Postmodern Architecture: What It Is And How To Identify It
Miranda Crace4-Minute Read
May 18, 2021
When you’re starting the process of buying a house, an important factor to consider is what type of architectural design styles appeal to you. The look and layout of a home can be heavily influenced by particular eras of history, so it can be helpful to go into your home buying process with a sense of the key characteristics of various design trends and which ones best fit your taste as a prospective homeowner.
One of the more dynamic and contentiously discussed architectural trends of the 20th century is postmodernism. Let’s discuss what this design style is, how it came to exist and how to spot postmodern structures wherever you’re looking to live.
What Is Postmodern Architecture?
The postmodern architectural style emerged in the 1960s and ’70s and rose to greater prominence in the ’80s and ’90s as a reaction to modernist trends that had grown popular in the U.S. and Europe. This movement can primarily be characterized by its rejection of convention and uniformity as well as its insistence on the need for richness, beauty and a little bit of fun in architecture.
In 1966, architect and theorist Robert Venturi published a book titled “Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture,” which laid out some of the key tenets of the postmodern movement and became a highly influential text for future architects interested in postmodernism.
The book encourages the use of hybrid elements and the celebration of pop culture in architectural design. Another one of his works, “Learning from Las Vegas” (1972), delved deeper into postmodernism and explored the use of historical trends in more current designs as they appeared on the Las Vegas Strip.
In order to fully understand postmodern architecture, it’s important to gain a clearer sense of how it differs from modern architecture and why the discussion of these two design styles can sometimes be so polarizing.
Modern Vs. Postmodern Architecture
Modern architecture first became popular in the 1920s and ’30s, in response to the revivalist trends that had previously been holding command over the architectural world for decades. This design style values simplicity and functionality, placing emphasis on boxy and rectangular shapes; clean lines; the use of industrial materials like steel, iron, glass and concrete and a minimalistic approach to ornamentation.
Postmodernist architects felt that modernism – especially midcentury modernism – was dull, unimaginative and lacked any elements of cultural expression. Modernists and supporters of more conservative architectural styles, on the other hand, believed that architecture was not a field that was meant to place focus on artistry over utility, and that postmodern designs were often ugly and gaudy as a result.
Postmodern Architecture Characteristics
The uniqueness of postmodern architecture might make it seem difficult for it to be summarized concisely, but there are a few prominent features a building needs to have for it to be considered postmodern. Let’s take a look at those.
One of the mostly clearly identifiable features of a postmodern building is the sense of whimsy that it exudes. To combat the rigidity of modernist design, many postmodern architects injected as much personality and creativity as possible into what they built – distorted lines, unconventional ornamentation and quite a bit of architectural rule-breaking can be found to some degree in most postmodern structures.
Many postmodern buildings can be spotted due to their bright exterior and interior color schemes. Modernist facades are often gray and lacking in vibrancy, so postmodern designs tend to defy the monotony by including pops of neon or pastel colors to beams, borders, window glass and countless other areas of the structure for added visual interest.
Twists On Classical Design Trends
As mentioned before, postmodern architecture involves deviation from the strict adherence to traditional design rules that many architects follow. Mixing multiple historical influences into one building is a common feature of postmodern design.
Postmodern buildings also tend to feature an array of unusual shapes, and are often built with mixed materials in order to add texture. In general, layering elements to increase the complexity and intrigue of the design is a major component of postmodernism.
Postmodern Architecture Examples
There are a few famous postmodern buildings that have had significant influence over the development of this architectural style as a whole. Let’s take a look at five of the most well-known examples.
The Vanna Venturi House
The Vanna Venturi House is a Philadelphia-based property completed in 1964 by Robert Venturi and his wife, Denise Scott Brown. The two architects designed this postmodern structure for Venturi’s mother, Vanna.
The Portland Building
The Portland Building is a 15-story structure designed by Michael Graves in Portland, Oregon. When it first opened in 1982, it was considered a groundbreaking – and, by some standards, controversial – work of postmodern architecture due to its abstract mixture of classical design elements and intermittent pops of color.
The New State Gallery
The New State Gallery, or Neue Staatsgalerie, is an art facility designed by James Stirling in Stuttgart, Germany. Completed in 1984, the building’s facade features asymmetrical shapes, varied textures, and steel frames and handrails painted with eye-catching shades of green, blue and pink.
The Piazza d’Italia
The Piazza d’Italia is a postmodern plaza in New Orleans designed by Charles Moore. Completed in 1978 and then renovated in 2004, the plaza nods to classical Italian architecture and stands out from surrounding buildings with its bright color scheme.
The Walt Disney Concert Hall
The Walt Disney Concert Hall is arguably one of the more recognizable postmodern structures in present-day American society. Designed by Frank Gehry and opened in 2003, this asymmetrical Los Angeles building features many warped shapes and curved stainless-steel panels on its exterior.
How To Find A House With Postmodern Architecture
While most of the best-known examples of postmodern architecture are not residential properties, this design style certainly still appears in homes across the United States today. If you’re looking to buy a house with a sense of character, consider keeping an eye out for postmodern-style listings.
Interested in learning more about home architecture? Check out our article on some of the other most popular house styles.
Need a real estate agent?
Match with a local expert.Get Started
Contemporary Or Modern? Which One Is Your Architecture Style
Distinguishing architecture styles can be hard, especially when it comes to contemporary homes. Read this to learn how to identify and describe them like a buff!
How To Buy A Historical House
Before you jump in and buy a historical home, it’s important to understand everything that’s involved. Here’s what you need to know.