Perses | (/ˈpɜːrsɪz/; Greek: Πέρσης) was the son of the Titan siblings, Crius and Eurybia. He was described as the Titan god of destruction in mythology.
Deconstructivism | A development of postmodern architecture that began in the late 1950s. It is influenced by the theory of "Deconstruction", which is a form of semiotic analysis.
Philosophy and design have an interesting relationship with one another. They play a sort of hide and seek game over the years. Usually we get a first taste of a combination between philosophy and design which sparks an insane amount of variation, interpretation, and evolution. Architects of the past have all seen their share of influence but the conversation between philosopher and architect, for me, has always sparked an interest. Maybe it is a crutch of sorts? Maybe it is a fad? Maybe its just a student’s fantasy? But lets begin by discussing post modernism or more specifically the deconstructivist movement as it is what inspired my work at a pivotal moment in my architecture discourse.
The deconstructivist movement carries over the main concept from post-modernism of semiotics or mostly the relationship of the sign and signifier. These two things exist in language as ways that we perceive things, objects, ideas etc. The sign is the image, it is a representation to the eye. As I am walking down the street, the world is filled up with many objects. Each has a family, each has a category, each has a name. These objects are signs, their names are signifiers. And we know this because if I were to say tree, you automatically think of a large plant with a trunk, bark, possibly leaves or needles, maybe roots and pulp, sap etc. This is a tree. If you were to look at a large plant with bark and leaves and roots etc. you would call it or signify it as a tree. But what if the sign and the signifier were to change. If I said tree and you automatically thought of a large furry animal with four legs and a tail, that would be strange. But why do we constantly create these signs and signifiers based off of almost nothing. Jaques Derrida, a french philosopher, came to be popular in these notions of breaking down semiotics and confusing the idea of sign and signifier. Creating infinite shifts of meanings from one signifier to another. This idea attempts to remove all frozen meanings and create overlap, exchange, difference thus ultimately arguing against the idea that there is a original unit or thought that makes up a sign and its signifier.
What does this mean for architecture? Well, everything really. In original post modern thought, if I were to say house, we might jump to a conclusion of what that looks like instantly based on our history of houses that we live in, see, touch, etc. If I were to say window, we might automatically jump to a conclusion of what that is and what that looks like. Why do we do this? Because to us, these are ways to create finite and ultimate conclusions of the world. In architecture it is to create a base system on which we can evaluate all construction. The deconstructivist movement said screw that, we need to rethink and redraw all conclusions, because who says that a window needs to be a rectangular hole in a wall that holds four panes of glass in a way that brings light and air into a structure. Who says a facade needs to be an orthogonal and simple covering a built space?
Deconstructivist architects such as Bernard Tschumi, Frank Ghery, Peter Eisenman, Thom Mayne, Wolf Prix, and Rem Koolhaas, all began by questioning the role of modernism in architecture. In modernism we were striving for the perfect solutions to the built environment. As Le Corbusier said, the house is a machine for living. If we interpret this, one could say that the machine is intended to have flawless working parts, each element would be constructed perfectly with no waste. A machine does not have decoration, does not have anything other than what it needs to work and produce (of course, it is easy to see why Fascism took this as their own architectural style). The breaking down of this machine was what post modernists attempted to achieve. Early post modernism took this as a direct attack on uniqueness and personality. Late post modernism, or deconstructivism, took this as a misinterpretation on what exactly each of the elements of architecture are and what they do. The beginning of this movement starts with projects from the Parc de la Villette competition. Many architects participated and created similar approaches to design, showing a new swing of formal design in architecture. Projects that followed by Coop Himmelblau, OMA, Morphosis, and even Zaha Hadid, show promise of what the style revolution could hold moving forward. Great examples of this movement are scattered but are definitely recognizable, such as Zaha’s Vitra Fire Station, Morphosis’ Cooper Union, Coop’s Groninger Museum, and OMA’s Kunsthal. To me it is interesting to see the connection of all of these projects and their interpretation of the ideas of Derrida. Can we begin to break down the restrictive nature of modernism and create a more serious reaction to post-modernism, these projects show us that it was and is possible. The movement is still alive today and inspires us to think outside of the box in terms of what really is architecture and what elements of architecture mean. The style is defined by a confluence of material, structure, glass, concrete, metal etc. and is distinct in its near misses, collision of elements, overlay, and fractured nature. But continually to hold the idea that an element of design and architecture was to be maintained, just twisted in a way that would disorient and create uncomfortable situations and awkwardness in architecture that seemed to reveal the truth about the element itself. Simlar to Heidegger’s tool analysis (which I will come back too in the near future), deconstructivism began to break down the elements of architecture so that it would be reconsidered and seen in a much more artistic and aesthetic way, not just as part of the machine, but as an element that is to be designed on its own.
One last thing to note:
The deconstructivist style is the first movement in the contemporary thought of architecture. It begins at the onset of technology in design. We see the beginnings of the movement as remaining in the physical realm of building models, drawing and hand rendering projects. But to me it is interesting to see that actually, the downfall of this movement was that of the digital project. Digital technology became the tool that, in fact, brought the elements back together and away from the aesthetic into the data driven and factual. If modernism created the machine for living, and deconstructivist thinking dismantled that machine, then the downfall of deconstructivism was the pulverizing and melting of elements back into a unified whole.
The next post in this series will be about what happens next in the lineage of theory in architecture. Why the digital project killed deconstructivism and brought on a new modernism.