From Modern to Postmodern and Beyond

From Modern to Postmodern and Beyond

While the word “modern” is still used by most people to describe the architecture of our day architects and architectural historians use another term: “postmodern”. It may seem like semantics to the uninitiated but there is, in fact, a clear distinction to be made between the two. In this article, we’re going to take a look at the current state of architecture as practiced in most of the developed world and try to predict where things might go in the next 10-20 years.

Where Are We and How Did We Get Here?

The fact that postmodern architecture is lumped together in the popular mind with modern architecture doesn’t mean they are the same thing. They’re not. Postmodernism is, in fact, a slap in the face of true modernism, a complete renunciation of what architects of the 80s (when postmodernism first asserted itself) saw as modernism’s arrogance and inhumanity. But in order to understand their objections, we first need to understand how we went from this (Paris Opera) to this (Metropolitan Opera House NY).

palais garnier
metropolitan opera
van der rohe seagram building

Once the floodgates were opened there was no way to close them and modernism’s strict, cold-hearted orthodoxy didn’t stand a chance. Today, postmodern whimsy has reached dizzying new heights in the hands of architects like Frank Gehry, whose Dancing House in Prague is pictured below.

dancing house

Where Do We Go From Here?

The fact that today’s architecture is labeled “post” something instead of getting its own designation still riles many historians and indeed it raises the question “Where do you go from postmodern? To post-postmodern?” But issues of nomenclature aside it seems a pretty safe bet that architecture won’t be returning to the days of the Seagram building or “the projects” anytime soon. But just where is it headed?
At the moment we seem to be at a crossroads. Some architects seem content to throw ideas at the wall and go with whatever sticks, while others are preparing for a future where architecture will need to put energy and environmental issues first and irreverence second. Still, others seem intent on pushing the vertical limit as witnessed by the Burj Khalifa and the currently under construction (though on hold) 1 km tall Kingdom Tower in Saudi Arabia. Another consideration is how architecture is going to respond to changing technology and its impact on lifestyles.
For instance, with the Internet and e-books quickly rendering books as we know them irrelevant what, if any, role will the library play in the city of the future? Seattle has responded to that question by creating
an environmentally friendly public “library” whose lines evoke a traditional home (in a very whimsical way) and that is more public “meeting place” than reading room (although you can certainly do that too if you so choose).
seattle central library


Freed from the imperious indifference of modernism architecture, like art itself, seems to be taking several paths to the future with no one movement holding sway. Will it all eventually come together under one overarching aesthetic the way it did during the modern period? At this point no one can say for sure but it will be interesting to find out.