[ ]
[ What message does a School of Business that looks like the aftermath of a tornado convey? ]
[ ]
Beyond Postmodernism (Some background...)
[ ]
[ See picture, above! ]Above center: Case Western Reserve University Weatherhead School of Management, Frank Gehry, architect (1997). Pristine condition prior to possible future damage by war, sabotage or act of God, deterioration consequent to abandonment, etc. (Read more about this building, below[ Read more, below! ])
[ ]

* A statement from 1972, by the Director, Department of Architecture and Design, The Museum of Modern Art, New York

By many accountings, it seems that postmodernism either began or at least first achieved widespread attention in the field of architecture. I here quote from the preface of an early and influential book which celebrated this development, perhaps even before the word was available:

An alternative to political romance is to be an architect.... The young men represented [in this book] have the talent... and their work makes a modest claim: it is only architecture, not the salvation of man and the redemption of the earth. For those who like architecture that is no mean thing. (Arthur Drexler, Five Architects (Preface), 1972, Oxford, p. 1)

* A quote from Nietzsche (1883)

Almost a century earlier, Friedrich Nietzsche foresaw this retrograde "development", in which individuals abandon the aspiration to improve the world, in favor of superficial aesthetic manipulation of the status quo, and even take pride in this abdication:

[ The Last Man is here! ]Alas, the time is coming when man will no longer give birth to a star. Alas, the time of the most despicable man is coming, he who is no longer able to despise himself. Behold, I show you the last man. [/] "What is love? What is creation? What is longing? What is a star?" thus asks the last man, and he blinks. [/] The earth has become small, and on it hops the last man who makes everything small. His race is as ineradicable as the flea-beetle; the last man lives longest. [/] No shepherd and one herd! Everybody wants the same, everybody is the same.... [/] One is clever and knows everything that has ever happened: so there is no end of derision.... [/] "We have invented happiness," say the last men, and they blink. ("Zarathustra's Prologue", in Thus Spoke Zarathustra, 1883)

* Postmodern "theory"

It seems that postmodernism is not content with straightforward mediocrity, which makes sense, since, in general, postmodernists are intelligent, creative, educated, prosperous beneficiaries of modern civilization.... They use mediocrity as raw material for producing esoteric things that can be appreciated only by those who know the "codes", e.g.: the windows in Robert Venturi's Guild House (1960-63), which prima facie look like ordinary windows but are changed in scale to be bigger than their archetypes:

The change in scale of these almost banal elements contributes an expression of tension and a quality to these facades, which now read both as conventional and unconventional forms at the same time. (Robert Venturi, Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1966, p. 116)

[ Decorated shed: Tract house + Greek temple facade = Bank Branch Office ]The windows are not just "almost banal", but truly banal: metal casement windows of a form often seen in what in America was called at the time: "public housing". The residents of this Quaker home for the aged, place plastic flowers in these windows, and Venturi asserts that the plastic flowers seem right at home there, thus comforting the residents in their conventionality. We can easily imagine Venturi and his colleagues, at a reception in an elegant hotel, talking about the change of scale and how it is not noticable by the residents, thus cynically distancing themselves from a world they have, as architects, created for people not in their social circle. One of the terms Venturi himself uses for this kind of architecture is telling: "decorated shed" (See example, right: tract house with Greek temple facade added to make a bank Branch Office). This kind of architecture puts glitzy facades on places where persons go to use up their life time in banal activities pursued in uninspiring space. As the phrase proclaims: This architecture only makes things look better, not be better.

Once postmodernism got beyond architecture, which, if it to be actually built, must make some accommodation to reality, things got worse, and its theorists started saying things which amount to claiming that communication is impossible, etc. For these persons, I would ask: If communication is impossible, then would you have any problem with finding out that your paycheck and other assets did not communicate any value to a person from whom you wished to purchase something? If a social position of "full professor" is merely "different" from that of "janitor", in a floating field of signifiers, then let's swap the postmodernist professor's position for the other and see if it matters to him or her. Etc. It seems to me that postmodernism is a game indulged in by persons who can well afford to fool themselves (or at least to pretend to do so), in a social environment which, for whatever reason, rewards such [disingenuous] behavior well in terms of [real!] fame, money, etc. The emperor's new clothes (decorated shed... Trojan horse?[fn.94a[ Go to footnote! ]])....

[ ]
[ ]
[ ]
[ Go see the other side of this building! ]
[ ]
[ ] Frank Gehry: Team Disneyland Administration Building (1997). Anaheim, CA, "north end of Disneyland's back-of-house and parallel to the Santa Ana Freeway." Note how building appears to be just a facade with nothing behind it, like an old Hollywood "western" stage set frontier town, or a Potemkin Village.
[ ]
Herbert Muschamp (18May01 NYT, p.E25,27) titles a favorable essay: "Gehry's vision of renovating democracy". Then he writes: "Mr. Gehry's buildings can be hierarchically organized; the master suite in his own house occupies a more ample and elevated situation than the children's rooms."
[ ]
[ ]
[ Go see SFMoMA poster of this figurine! ]
[ ]
"Michael Jackson and Bubbles" (1988, from the artist's Banality series), an über-kitsch life-size sculpture of the King of Pop and his pet chimpanzee by Jeff Koons, which sold [at Sotheby's] on Tuesday (15May01) for $5.6 million, a record for a work by Mr. Koons. (NYT, 20May01)
[ ]
[ ] [ Notice what's hiding in plain sight! ]
[ ]
meta-Postmodern artwork
09 Feb 2002 © Brad McCormick, Ed.D.
[ ] [ Where is AOL man going to? ]
[ ]

* We are not yet really modern

I propose that our polluted earth needs to be redeemed and our alienated humanity saved. I propose that architecture can play a key role in this. An example is Louis Kahn, who tried to design buildings to be places which would nurture the creative community of the persons who used them. Consider:

The city is the place of availabilities. It is the place where a small boy, as he walks through it, may see something that will tell him what he wants to do his whole life.

...The city, from a simple settlement, became the place of assembled institutions. The measure of its greatness as a place to live must come from the character of its institutions, sanctioned by their sensitivity to desire for new agreement, not by need, because need comes from what already is. Desire is the thing not made, the roots of the will to live. (Louis Kahn, in Lobell, Between Silence and Light, 1979, pp. 44-5)

This endeavor to make differences which make a difference can be pursued in all areas of life, not just architecture. In place of postmodernism's "play of signifiers", we can cultivate significant play: activity in which persons find pleasure, fellowship, satisfaction, etc., in creative work directed to solving real problems in ways that straightforwardly enrich both their (our) own and others' lives.... Instead of decorating sheds into which persons must [under]go to spend their life time doing things that are not intrinsically nourishing or beautiful, we can work to liberate persons (including ourselves) from ever again having to subject themselves to such life circumstances. Etc....

Venturi polemically asserts that while it is OK to decorate construction, it is not OK to "construct decoration", which is how he describes modernist buildings that attempted by their visual form to be unique and thus to stand out from their surroundings. One specific example he cites is another housing project for the aged, by Paul Rudolph: a high-rise tower with windows in which the elderly's plastic flowers definitely look out of place (Learning from Las Vegas, ref. lost). (One precursor of postmodern architecture's ideal of the "decorated shed" is: automobile hubcaps.)

Insofar as the modernist building does no more to improve persons' quality of life than the postmodernist building, both fall short of the criteria Louis Kahn proposes: to construct spaces which better address human need, and, beyond that, foster persons' opportunities to create and to come to new social agreements for the universally satisfying arrangement of their lives -- places which nurture: "desire... the roots of the will to live". One may wish to call this a further elaboration of the idea of modernity, which, as the project of unending disciplined examination and critical reconstruction of our form of life in all its aspects, has obviously only been fragmentarily realized in our contemporary world (where, to pick one rather inconsequential example almost at random: persons still frequently ritually "dress up" for work and other social activities, only substituting (e.g.) Armani suits for birds' feathers...). If, alternatively, one wishes to limit "modernism" to its factual achievements -- emphasizing its failures and existing limitations over its more constructive accomplishments and its as yet unrealized potential --, then one might justly characterize the orientation I am here urging, with its renewed -- redoubled -- ethical and humanistic commitment, as being: "beyond postmodernism".

* Addendum: Evidence for hope (Germany, 2003)

[ Learn about VW's 'Transparent Factory'! ]A New York Times article (04Dec03): "In Eastern Germany, the Auto Plant as Showplace", describes new automobile factories being built in the former Soviet "satellite" area. Volkswagen is building a facility they call the: "Transparent Factory". Not only does the new building have glass walls so that it is physically transparent, but VW's objective is to make the entire production process cognitively and affectively "transparent". The section of their website "This is how we build cars" states:

The Transparent Factory puts clear principles into practice.
Everything is simple, open, clean and visible.
Even man-machine co-operation reaches new perfection.
Technological intelligence meets human craftsmanship.

(At another place on the website, the last point is repeated: "Robots are only used when they can sensibly assist the craftsman.") The next item: "Perfection in detail" continues:

Quality control is an essential component of production. Every vehicle must pass through a light tunnel over 80 feet long where the body is subjected to the glare of neon lights to check for the smallest irregulatity and blemish in the paintwork.

The New York Times article goes on to describe BMW's new "central office building, which will house the white-collar staff.... BMW's goal is to blur the line between the factory's managers and workers by placing the building in the midst of the complex, rather than in front of it."

These endeavors do not sound like decoration covering over a shed. Is it possible that, here, we are seeing experimental steps toward reorganizing the daily life of Everyman (e.g., automobile factory workers) to be more transparent, more meaningful? I hope so. And I hope that "we" in the United States are insipired by such examples to try to make our form of life more transparent and more meaningful, instead of, on the one hand, decorating sheds, and, on the other hand, trying to win a cost-cutting [what some have called:] race to the bottom.


Creating the kind of fascination that outlasts time -- this is the challenge that we at Volkswagen tackle anew each day....
Enhancing the quality of life is our guiding principle in the development of new ideas.... (--"The Transparent Factory")

Read  Edmund Husserl's lecture: Philosophy and the crisis of European humanity.
Learn why a city can deserve to exist (Louis Kahn).
Revisit The Tower of Babel (a model of the good life).
Think  about The Decline of The West: Is the adventure over?
See also  my page on Freud's Civilization and its Discontents.
[ Let's get beyond postmodernism! ]Return/Go to my Post-Postmodernism theory page.
[ ] [ ] [ ]
[ Go to: The duty of communicators! ]

Read about: Hubcap mentalité.
Study  more late 20th - early 21st century middle-class American folk customs.
 [ Click me to learn more about American middle-class 21st century folkways! ]
Meet Oscar!
See "modern" house with chandelier (Miami, Florida USA. 2004).
Learn  how postmodern architecture is just 19th century Beaux Arts neo-classical orthodoxy in new clothes and/or with a face-lift.
See  famous postmodern house whose famous postmodern architects were "heartbroken" when the client cancelled construction.
 [ See Diller + Scofidio heartbreak house! ]
[ GO look at the architecture! ]See more scintillating aluminum (But it's not a Frank Gehry art museum for Lhasa Tibet).

Visit  my Post-Postmodern artwork page (it's not Disneyland, but there are things to see and things to do there...).
See my Post modern artwork....
Go/Return  to architecture designs I did in 1981 Harvard Career Discovery Program (HCDP).
Visit  garden I designed for front yard of my home, inspired by Ise "Wedded rocks" (1996?).
Return  to my doctoral dissertation: Communication: the social matrix of supervision of psychotherapy.
Go to website Table of Contents.
Return to Brad McCormick's home page.
Return to site map.
[ ] [ Go to Site Map! ] [ ] [ Go to website Table of Contents! ] [ ] [ Go home! (BMcC website Home page!) ] [ ]
[ ]

[ Go to: The duty of communicators! ]
[ Where is AOL man going? Where are you going? ]
[ ]
Copyright © 1998-2002 Brad McCormick, Ed.D.
bradmcc@cloud9.net [ Email me! ]
26 March 2008CE (2008-03-26 ISO 8601)
[ ]
[ ] [ I remember! ] [ ] [ Go to The End of the Internet! ]
[ ]
[ Visit building to study The Decline of The West! ]
[ ]
[ ]
[ HTML 3.2 Checked! Test me! ]
[ ]
[ Whatever happened to Chicken Little? ]
[ ]
[ ]
[ ] [ Case Western Reserve University Weatherhead School of Management, Frank Gehry, architect (1997) ] [ ]
 The Cabinet of Dr. CaliGehry
[ ]
"CLEVELAND, May 10 [2003] -- The police said today that a gunman who killed one person and wounded two in a seven-hour attack here on Friday led SWAT teams on a maddening "cat-and-mouse" chase through one of the nation's most idiosyncratic architectural complexes, the building that houses Case Western Reserve University's... Weatherhead School of Management... a brick complex topped with towering bursts of undulating stainless steel... designed by Frank Gehry (left). Its avant-garde design led to a prolonged hide-and-seek between SWAT team members and the gunman in a building that defies conventional shape. Officers chased the man... over several floors. 'There are no right angles in the building,' said Chief Edward Lohn of the Cleveland police. 'There's a trail of blood throughout,' he added. 'The cat-and-mouse game moved room to room, floor to floor in that building.'" (Danny Hakim, "Ex-Employee Held in Campus Attack", NYT, 11May03, p.A19)
"Talk about hot! The glare off the shimmering stainless steel curves at the Frank Gehry-designed Walt Disney Concert Hall [Los Angeles] is so bad, it's heating up nearby condos at least 15 degrees and forcing owners to crank up their air conditioners." (USA Today online, AP, "New L.A. concert hall raises temperatures of neighbors", Posted 2/24/2004 11:22 AM, Updated 2/24/2004 11:24 AM) ~ "[C]omplaints about the... concert hall... have been flowing into the local politicians since it was officially opened in October 2003.... Throughout the summer, passing motorists reported being distracted by the reflected rays, while pedestrians described having to cross the street to avoid the intense heat.... The owner of a nearby video store said the reflected rays during this summer made her work feel 'like sitting in a sauna.'... The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors is considering a report that recommends sandblasting portions of the building to create a duller, less-reflective surface." (Archiseek, Gehry's Disney Hall Too Shiney for LA, "Complaints take shine off Gehry's L.A. concert hall; Last Updated Tue, 30 Nov 2004 16:36:04 EST")
Lower left: Gehry's MIT Ray and Maria Stata Center for Computer, Information and Intelligence Sciences, which is more directly reminiscent of the urban architecture in the German Expressionist film: The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.
[ ]
[ MIT Ray and Maria Stata Center for Computer, Information and Intelligence Sciences, Frank Gehry, architect (2004) ]
[ ]
[ Where is AOL man going to? ] [ ] [ This way to the egress! ]
[ ]