, 1987, pg25) components that merge as a whole which in avertedly was to reflect the architectural connotation of the structure. It was understood that the Guild House (Ref 3) was built on a system of layers. Layers of artistic meaning and organisation, each one symbolising the importance of the historical and architectural discourse.

This is reinforced by Venturi testifying ‘knowledge instead of learning’ (R.Venturi, 1966, pg12) supports the fact he draws upon what was effective in the past and relates it to his own compositions. He breaks up the historical foundations and is driven and instils a sense of the past throughout his designs. The modernist notion of designing for what the architect believed society wanted rather than needed impacted primarily upon the poorer societies. Hence forth Venturi was particularly careful when building The Guild House perhaps to show designing with the context and user in mind can be achieved successfully without social problems having to be ignored or forgotten, again a tendency modern architecture seemed to adopt in fear of losing aesthetic value. Venturi sought to prove you could have both.

In reflection it can be said that Venturi is extremely knowledgeable and has an in-depth understanding and appreciation for historical architecture in which he feel shouldn’t be forgotten but instead should be admired and inspire future movements. Despite modernism striping what Venturi believed was the ‘art’ from architecture he fought to overcome these tendencies are drew upon relevant historic features and characterisations and applied them liberally to his design, in accordance to their context.

Nevertheless he understood that designing for the user was significant and not to exclude social problems. He undertook the modernist concept of advanced ways to construct and recognised and understood the developing society, yet he chose not to ignore historic references and applied them in a system of layers within his designs to accommodate for the advanced civilization whilst electing to apply asceticism for both a functional and visual experience.


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