The birth of the modernist architecture movement is usually associated with the publication of Le Corbusier’s “Towards an Architecture” manifesto, in 1923 which offered Europe two alternative futures: “Architecture or Revolution” (Le Corbusier, 1923).

 

It stated that the only way to avoid the revolutionary upheaval of a crises stricking Europe was to satisfy the need of the masses by rethinking the role of industry and culture. The only way to produce sufficient goods was to adopt Henry Ford’s system of mass production and a house, was simply “a machine for living in” (Le Corbusier, 1923) and had to be produced and designed “on the same principles as the Ford car, that is, standardisation, simplicity, and mechanisation”. Modern architecture thus is inevitably associated with the birth of mass-production technologies and the faith in their ability to bring economic progress to the masses (Frampton 1992), but at its core lies the widespread utopian fervour generated by the carnage of the First World War and the belief that the human condition can be healed by more rational approaches to art and design.

 

By the 1960, modernists’ goal of restructuring society became too closely bound to industrial capitalism (Isenstadt, 2001) and “the architecture object was no longer seen as a subversive proposition about a possible Utopian future but rather the mainstream decoration” (Rowe, 1975) that had lent aesthetic legitimacy to profit-making institutions (Packard, 1960) and became a tool used by companies in order to model consumer preferences. The main critique against modernism was often aimed at its ignorance of other values outside instrumental rationality, which transformed multivalent social issues into merely technological problems (Marcuse, 2013) for which new technologies were promoted in order to increase corporate profits (Isenstadt, 2001).

 

This growing opposition to the increased power and control of global corporations found inspiration in the “un-self-conscious behaviours of everyday life” (Isenstadt, 2001) and its presumed unpredictable nature for the Taylorist economy. More importantly, this critique of economic conditions and their architectural representation came from 1960s generation’s “search for personal authenticity” and  the “dream of an ideal community in which individuality will not be subsumed and sacrificed, but fully developed and expressed” (Bermans, 2009). Both the celebration of “the people” as bearers of authentic culture and the call for individual liberation took the political shape of the Civil Rights movement which mandated itself to nurture every human’s inner potential and choice. Choice was becoming a cultural condition (Harvey, 1987).

 

Considering “the intensity of modernism’s social vision became dissipated … there followed divergence of interest” (Rowe, 1975) and architects began to seek new goals for architecture which went off in various directions with two opposing groups, the Grays and the Whites, becoming defining for the shift towards a new post-modern style of architecture. Later, Christopher Lasch (1991) would identify this polar pair as a hallmark of what he defined as the “culture of narcissism” and its overall disconnect with convention.

 

References:

Gartman, D. (1998). Postmodernism; Or, the cultural logic of post-Fordism?. Sociological quarterly, 119-137.

Dunham-Jones, E. (1997). Stars, Swatches and Sweets; Thoughts on Post-Fordist Production and the Star System in Architecture.

Kieran, S. (1987). THE ARCHITECTURE OF PLENTY-THEORY AND DESIGN IN THE MARKETING AGE. Harvard Architecture Review, 6, 103.

Trout, J., & Ries, A. (2000). Positioning: The battle for your mind. Replay Radio, Radio New Zealand. Gottdiener, M. (1997). The theming of America: Dreams, visions, and commercial spaces. Westview Pr.

Frank, T. (1998). The conquest of cool: Business culture, counterculture, and the rise of hip consumerism. University of Chicago Press.

Lasch, C. (1991). The culture of narcissism: American life in an age of diminishing expectations. WW Norton & Company.

Frampton, K., Drexler, A., & Rowe, C. (1975). Five Architects: Eisenman, Graves, Gwathmey, Hejduk, Meier’. New York: Oxford UP, 9-13.

Berman, M. (2009). The politics of authenticity: radical individualism and the emergence of modern society.

Marcuse, H. (2013). One-dimensional man: Studies in the ideology of advanced industrial society. Routledge.

Isenstadt, S. (2001). Recurring surfaces: architecture in the experience economy. Perspecta, 109-119.

Vance Packard, 1960 The Waste Makers

Colin Rowe, “Introduction,” Five Architects

Le Corbusier. [1923] 1986. Towards a New Architecture. New York: Dover.

Frampton, Kenneth. 1973. “Industrialization and the Crisis in Architecture.” Oppositions 1:57-82.

Frampton, Kenneth, 1992. Modern Architecture: A Critical History. London: Thames and Hudson.

Zukin, Sharon. 1991. Landscapes of Power: From Detroit to Disney World.Berkeley: University of California Press.