Trends in Architecture

January 22, 1982

Report Outline
New Era in Architecture
Elements of Post-Modernism
Energy as Design Influence

New Era in Architecture

Diverse Style Called Post-Modernism

Along with television and the printed word, architecture is one of the most pervasive forces in our lives. Although architects design only about 3 percent of all new single-family houses in the United States, they do design the public buildings, parks, apartment houses, office buildings and shopping centers that form the scenery along city streets and highways. Since World War II this scenery has become largely a wall of glass boxes that neither expand our vision—one traditional view of architecture's goal—nor give any hint of the activity going on inside. But lately that scene has begun to change.

“The art of architecture is in uneasy but significant transition,” critic Ada Louise Huxtable wrote in The New York Review of Books. “The high period of modernism is over; the Age of the Masters—Frank Lloyd Wright, Mies van der Rohe, Le Corbusier—is finished.” Replacing the sterile-looking glass, steel and concrete structures of modern architecture—a style that emerged in the 1920s and emphasized man's relationship to machinery and technology—is a style closer to what architects call “the human scale.” Philip Johnson, whom many regard as the dean of American architects, described the new generation of architects who began surfacing in the 1970s: “We have new attitudes today, a new pluralism, a new belief in many streams flowing at once. There are no certitudes today. And we have a new willingness to use history, to use symbols—we don't want everything to look like a glass box anymore.”

The new look, which is really many new looks, has been called “post-modernism” and incorporates historical references (what many see as a romantic or even humorous approach to design), a variety of deviations from the box form, and the idea that a building should be related to its site and use. Post-modernism “recognizes that buildings are designed to mean something, that they are not hermetically sealed objects…,” architect Robert A. M. Stern wrote in New Directions in American Architecture (1977). “Post-modernism accepts diversity; it prefers hybrids to pure forms; it encourages multiple and simultaneous readings in its effort to heighten expressive content.”

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