"Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity.
We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity. An Age of Religious Pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
"Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world." - Todd Littleton
"I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see." - Anon
"Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all." - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
"Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be." - Kurt Vonnegut
"Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals." - Jim Forest
"People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone." - Anon
"... Certainly God's love has made fools of us all." - R.E. Slater
"An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst." - R.E. Slater
"Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics." - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
"Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument.
There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is
irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a
power, or a principle that can be manipulated." - Emil Brunner
"Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh" means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Charles Jencks - An Architect's View of Postmodernism

The postmodern architect Charles Jencks gives to us his perspective of early postmodernism as he understood it from the 1980s to the present, based upon his past building and landscape designs, projects, and many books.

Moreover, the Evolutionary map (found below) that he provides in Architectural Review (July 2000) reminds us of the fluidity of "isms" that have washed over our past century of mankind - helping us to re-visualize the ebbs-and-flows that have washed over our souls and across our culturally-bound lives. It tells us of our larger-narratives, our grander-stories, that each of us have had a small part in the making, the creating or the undoing: to those lives around us, to our environment, and to our sense of being, time and place.

For the longer we have lived the more we have found ourselves personally (or impersonally) involved with the many events charted on this map having witnessed those events within our life; some of which we may have had a small part in its construction or de-construction; many others that we didn't. Events that didn't make sense to us at the time but in hindsight fall into place within our mental and communal (corporate) landscapes as we digested, and picked-through, an assortment of ideas, fashions, constructs, and debacles that have embroiled, or enmeshed, us through our lifetimes.

And in many ways, I suspect this blog (along with my poetic writings) have been a small attempt to piece together what I have seen and witnessed through the past decades of my life. And as the map below suggests, it seems that we have been through a lot. Each event or movement affecting us in one way or another, some directly, and others simply glancing off of us. To leave us dangling like a loose-end of thread trying to piece together the larger tapestry of our lives within an intermix of movements and duties that have driven us from morning to evening, sunrise to sunset, searching for solidarity with God, society, family and self. Waking only to hear again a continual garble of symphonies and cacophonous noises unintelligible until collected much later in life to be reviewed in the broader lights of interplay between significant speakers both personally and impersonally by a literary author, a musician, an historian, theologian, or philosopher. As each speaker/presentation interacts with, or intersects, our past-and-present world/era/timelines through the spoken or written word, a sound of music, a convocation, a play or even an authored work itself.

That said, Charles Jencks reviews his life's convocations and vocation revisualizing with us what he has seen and witness within our percolating 20th Century global societies, attempting to capture and build those many separate stories into a variegated set of pluralistic, many-faceted structures and environments that tell the story of our human societies at once complex, unending, restless, searching, evolving. It is the story of us. It is the story of me. It is our grander meta-narratives, our turbulent cultural symphonies and cacophonous noises, our alters of sacrifice and worship, our corporate works of industry and largesse, attributed to the magnificence, the disquiet, even the horror of mankind seeking relevance upon the footlights of life's multitudinous stages and melodramatic operas.

R.E. Slater
October 2011 

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"The Century is Over"
Evolutionary Tree of Twentieth-Century Architecture
with its attractor basins, by Charles Jencks

Scanned from Architectural Review, July 2000, p. 77


"The Century is Over" - Evolutionary Tree of Twentieth-Century Architecture with its attractor basins,
by Charles Jencks, Architectural Review, July 2000, p. 77 - http://relevancy22.blogspot.com/2011/10/charles-jencks-look-at-modernism.html


Post-Modernism has become an integral part of the cultural landscape after developing for thirty years as a movement in the arts, after being disputed and celebrated. In this witty overview, Charles Jencks, the first to write a book defining the subject, argues that the movement is one more reaction from within modernism critical of its shortcomings. The unintended consequences of modernisation, such as the terrorist debacle and global warming, are typical issues motivating a Critical Modern response today.

In a unique analysis, using many explanatory diagrams and graphs, Jencks reveals the evolutionary, social and economic forces of this new stage of global civilisation. Critical Modernism emerges at two levels. As an underground movement, it is the fact that many modernisms compete, quarrel and criticise each other as they seek to become dominant. Secondly, when so many of these movements follow each other today in quick succession, they may reach a ‘critical mass,’ a Modernism, and become a conscious tradition.


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Critical Modernism: Where is Post-Modernism Going What is Post-ModernismCritical Modernism:
Where is Post-Modernism Going
[Paperback]

by Charles Jencks, Academy Press; 5 edition (June 12, 2007)

More books by Charles Jencks -





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What is Post-Modernism?

by Charles Jencks, Academy Press; 4 edition (June 13, 1996)

Provides a lucid exposition of Post-Modernism in art and architecture.


From the Back Cover

What is Post-Modernism (What Isà?)'What is Post-Modernism?' Is it a new world view,or an outgrowth of the Post-Industrial Society? Is it a shift in philosophy, the arts and architecture? In this fourth, entirely revised edition,   shows it is all these things plus many other forces that have exploded since the early 1960s. In a unique analysis, Charles Jencks using analysis and diagrams designed especially for this edition, reveals the evolutionary, social and economic forces of this new stage of global civilisation.

But why has post-modern culture arrived? In an ironic parable, 'the Protestant Crusade'. Jencks uncovers some hitherto hidden origins: the Modernists' abhorrence for all things sensuous and natural, and their zeal for all things orderly and mechanistic. This pseudo-religion led in the 1920s to the famous 'vacuum-cleaning' period, the purgation of values, metaphysics and emotion. In the 1970s it led on to the 'Protestant Inquisition' which inadvertently created the very enemy Modernists feared - Post-Modernism; a Counter-Reformation, the reassertion of worldliness, fecundity, humour and pluralism.

However, more than one tradition emerged and Jencks, distinguishing two types of Post-Modernism (deconstructive and reconstructive) demonstrates that the former is often a disguised form of Late-Modernism. This takes the de-creation and nihilism of its parent to extremes. The main engine that drives global culture today - post-modernisation, the electronic economy and instant communications network - is analysed in its close relation to other 'posts': Post-Fordism, Post-Socialism and the post-national world of trading blocs and unstable nations. Jencks argues that this may result in catastrophe and global governance, or a web of transnational institutions and obligations.

The most radical idea of this challenging book is the conclusion: the notion that the post-modern world does not mean the end of meta-narratives, but something quite different. Belief systems are flourishing as never before and, Jencks argues, "a new meta-narrative, based on the story of the universe and its generative qualities, will soon create a new world view that will affect all areas. It is a story which grows directly out of the post-modern sciences of complexity and is thus both true and mythic."

Jencks other What is...? titles include What is Abstraction?, What is Deconstruction?

An Amazon Book Review
by mlbasquiat 

I have great respect for Charles Jencks as an architect, and as a critic of art relating to such. Therefore the book should be retitled, What is Postmodern Architecture? Or what is everything about Post-Modernism except the art? The main focus seems to be on the industrial world which created the art, rather then the [postmodernistic] art itself. Seems hardly revolutionary or even relevant since everyone and their brother and sister has written on that subject since 1820. I was hoping for something which would address the art, but I was sorely disappointed. The constant focus on the world around the buildings of postmodernism dragged and was inebriatingly dull (It got to the point where the author was forced to contradict himself to make the book interesting).

The focus of Postmoderism was once architecture, however, now the focus has shifted, it seems everyone except the academics know this. [Jencks sections on art and literature are light and misinformed] and I expected more from Jencks, being the great mind of the century that he was. If you want to know anything helpful and relevant pretaining to Post Modernism today, do not read this book. But hey if you want to know about your father's post modernism, read this book!


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2000 July: Jencks' Theory of Evolution,
an Overview of 20th Century Architecture

AR 2000 July − Jencks' Theory of Evolution Diagram














At the start of the twenty-first century, Charles Jencks gives a personal, perceptive and provocative summary of the architecture of the twentieth. Now that the century is over it is time to ask what it meant for architecture. This is a harder question than it first appears. Did Modern architecture, as its apologists claim, triumph over other contenders? What was the relationship of commercial practice to quality - did the best architects lead or only influence the profession? Did good architecture trickle-down or was it dumbed-down? Or did a hundred mini-movements tell the real story of the century; or was it like that of the past, one of spec builders, the DIY industry and self-build?

In terms of sheer numbers the century has been claimed for the shed building, the factory, warehouse and its cousin, the office. In terms of cost airports have won, in terms of prestige museums, in terms of kitsch it has been shopping and mega-malls, but building-counts like body-counts only tell the background story.

The main narrative does not belong to any building type, movement, individual or sector. Rather, it belongs to a competitive drama, a dynamic and turbulent flow of ideas, social movements, technical forces and individuals all jockeying for position. Sometimes, a movement or an individual may be momentarily in the public eye and enjoy media power, but such notoriety rarely lasts for more than five years and usually for not more than two.


AR 2000 July − Jencks' Theory of Evolution (Pages 1 and 2)


It is true that certain architects of the previous century - how strange those words ring for Modernists - were creative forces that lasted for longer. Mies was a power to be reckoned with in the ’20s and ’60s. Le Corbusier, Frank Lloyd Wright and Aalto, who with Mies made up the big four, were seminal at more times and Kahn, Stirling, Eisenman and Gehry, the little four, each had two small periods of influence. But even these protean characters, in order to stay relevant and on top, had to reinvent themselves about every 10 years.

The notion that there is a ‘10-year rule’ of reinvention for the creative genius in the twentieth century has been well argued by the Harvard cognitive scientist Howard Gardner in his book Creating Minds, 1993. Subtitled An anatomy of creativity seen through the lives of Freud, Einstein, Picasso, Stravinsky, Eliot, Graham and Gandhi, it is a detailed study of these, the big seven Modernists, and it shows how they often made breakthroughs or underwent creative shifts every 10 years.

In a recently finished book, Le Corbusier and the Continual Revolution in Architecture, I have found the same pattern in this the Proteus of design. As the Hayward Gallery put it, polemically, in the title of a 1987 retrospective Le Corbusier was ‘The Architect of the Century’. Well, could this be possible - even before the century was over and Frank Gehry given a shot at the title? I think the answer is ‘yes’, as I argue at length and as the accompanying evolutionary tree, or diagram, shows.

One will find Corbu’s presence on this chart at five different points:
  • as the leader of ‘the Heroic Period’ of the 1920s;
  • as a leading thinker of a new (and rather unfortunate) urbanism;
  • as the leader of ClAM and mass housing after the war;
  • as a harbinger of Post-Modernism with Ronchamp and the symbolic architecture of Chandigarh; and,
  • just at the end of his life, with his Brussels and Zurich pavilions, the forerunner of the High-Tech movement.
No other architect was as creative in different traditions; not for nothing was he seen as ‘the Picasso of architecture’.

But the point of my argument is slightly different than Howard Gardner’s. While agreeing with his analysis, I think one of the important reasons for the demonic creativity of these seven ‘geniuses’ is that the last century was uncommonly turbulent. My diagram, and its tortuous blobs, captures this continual revolution. At any one time the twentieth century architect has had to face three or four competing movements of architecture, respond to changes in technology, social forces, style and ideology - not to mention world wars and such large impersonal forces as the Internet. It was an exhausting century. As the Chinese say: ‘may you be condemned to live in interesting times’.


AR 2000 July − Jencks' Theory of Evolution (Pages 3 and 4)


However beneficent this may be for architectural creativity this has not been healthy or good for the environment. For one thing it has been Gardner’s message - the revolutionary period has been dominated by men, there are very few women among the 400 protean creators I have gathered from other writers. An urbanism both more feminine and coherent would have been far superior to the over- rationalized and badly related boxes that have formed our cities.

For another thing continual revolution, or the constant change of fashion, business cycles, technical innovation and social transformation has meant that architecture, like the other arts, lacks depth and perfection. It is hard to master an art when surfing a waterfall. Nonetheless, that is what the old century has been, a turbulent motion of whirls and eddies; sometime even the whirlpool of Fascist and Nazi architecture going nowhere but down. There are about 100 trends and technical forces shown, and 60 movements, many of them ‘isms’ - Futurism, Expressionism, Brutalism or Metabolism - that became ‘wasms’. Riding these waves as a leader is exhilarating, until the Neo-follower surfs on by.

I don’t mean to be disparaging so much as realistic. The twentieth century produced great architecture but, as Lewis Mumford often noted, with great faults. A critical Modernism, or Post-Modern perspective, must acknowledge these deep problems and face the horrors of the century as much as the triumphs.

The evolutionary tree and its surprising conclusions

Usually when historians look at the recent past they do so with the eyes and taste that rigidly exclude the variety, contradictions, mess and creative wealth of a period, and we applaud them for so doing. All history writing is selective and based on theories of what really matters, and there is no way around this limitation. But there are ways to compensate for perspectival distortion and over the last 30 years I have devised a method, the evolutionary tree, which if it is not completely inclusive is at least balanced in its selective effects.

As can be seen in the classifiers to the extreme left of the diagram, it is based on the assumption that there are coherent traditions that tend to self-organize around underlying structures. These deep structures, often opposed to each other psychologically and culturally, act like what are called, in the esoteric science of nonlinear dynamics, ‘attractor basins’: they attract architects to one line of development rather than another. Why? Not only because of taste, training, education and friendships, but because of type-casting and the way the market forces architects to have an identifiable style and skill. In a word, specialization.

Of course, architects dislike being pigeon-holed as much as do politicians and writers - they too like to claim universality, freedom and openness. But it is the rare architect, such as Le Corbusier or Gehry, who can be found in several different traditions and often they are pilloried for leaving one fold for another. Enough forces conspire to keep the architect ‘on message’, even when they seek, like Post-Modernists, to be pluralists.

What stories does this turbulent blob-diagram tell? In crude terms it reveals some surprises. Most architecture - 80 per cent? - is by non-architects, or at least the result of larger processes that are, artistically speaking, unselfconscious: building regulations, governmental acts, the vernacular, planning laws, mass housing, the mallification of the suburbs, and inventions in the technical/industrial sphere. Le Corbusier in the 1920s, Russian disurbanists in the 1930s and Richard Rogers today try to affect this inchoate area, but like globalization it is mostly beyond anyone’s control.

This high proportion of non-architectural creativity is likely to lessen in the future as more and more of the environment is forced into governmental and planning control, the result of economic and ecological forces. But the ironic truth remains that, in terms of control and mega-planning, the Disney corporation has been more effective than the former Soviet Union and, architecturally-speaking, its results are unselfconscious vernacular pastiche (all-too-consciously applied.)

Another surprise is that a polemical movement may not be the preserve of just one tradition. One would have thought the ecological imperative might have been monopolized by the Activist tradition, but it has been taken up by all of them in different ways. For instance, the Classicists, following Leon Krier, have created an ecological movement known as the New Urbanism. It is based on the tight village planning of a previous area, and it is mostly Classical and Vernacular in style; its green credentials are presented with historicist wrappers.

Then there are Post-Modern versions of green architecture, with SITE, Ralph Erskine and Lucien Kroll; High-Tech versions usually called Eco-Tech (or Organi-Tech); the Biomorphic versions of Ken Yeang. And there is the madly optimistic corporate-governmental version of the Sustainability Movement let by Amory Lovins. His notion is summarized in the oxymoron ‘Natural Capitalism’. Nature and capitalism can walk together in the twenty-first century. He argues, counter to stereotypes, that so many efficiencies and savings can be made that economic and ecological growth can occur at the same time - at four times their current rate! - if only we can think through all systems at the start.

As Oscar Wilde put it: ‘being natural is such a difficult pose to keep up’- and reconciling these heretofore opposed forces is going to take more than a pose, that is, a raft of tax incentives. In any case, the point is that green architectures, in the plural, are coming from everywhere while we might have thought the ecological issue would be taken over by just one or two movements.

AR 2000 July - Jencks' Theory of Evolution (Picture 2)
The south porch of the Templo de la Sagrada Familia, Barcelona
A third surprise is that we can see the strange alliances within the self-conscious tradition, usually the mainstream, or what Sigfried Giedion called the ‘ruling style’ of architecture. Up through the 1940s this was mostly a version of Classicism: Edwardian Baroque, Beaux-Arts Classicism, monumental stripped Classicism, or the fundamental Classicism of Gunnar Asplund.

When the Fascists in Italy and Spain, and the leaders of Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia self-consciously imposed their version as a state style it squeezed out contending approaches. The diaspora of Modern architects and the waning of other approaches are clear from the diagram: like evolutionary species whose habitat is destroyed they went virtually extinct (or emigrated from Europe and the USSR).

Following sociologists such a David Harvey and David Herf, there is another surprise: I have called these Classical or monumental folk architects ‘Reactionary Modernists’. Like Albert Speer they were just as wedded to technology, economic progress, instrumental reason and the Zeitgeist as Mies, Le Corbusier and Gropius. The fact that they persecuted Functionalists and creative Modernists and adopted reactionary styles and attitudes has obscured the deeper point that they all shared some common assumptions about power, mass culture and mass production.

They were, in effect, disputing some common territory, a point that the diagram reveals especially when Modernism triumphs after the Second World War. The true inheritors of the mainstream were the big corporate Modernists, and they have been so ever since. They only appear small in my diagram because their creativity and influence has not been excessive. In terms of volume of work they have overshadowed the four other traditions.

The evolutionary tree also shows a minor surprise: the way this dominant is constantly attracted back to stripped Classicism, or degree-zero Modernism. Although they are very different, Lincoln Center in New York, and 20 other cultural scenes in America during the ’60s, are in this blood line, as is the Modern Classicism of Robert Stern and Demetri Porphyrios. The Corporate Modernism of Berlin, and even Richard Meier, is not too far away from this ‘strange attractor’. Why? The corporate forces of production and patronage favour an impersonal, abstract, semi-Classical sobriety. Giedion’s notion of the ‘ruling taste’ is usually pulled towards this attractor basin.

But mainstream culture is not always located on this axis. Several important exceptions were when Expressionism, the Bauhaus, and the Heroic Period dominated for a few years in the ’20s, or Post-Modernism did in the early ’80s, or Art Nouveau and National Romanticism did at the start of the century. Hector Guimard in Paris, Horta in Belgium, Mackintosh in Glasgow, Eliel Saarinen and Lars Sonck in Helsinki, and my favourite architect, Antonio Gaudi, in Barcelona - all became momentary leaders of a major public architecture, if only for three of four years.

Gaudi a standard

Here is a point where my bias shows through the evolutionary tree. Nikolaus Pevsner dismissed most of these movements as ‘transitory fashions’ and for Giedion, except for the Heroic Period, they were not ‘constituent facts’. One remembers how Modernist historians, like revisionist Communists air-brushing Trotsky out of photographs, liked to clean up uncomfortable facts. Interpretation and judgment obviously distort all historical selection.

My argument for placing Antonio Gaudi the best architect of the century, even ahead of Le Corbusier, does not rest on his influence, city planning or theoretical contribution. Rather, it concerns his creative brilliance at turning city building and structure into a high art. No other architect managed to get craftsmen, artists and even patrons working together on such a large and complete scale. His works remain the standard of integrating all the arts at the highest creative and symbolic level.

The reason his work has such creative depth is that he took a long time - which other twentieth-century architects did not allow themselves - to innovate at all levels. His architecture exploits all sorts of new structural types - such as the hyperbolic paraboloid - if not for the very first time, then for the most seminal time. He makes such form-types his own by giving them a forceful and poetic expression. Moreover he bends structural rationalism to expressive ends. For instance, where the Italian engineer Nervi makes an ordered art from showing the isostatic lines of force in his concrete ceiling, Gaudi takes the same forces and makes them dynamic - like the straining muscles of an athlete - pushing against each other. Concrete becomes animated, humorous, related to our body and moods.

Beyond this, in buildings such as the Casa Batllo, he uses technological and structural innovations for symbolic, and political, ends - to present the sufferings of the Catalans under the dragon of Castile. Structural and material invention are always means to a larger intention, and it is this overall meaning that gives his work the greatest symbolic depth. It communicates up and down the scales, from the everyday and local to the cosmic. By comparison the work of Mies and Aalto is too abstract, Le Corbusier and Wright too cut off from the language of the street, Eisenman too cerebral, Gehry too formalist.


AR 2000 July - Jencks' Theory of Evolution (Picture 1)
Left. The lodge and turret of the Parc Guell.Right.
The interior of the Templo Expiatorio de la Sagrada Familia

To say Gaudi was the architect of the century, however, reveals my partiality towards artistic and symbolic architecture, values that other critics, such as Ken Frampton, do not necessarily share. In an Art Net lecture in London of 1974, I was shocked to hear him dismiss Gaudi as ‘kitsch’ - but Philip Johnson used to dismiss Frank Lloyd Wright as the ‘greatest architect of the nineteenth century’. The evolutionary tree is meant to make such egregious dismissals, as Pevsner, Giedion, Frampton and Johnson are happy to commit, more difficult. Or at least make them feel uncomfortable.

I realize, however, the high placement of Gaudi is a contentious claim that needs more defence than I can offer here. Those who value the perfecting of architectural technique might proffer Mies, Kahn or Norman Foster as the architect of the century. Those who value theory and education might favour Gropius at the Bauhaus or Eisenman because of his design and writing; those who prefer an understated humanism might put Aalto in this role. Many contenders for the top positions re apparent in the weighting I have given the 400 ‘best’ architects.

But my idiosyncrasy of proffering Gaudi actually raises another surprise. In spite of a few disagreements over ‘transitory facts’, most critics and historians of twentieth-century architecture would accept this lift of the 400 and most of the relative weighting. They would argue over the details but, because it is constructed as a composite portrait of what they have written, it is not very contentious.

Perhaps I have exaggerated the recent Biomorphic School (because I think it will be important) but a provocative aspect of this diagram is how conventional is it. We are surprised to find such a tumultuous century so full of stereotype and consensus. Was Modernism really invented to mass-produce opinion and culture on a global scale - what ever happened to its creativity and individuality?

When we look back at he nineteenth century, with superiority, we laugh at the Salon and the conformity of an Academy of taste that could elevate Bougereau and Lord Leighton to such heights. Will the twenty-first century be kinder to the Brit Pack of Damien Hirst and other sensations sanctioned by the Royal Academy; or the 10 000 followers of Andy Warhol? One of the more pleasant aspects of a change in century, and millennium, is that it forces such thoughts of quality and perspective into view. On 1 January 2000 all the most avant-garde artists and Modernists became old hat. The twentieth century is over; interpretation begins!


From the AR Archives

Charles Jencks discusses revivalism in relation to the Getty Museum and asks if we should still indulge in historical simulation from 1978’s February edition of The Architectural Review.



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