What is postmodernism? Are the postmodern characteristics still apparent in contemporary architectural design? According to scholars, “Postmodernism, by definition resists definition”. If postmodernism is then difficult to be defined, on what principles can one judge if postmodernism in architecture is in still emerging? Postmodernism in its regional/vernacular forms reflects neighborhood culture. Some argue that postmodernism is a reaction to the forces of “creative destruction.” But it can be a tool for those powers as well. The end of the assembly line, created by the instant flexibility of computer technology, means that in this post-Fordist world people can all have a unique, neighborhood specific thing, as well as having the same reference.
Evaluating and categorizing architects according to styles, periods, theoretical backgrounds, and philosophical ideas, from Itkinos and Brunelleschi, to Borromini and Le Corbusier, is a very challenging process that requires a deep understanding of the key elements that influence the architects’ design. What appears though to be a constant value in this type of analysis, is that the evolution of architecture, from the period of the Greek civilization (Parthenon in Athens 447-433 BC), to the present day’s Santiago Calatrava’s projects, signifies that the architect’s pursuit for the myriad idea of beauty is actually a leitmotif of his/her past influences.
Postmodernism is differentiated from other cultural forms by its emphasis on fragmentation which replaces the alienation of the subject that characterized modernism. Postmodernism is concerned with all surface, no substance. There is a loss of the center. Postmodernist works are often characterized by a lack of depth; a flatness. Individuals are no longer anomic, because there is nothing from which one can sever ties. The liberation from the anxiety which characterized anomie may also mean liberation from every other kind of feeling as well. This is not to say that the cultural products of the postmodern era are utterly devoid of feeling, but rather that such feelings are now free-floating and impersonal. Also distinctive of the late capitalist age is postmodernism’s focus on commodification and the recycling of old images and commodities.
In architecture, postmodernism, in its regional or vernacular forms, reflects neighborhood culture. In this way, it can function as a tool in class struggle and can probably be used by any player in the struggle. Thus, postmodernism when examined as a resistive force is closely linked to the historic preservationists. In trying to maintain the collective memory of a place the postmodernist agenda can be used in a way that is antithetical to the forces. Public or private partnerships that wipe out neighborhoods can use the postmodern vocabulary in their new ventures. Neighborhoods can hope to have at best just a mere palimpsest of a memory of what they were in the past.
One day perhaps, neuroscience will explain why some infrastructures seem to reach far beyond their physicaldimensions. But one does not need to wait for that explanation in order to experience their postmodern orpost-postmodern effect. It turns out that bodies, buildings, streets and cities are still useful for certain things inthe global age of digital information. People are only beginning to uncover how they work.