Emerging from the theoretical concerns of the past 25 years, Deconstructivism in architecture has very little to do with any given philosophy of design. As originally conceptualized by the French philosopher Jacques Derrida, Deconstruction is a method of inquiry, not a... [more]
Emerging from the theoretical concerns of the past 25 years, Deconstructivism in architecture has very little to do with any given philosophy of design. As originally conceptualized by the French philosopher Jacques Derrida, Deconstruction is a method of inquiry, not a philosophy in and of itself. Derrida's process emerged out of disenchantment with the idealist legacy of the Enlightenment. He sought to expose the ambiguity of language that in turn led to the loss of meaning in all levels of social interaction.
When seized by architects in the early 1970s, Deconstructivism provided a neat method to critique the supposedly unifying, and thereby totalizing and idealistic, project of the Modern movement. Deconstructivist architects focused on a series of theoretical projects and sought to decenter the concept of classical order and space. The first, and often celebrated, constructed manifestation of these principles emerged in Bernard Tschumi's 1983 competition-winning entry for the Parc de la Villette in Paris. Tschumi developed a series of follies -- pavilions openly inspired by the formal concerns of the Russian Constructivists but without, obviously, their political aims -- arrayed on a system of points, lines, and grids. The result: a match and mismatch of forms aspiring to an anti-Classical architecture of unexpected configurations.
Tschumi's recognition of the seminal designs of the Russian avant-garde would lead to a rethinking of the Deconstuctivist project. When finally coalesced into an easily digested exhibition mounted by the Museum of Modern Art in 1988, the project had been renamed Deconstructivist Architecture, suggesting common historical impulses uniting the chosen architects.
Nothing, however, could have been farther from the truth. As always, Philip Johnson, the impresario who coined the term "International Style" (thereby reducing the Modern architecture of the '20s and '30s to nothing more than an image) helped guide the Decontructivist impulse at MoMA. While certain architects -- including Tschumi, Rem Koolhaas, and Zaha Hadid -- had developed an interest in the work of the Constructivists, others -- notably Frank Gehry, Daniel Libeskind, and Peter Eisenman -- were on to something altogether different. Eiseneman openly harnessed Derrida's methods to ground his work. In contrast, Gehry emerged from a sensibility rooted in the more open-ended architecture of his native Southern California, mediated by an awareness of the work of certain conceptual artists such as Robert Irwin. The only uniting thread that barely wove together the works was an interest in formal fragmentation, where the buildings displayed a penchant for distorting volumes and recombining them according to principles of disruption and dislocation.
Ultimately, the pretense to consider a new architectural avant-garde was naive at best. Much of the work and accompanying writing was elitist and detached from any sense of the built world, save for Gehry's insistence that he simply builds and ignores theory. Yet, the benefit of the project remained in its desire to search for an architecture that flies in the face of the mass homogeneity in contemporary society. Given the conflict between poetics and pragmatics faced by architects, the Deconstructivist tendency, while not attempting to unite these poles, nevertheless points to a formal originality.