10 Postmodernist Buildings That Are Out of This World

Discover the quirky and experimental architecture of postmodernism

By Google Arts & Culture

Architecture, Tel Aviv, Israel (2009-08-31) by Travel InkGetty Images

Postmodern architecture emerged in the 1960s as a direct reaction against the minimalism and uniformity favored by modern architecture. Architect and architectural theorist Robert Venturi wrote a doctrine for the movement in his 1966 book Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture. The style opted for a more experimental and hybrid approach to architecture and flourished during the 1980s and 90s.

Though detractors of postmodern architecture have deemed it “ugly” and “superficial”, it’s hard to ignore the impact the resulting buildings have had on many a grey landscape. Here, using Street View, we check out some examples of postmodern architecture that you can visit.

1. Vanna Venturi House, Philadelphia, USA

One of the first examples of postmodern architecture is the Vanna Venturi House, which was built between 1962 and 1964 and designed by Robert Venturi for his mother, Vanna Venturi. The architect designed the house around the same time he wrote his anti-modernist manifesto, and its design reflects the sentiments in the book.

Many of the basic elements include a pitched roof (rather than a flat roof), emphasis on the central hearth and chimney, a closed ground floor and purely ornamental arch on the front of the house. At the time Venturi said: “Architects can no longer afford to be intimidated by the puritanically moral language of orthodox modern architecture. I like elements which are hybrid rather than pure, compromising rather than clear, distorted rather than straightforward.”

2. Piazza Italia, New Orleans, USA

The Piazza d’Italia is a public plaza located in downtown New Orleans and was designed by Charles Moore. Completed in 1978, the Piazza was originally seen as a memorial to the city’s Italian citizens, with a series of colonnades, arches, and a bell tower being arranged to surround a central fountain.

3. The Portland Building, Portland, USA

When it first opened in 1982, The Portland Building was seen as architecturally groundbreaking. Designed by Michael Graves, who was a part of the Memphis Group, it used a variety of surface materials and colors, with small windows and decorative flourishes, which was in stark contrast to the style of most large office buildings at the time. It was the first major postmodern building at 15 storeys high and while it still has its critics, is still deemed as a classic.

4. Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, Spain

For the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation selected Frank Gehry as the architect, and its director, Thomas Krens, encouraged him to design something “daring and innovative”.

Started in 1991 and completed in 1997, the curves on the exterior of the building were intended to appear random and were made from titanium to catch the light. The Guggenheim was Gehry’s most prominent project and while he resisted the postmodernist label, and any labelling of his work, the architect played with traditional notions of what a building could be.

5. James R. Thompson Center, Chicago, USA

The James R. Thompson Center is in the Loop district of Chicago and houses offices of the Illinois state government. The building was designed by Helmut Jahn, who became known for his futuristic works. The multi-colored atrium allows visitors to see all 17 storeys, and the glass exterior curves and slopes around the building. Opened in 1985, critics of the building called it both “wonderful” and “outrageous”.

6. Dolphin and Swan Hotels at Walt Disney Resort, Florida, U

Another one designed by Michael Graves, the Dolphin and Swan Hotels at the Walt Disney Resort in Florida are joined by a palm-tree-lined walkway across a lagoon. The hotels were opened in 1990 and are just as garish as they were at the time, with the brightly colored, animal-themed exteriors setting them apart from much of Orlando’s bland resort architecture. The pair of the hotels total two million square feet and have over 2,200 rooms.

7. The Neue Staatsgalerie Stuttgart, Germany

The Neue Staatsgalerie in Stuttgart, Germany, was designed by the British firm James Stirling, Michael Wilford and Associates, although largely accredited solely to partner James Stirling. It was constructed between 1979 and 1984 and, along with many other buildings in this list, the building has been claimed as the epitome of postmodernism.

8. MI6 building, London, United Kingdom

The SIS Building or MI6 Building at Vauxhall Cross has housed the Secret Intelligence Service since 1994. Designed by Terry Farell in the late 80s, the building is influenced by 1930s industrial modernist architecture such as the Battersea Power Stations, spliced with references to Mayan and Aztec religious temples. Over the years it’s been both equally criticised and praised for its conflicting styles and imposing size.

9. M2 building, Tokyo, Japan

The M2 building in Tokyo was designed by Kengo Kuma, his first major commission. The impressive building was completed in 1991, and was designed as Matsuda’s (Mazda) car salesroom. It now operates as a funeral hall. It’s a jumble of styles and details, comprised of dentils, corbels, triglyphs and arches at varying scales and constructed out of reinforced concrete.

10. A House For Essex, Wrabness, United Kingdom

A House for Essex was designed by FAT Architecture and Grayson Perry and was completed in 2015. It is both an artwork in itself and the setting for a number of works by Perry, which explore the special character and unique qualities of Essex. The building has been designed to “evoke the tradition of wayside and pilgrimage chapels” and is full of craft and character. 

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