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The End of the Movements in Architecture

October 27, 2019

Landscape architect and writer Charles Jencks died a couple of weeks ago.

He was someone who connected the dots of our cultural flow in architecture. Dozens, perhaps scores of “Movements” were charted in his book “The Language of Post Modern Architecture” and about 8 subsequent editions, plus other books.

It is a cliche to say that we are in the greatest time of change since the Industrial Revolution.  But it is true. The new technology, Climate Change, even the nature of the American Presidency are all promising uncontrollable evolution. The American Psychiatric Association noted that anxiety has in creased in this change time for 40% of us.

When things change, “Movements” happen. It’s another cliche to say that the Industrial Revolution facilitated Modernism. But it did. Instead of making buildings that looked and functioned as they had before electricity, steel, central heating, and elevators the aesthetics of our built environment changed.

It is another cliche to say that Climate Change is a crisis. Crises change architecture too. A relatively small crisis, the Gasoline Crisis of the late 1970’s caused Solar Architecture to become a “Movement” in the aesthetic development of architecture. While the overwhelming reality of global climate change has produced huge evolutions in materials and measurables, there is no defined aesthetic impact from this huge focus. The buildings of 2019 look largely like those of 1979.  The “Green Movement” has spawned cottage industries around USGBC ratings, “Resiliency” seminars and a virtual Commandment of Sustainability, but the aesthetics of architecture see no break from the past.

Design criteria are not “Movements”.

Its not as if architects do not want to surf a “Movement” to insure defendabie designs. Another bromide is the Artificial Intelligence will change everything. “Paramentrics” was a manifesto declared by Patrik Shumacher that simply declared that Artificial Intelligence driven computer aided design development would change everything. It did not.

BIM and Revit have changed everything about “How” we define buildings. Technologies like “3D Printing” may change the “Way” we make buildings. But these advances have not changed the “What” of architecture as much as the depressing boxes derived from the newly code-sanctioned “Platform Over Podium/5 over 2” construction type.

Of course, “Style Wars” are still a rat hole of defensive waste of time: reciting the same deeply vacuous rejection of either “Traditional” of “Modern” outcomes. But is the Era of Movements over?

“New Music” ended any need to follow any definition of “music” beyond “sound”, maybe Modernism ending “building” for “form” and once the fine arts loses connection to “How” it is made in favor of “What” is made, maybe its just every architect for his or her self.

Maybe the latest “Movement” is just “The Internet”: architecture designed for screen viewing. The video capture of impossibly perfect aesthetics that can be captured in 2D has made material, use, client, even context irrelevant.

There are more and more “Virtual” projects being presented in print and on the web as if they were real buildings – with only a brief allusion to their cyber reality. Instead, fetishes are focii. The Wrapping Roof/Wall think layer, same material, zero structure, and impossibly unbroken planes, perfect when the camera captures its abstraction. The cantilever. The void/plane box. Nothing new, just refined.

Meanwhile the world is exploding in change, and architects look at other architects looking at screens.


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