Postmodern Architecture Dome

Postmodern Architecture: What It Is, Characteristics And Examples

Morgan McBride6-Minute Read
March 08, 2022

When you’re starting the home buying process, 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. 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 discussed architectural trends of the 20th century is postmodernism. Postmodern architecture is a unique and playful home design style. In this article you will learn more about the history of postmodernism and how to find a postmodern home.

What Is Postmodern Architecture?

Postmodern architecture, also known as “PoMo,” is a design style that embraces experimentation. The designs are eclectic, colorful, and feature many elements that are purely decorative, with no structural design purpose. These buildings are often whimsical and eye-catching, making postmodern buildings a very popular type of house still today.

Modern Vs. Postmodern Architecture

In order to fully understand postmodern architecture, it’s important to gain a clearer sense of how postmodernist design differs from modern architecture and why the discussion of these two design styles can sometimes be so polarizing.

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.

History Of 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. The postmodernism 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.

Famous Postmodern Architects

There are several main architects that spearheaded the postmodern architecture movement. These include:

Robin Venturi

Robin Venturi is considered the father of the postmodernism movement. His design of The Vanna Venturi House is marked as the first postmodern home built.

Frank Gehry

Gehry has designed a variety of homes and buildings that are considered major attractions to this day. Many of the buildings appear to twist or flow with unique, curved lines. His designs include El Peix in Barcelona, the Dancing House in Prague, the Museum of Pop Culture in Seattle, and the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles.

Michael Graves

Graves began his architecture career as a modernist but then switched to postmodernism. He particularly loved the cubist style elements and using bold color. His famous works include the Dolphin and Swan resorts at Walt Disney World, the Humana building in Kentucky, and the Denver Public Library.

Charles Moore

Moore loved designing buildings with bold colors, eclectic lines, and unusual material combinations. His notable work includes the Sea Ranch in Sonoma, The Mutual Savings Bank Building in San Francisco, and the Piazza d'Italia in New Orleans.

Philip Johnson

Johnson designed many modern and postmodern buildings. He especially built tall, soaring skyscrapers. His work includes the Gate of Europe towers in Madrid, the Lipstick Building in New York City, and PPG Place in Pittsburgh.

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. These features are all reflective of the postmodern movement’s intention of deviating from the architectural norms of the time.

Playfulness

One of the most 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.

Bright Colors

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.

Unique Materials

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 house was one of the very first designed in this postmodernism style. It features a prominent gable, an oversized chimney, and an assortment of mismatched windows.

This otherwise simple house was designed with unnecessary elements – such as a large slit in the facade and a huge arch across the front – that serve no functional purpose. This sense of whimsy and nonsensicalness laid the foundation for the very essence of the postmodernism movement.

Vanna Venturi House

The Portland Building

The Portland Building is a 15-story structure designed by Michael Graves in Portland, Oregon, that was considered the first postmodern tall office building. 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. It was designed to be in complete contrast with the popular modern glass and steel office buildings.

The facade of this building features bold, color blocked terra cotta tiles, mirrored glass, and white stucco. There are also modern takes on classical elements with pilasters, garlands, and keystones. The decorative features are oversized and dramatic. This building is central in the city of Portland and is considered a significant contribution to the post-modernism movement.

Portland Building

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.

Neue Staatsgalerie

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. In addition to the bright colors, the complex arches and variety of openings on the facade give the building a playful and eccentric look.

Piazza D'Italia

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. These silver-colored sails have become iconic as a symbol for the building and for postmodernism itself.

The Walt Disney Concert Hall

Postmodern Style Houses In Today’s Market

While many of the examples shown above of postmodern architecture are large buildings, postmodern architecture can be found in houses as well. You are most likely to find a postmodern home in Europe - particularly in Scandinavia – and in the northeastern United States. These homes were often built by prominent architects, and many are quite large, making them more expensive than the average house.

The Bottom Line

Postmodern architecture is bold and unique. If you are looking for a one-of-a-kind home, something in the postmodern style might be a perfect reflection of your personality. Be sure to check out the Rocket HomesSM houses for sale page in order to begin searching for a postmodern house to buy.

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Morgan McBride

Morgan McBride is a DIY-lover and home decor enthusiast living in Charleston, South Carolina. She has been blogging at CharlestonCrafted.com alongside her husband since 2012, where they empower their readers to craft their current home into their dream home through the power of DIY.