Saturday, May 30, 2009

Deconstructivism - A Guide


A Simple Guide
Origins, Sources and Intentions
By Alex Brown

The history of design can be seen as a series of influential styles or movements which shift the thinking of designers along new lines and which result in changes in the internal and external appearance of buildings. Every design choice is based to some extent on what has been done before. To clearly understand why these forms look the way they do and why they came into existence is a matter of history.
This paper deals with the subject of ‘Deconstructivism’ as it is applied in architecture. This is one of the range of styles which has arisen in the diversification of architecture which has taken place since the 1970s. A diversification which has been called ‘Postmodernism’.

It is worth noting that the history of architecture seems to vary according to the number of styles which are available for use at any given time. We can also note the following:

1. While there are always a number of styles available at any time, in some periods there is a single dominant style used for most of the buildings built during that time.

2. In other periods there are a number of equally valid and equally used styles.

3.The History of architecture moves between these two poles of ‘singularity’ (a single dominant style used for all purposes) and plurality (a large number of styles available for the design of a single function).

4. At the end of the 19th century for instance, there were several equally-valid styles, including many variations on Classicism such as Neo-Baroque, Neo-Renaissance, Neo-Greek, and so on. There was of course also the major alternative to the Classical theme in the form of Neo-Gothic and its variations such as Venetian Gothic or the ‘high’ Gothic mode.

5. However, by the 1930s, this diversity of stylistic possibilities had all but been reduced to a single dominant style: Modern Architecture.

6. After the Second World War this style became known as the International Style for the simple reason that it was, by then, considered to be the only appropriate or even legitimate style that could be used for any building type and for any society.

7. It had become truly ubiquitous but at the moment of its greatest success, the style was subject to a barrage of social and architectural criticism for its numerous perceived failings.

8. This reaction against Modern Architecture and Design began in the 1970s. The International Modern Style which had been dominant since the 1940s was, by the 1970s now seen as boring or inhumane and in some environments, quite brutal. Examples of this could be seen in faceless mass housing projects, the destruction of historical central city areas by tower blocks and highways and the rigid zoning laws which allowed only a single urban function to exist in a single area. Thus the center of cities became the ‘central business district’ – an office only area devoid of life after 6 o’clock.

9. The cause of these problems was not simply a lack of skill of the architects of the period which was being subject to criticism, but the nature of the style itself: its elements and the limited possibilities which it offered in terms of solving complex social and visual problems. The problem was Modernism itself.

10. Modernism had been based in part on the ideas of a strict but naïve FUNCTIONALISM, truth to materials and a supposedly rational but ultimately in fact simply quantitive approach to design.

11. Functionalism in design means splitting up the complex connections between different activities into simple single functions which can then be simply measured and designed. When buildings or cities are designed on this basis, the end result is -faceless, ‘dead’, overly simple environments which reject the rich complexity of traditional places and spaces.

12. The Modern Movement (by then the so called International style) style therefore had succeeded in producing some of the most hostile environments ever deliberately designed by Man.

13. By the 1970s, Modern functionalist design concepts were obviously no longer enough and designers had begun to experiment with other approaches.


There had to be something more complex and interesting to say about design other than the Standard International Modern OF colourless, textureless, over-simplified images and environments. Simply looking at or experiencing historical traditional environments with their complex spaces and infinitely interesting detail and tactility made the Modern Movement seem truly alien or at least terribly simple minded. So too the colourful and exciting world of media entertainment: TV, movies, graphics which filled peoples lives suggested that architecture and its environments could be more stimulating and complex.
This reaction against Modern Architecture and against its strict and limiting rules became a general phenomenon by the late 60s and early 1970s and could be seen in the following examples:

1. The first real attack on Modern Architecture came in the Book by the American architect, Robert Venturi in his book, ‘Complexity and Contradiction in Modern Architecture’

2. The book: ‘The Death and Life of great American Cities’ by Jane Jacobs’ – an attack on Modernism/Functionalism in City Planning.

3. Projects by Venturi, Charles Moore ( the Italian Centre in New Orleans) which display anti-modernist/anti-functionalist traits such as INCLUSIVENESS, COMPLEXITY, FUN, HUMOUR, SHOCK AND IRONY in the design of environments.

4. Projects by Italian designers such as Sottsass and the Memphis Design group in which there was a deliberate attempt to shock by the collision of colours and forms and a rejection of simple functionalism.

5. The increasing use of the term ‘postmodern’ suggested as an alternative to ‘Modern’ approaches to design problems. Charles Jencks introduced it into architecture at the time.

That is, to try to design for the full complexity of human experience.. From this point on it became acceptable, and indeed desirable to break with Modern conceptions of design. This general trend in design became known as the Postmodern Movement in Design. By implication, 'Modern' was finished.

The result of these experiments in style was the SPLITTING UP of the Modern design into a number of sub-styles - each looking at a different way to handle complexity in design. Each trying IN ITS OWN WAY to reveal the richness of environmental experiences that Modernism had tried to SUPPRESS. Each of these newly emergent styles could be considered to represent one of the repressed aspects of Modernism. That is, some aspect of experience that Modernism/Functionalism refused to express.

The Postmodern Movement may be regarded as the ‘RETURN OF THE REPRESSED’. (This term is taken from a Freudian concept in which those elements of experience or memories which an individual has repressed return at some point as the symptoms of a general psychological collapse). In other words they must be expressed.


Based on these general approaches several movements or styles have emerged which try put these ideas into practice and which try to recover some aspect of experience repressed by Modernist/Functionalist aesthetics. Note the following examples:

POSTMODERN STYLE recovered fragments

1. HISTORICISM History/tradition
2. NEO MODERN The promise of the Modern
3. POP DESIGN popular/familiar elements  
4. HI TECH The promise of technology
5. REGIONALISM- cultural identity 
6. DECONSTRUCTIVISM - complexity
7. ECLECTIC Rich mix of elements

Each of these styles emphasizes a different aspect of design to achieve a more complex and interesting environment. Modern technology offers designers the possibility of doing literally anything. The same technology which is used to create Hi-Tech interiors can produce historically accurate interiors of the 19th century. Designers now have enormous choice both in 'style' and the materials and technology to realize what they want to design. Designers now can choose WHAT IS MOST APPROPRIATE in terms of design - no longer stuck in the straightjacket of one particular 'official' style.

An outline of the particular approach of each of these various postmodern approaches is offered below:

According to some architects Modern design is a fundamentally wrong or inappropriate style for this or any other age. For them, it is not just the International Style phase which must be rejected, but everything, all the way back to and before the Heroic Age of the 1920s. Their position can be stated as follows:

 1. They say that the functionalist/rationalist process of Modern design (the way it works) inevitably produces hostile and oversimplified environments and objects.

2. They also point to the fact that Modern Design rejected history and tradition and the lessons of the past in order to create a wholly new (and untried) style.

3. They point to the success, complexity and humanity of traditional cities, interior spaces and architecture - in which people prefer to live.

4. In their projects they recover traditional design elements from the past and use them to solve modern problems.

This is an essentially `humanist', people-centred approach to the use of historical models in design. The other result of the re-use of history to `enrich' Modern architecture was that historical `bits' were virtually mixed at random with modern fragments. In other words, the result was visual chaos. Unable to produce complexity from the Modern forms at its disposal, this approached basically looted history for decorative ideas which it applied to Modern buildings.
5.0 NEO-MODERNISM (‘The White Architecture)

It takes the ideas of the early Modern Movement - the `White Architecture' of the 1920s - stretches and develops it to make it more complex. This design style can be described as follows

1. Using the most advanced technology.

2. Shows a fully developed Modernism can handle any degree of complexity

3. Richard Meier the American architect best known for this style. takes the simple white boxes of the 1920s and breaks them open, makes them more expressive .

4. Highlights their geometric character.

5. Almost a High Tech aluminium version of Le Corbusier

6. Multiple volumes, ramps, curved elements and pure geometric volumes.

7. He introduced the space grid as a way of tying these separate elements together.

White is used for all walls, ceilings and structural elements. It is the furniture paintings, carpets and domestic products which provide strong colour elements in the interior. The white edges of the space become simply a neutral background to human activities.


This originates with Robert Venturi and his book: ‘Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture’ and his other book: ‘ Learning from Las Vegas’. These plus the work of Venturi, Moore, the theorist Colin Rowe, Charles Jencks author AND the Italian movement of the 1980s founded by the designer, Ettore Sottsass and his Memphis design Group. Rejecting the functionalist and `neutral' concepts of the International Style, Venturi and Sottsass and others sought to reintroduce the qualities of colour, texture, sensuality and joy into design which had been lost or abandoned by the functionalist approach of the 1950s and the puritan ethic of the Modern Movement.

Later conceptions of the Pop imagery occur in the work of Michael Graves’ work for the Disney Corporation including the use of the seven dwarfs as ‘caryatids’ or ‘Hermes’ on the front elevation.

Characteristics of Pop architecture and design are:

1. Anti-intellectual/anti-functionalist approach to product, graphics and furniture design.

2. Rejecting the snobbish approach of design professionals to 'good taste'which produces neutral, characterless products.

3. Introduces familiar/non-intellectual images from popular culture into design products.

4. Uses shock to widen the range of images of Modern design by introducing conflicting or irregular colours, patterns, textures, shapes and mixed materials.

5. Design of workable products which ALSO express spontaneity, colour, texture, sensuality, joy and fun.


Rather than completely reject the work of the Modern Movement, certain designers sought to push some of its ideas to their limits. In this case - building technology.
High Tech designers make two basic claims:

1. That design can be reduced to purely technical issues: structures and services. (An extreme version of the Modern Movement Functionalism).

2. The Advanced Technology environment provides a neutral/flexible and convenient space within which the users can create their own lifestyles. (Supposedly, other styles impose their designer's attitudes on their users).

Basically, the High Tech environment is a highly-serviced shed within which all partitions are movable. In theory at least the building is `invisible' and simply provides a protective shell within which the users can do what they like. The major design effort is directed at integrating the services and structure and freeing the internal space.

Characteristics of High Tech Design:

1. Full expression of technical apparatus: structure/services - columns/ducts etc.

2. Emphasis on complexity of detailing.

3. Large areas of glass and pressed metal walling.

4. Bright colours indicate different structural/service systems.

5. Ideally, structure placed outside of shell (visually, this gives the building a complex appearance).

6. Use of `high tech' materials: steel, glass, plastics.

While High Tech designers may claim that they are purely interested in solving technical issues, their buildings tell a different story. As much as any other movement they are trying to generate visual complexity by using complex and exposed technical detailing plus colour to produce a more interesting environment.

Examples: the work of the British architects: Norman Foster and Richard Rogers. Foster's building, the Hong Kong Shanghai Bank in Hong Kong is without doubt the classic example of this style. However, the work of Shin Takamatsu in Japan shows a more theatrical approach to the EXPRESSION OF TECHNOLOGY. In his work the technical elements become sculptural elements.


The rapid economic development of certain parts of the world, particularly East Asia, Latin America and Southern Europe has dramatized the issue of Regional identity. The key issues of Regional design are these:

1. The overpowering cultural/technical and economic influence of Western (primarily American) culture on other societies.

2. The desire to protect and maintain the unique culture and identity of non-Western societies.

However, the disintegration of the Modern Movement into a variety of different styles has
freed regional designers to produce work based on local motifs. The issue now is to produce an authentic regional style.

(There are many buildings in which the regional aspect is superficial: where the interior of a basically Modern building is decorated with local motifs. The Middle East has many examples like this). Examples of regionalist design:

1. Japan

One of the most successful attempts to produce such a style has been in Japan particularly now in the work of Arata Isozaki, Tadeo Ando and Shin Takamatsu and the interior designer Yasuo Kondo. With a full understanding of traditional Buddhist or Shinto spatial concepts or detailing techniques, Japanese designers have transformed these into identifiably modern and evocative design elements.

2. Latin America

Note the work of Louis Barragan, Emilio Ambaz.

3. Southern Europe:

Note the work of Carlo Scarpa, Aldo Rossi, Mario Botta.

The forms produced by these architects and designers amongs others are now used to enrich the whole vocabulary of international Modern architecture and design. They offer another set of motifs, attitudes and design alternatives which are based on human and non-functionalist approaches to environments.
While absorbing the technology of advanced industrial society, Regional designers humanize it with details and spatial organization drawn from the collective memory and history of the people who will use it. In a true sense they `customize' the design so that it truely BELONGS somewhere.


This style attempts to reintroduce the richness of multiple materials, colours and textures which infused architecture and design in the 19th century.

As the name implies, the style incorporates materials and forms and associations from several sources within any given design as necessary. Thus one could include historicist associations, constructivist elements, pop colours and materials, modernist shapes. This is exactly what the architect James Stirling did in his design for the Museum and Art Gallery in Stuttgart, Germany. The result is of course a complex work where the massive volume of the work reminiscent of Roman or Neoclassical elements is textured and detailed with modernist colours shapes, and the associations of other styles and times.


Along with the other Postmodern styles, from the 1970s onwards, Deconstructivism criticized and sought to remedy some particular aspect of the performance of Modern Architecture. In the case of Deconstructivism it was noted that the Modern Movement produced objects and buildings which were formal or even monumental in appearance. Even ordinary buildings and interiors with no social or significance took on a monumental character. The brutality and hostility of Modern environments clearly showed that there was something very wrong with the Modern approach to design. The reason for this was as follows:

1. Each object or part of an object and each space was precisely designed to suit a particular purpose falsely isolated from a complex of other spaces and activities.

2. In the standard method of REDUCTIONISM, complexes of activities were pulled apart – analysed - and each aspect identified independently of the others. They were never re-integrated as a whole.

3. The interactions, active relationships and interdependence of elements were ignored or suppressed in favour of falsely identifying their supposed unique character.

4. Each interior or object, activity or event was seen to be a complete thing in itself. The space closed itself’ off and isolated from other spaces and functions.

5. Every activity was forced into a regular cubic space, every junction was a right angle.

For the International Style all design problems could be solved within these precise cubic spaces. This gave Modern Movement spaces a fake monumentality and certainty. However, in the late 1980s the Deconstructivist movement began to break open the closed forms of the Modern Movement. (That is, to DE-CONSTRUCT it and accept that the character of elements is complex and derived from the interaction of many other adjacent elements). That complexity would be revealed in Deconstructive works. If not, the resulting form would be inauthentic – a lie in other words.


What could possibly be the reason behind a style which appears to distort, twist, bend and destroy the conventional (ie. Orthogonal) shape of buildings and to dissolve any obvious relationship between the function of the building and its form? For this is what Deconstructivism seems to do. Why should such a style come into existence in the first place? What purpose can it have and what is the philosophy behind it? There is a fairly clear source for the origins of such a movement and this comes from OUTSIDE the area of architecture and design and lies in the field of Freudian psychology. This idea can be outlined in point form as follows:

1. The real origins of Deconstructivism lie in the work of the Austrian psychologist Sigmund Freud (c.1890).

2. Before he revolutionized psychology in the 19th century, mental illness was assumed to be the product of some inbuilt defect in the patient or even of demonic possession.

3. Freud, in working with mentally ill patients realized that in many cases their illness was the product of events in their childhood, their background and their past experiences.

4. The patients had changed their behaviour from its normal course of development in order to cope with the pain of these events.

5. He also noted that in order to deal with these painful memories the patients REPRESSED them. That is, pushed them out of their conscious mind - tried to forget them.

6. Freud’s view was that if he could get the patient to reveal these traumatic events to themselves they would in a sense cure themselves.

7. Freud's way of doing this was to get the patients to talk about themselves and through the clues he found in their conversation reveal the deeply repressed source of their problems now buried in their unconscious mind (the 'talking cure').

8. By noting the way they avoided certain subjects and the phrases and figures of speech that they continually used, the psychologist could target those areas for analysis.

9. In other words Freud set out to 'deconstruct' the speech of his patients in order to find the repressed source of their anxiety which, once identified and opened up for discussion would resolve the problem.

10. Deconstruction in this psychological sense simply means a method of interpretation and analysis of a speech or a text.

The concept of REPRESSION as identified above can also be usefully generalized in the following way:

i. The MODEL or representation of an event is inevitably less complex than the event itself.

ii. The report MUST be simpler than the event reported.

In psychological terms this means that the final form of behaviour expressed by any system is a product of a mass of unseen forces. That any attempt to authentically express or represent the ‘true nature’ of a system must inevitably reveal this complexity of sources which are the basis of its expression. However, in order to function in the world, a system cannot continue to express every aspect of its organization. It must repress the character of the ‘component parts’ in order to function as a whole.

These ideas represent both a clear statement of the basis of deconstructivism and also an implied criticism of its function in architecture. Namely a potential LACK OF ECONOMY OF ACTION in revealing the character of the component parts of the system or the nature of every activity that takes place in the system. In other words: a lack of integration and elegance.

In the 1960s the French philosopher, Jacques Derrida who had studied the work of Freud, developed and began to apply this deconstructive technique to the study of philosophical texts. Derrida’s approach was as follows:

1. Whereas Freud had listened to what his patients had to say, Derrida analysed what other people WROTE, but with the same purpose in mind. That is to reveal the repressed ideas which underlay the apparently smooth, elegant and well-constructed arguments put forward by other philosophers.

2. He wanted to find the inconsistencies in their ideas by analysing the way they wrote them: again the figures of speech they used and the way they avoided certain topics which might contradict the coherence of the model of experience which they had put forward.

3. Derrida believed that no theory could pretend to be absolutely consistent, logical or present itself as a self-contained and whole system. If it did, it could only do so by hiding or repressing something which did not fit its view of things.

4. He looked for clues in the text which betrayed these hidden / repressed thoughts. He deconstructed the text in order to find them.

5. He also placed contradictory texts and ideas beside each other on the same page to indicate the futility of either claiming absolute authority.

6. By disrupting texts in this way he forced the reader to approach the text (and the ideas behind it) in a more critical and therefore more intelligent way.


The general characteristics of Deconstructivist design are as follows:

1. Explodes architectural form into loose collections of related fragments.

2. Destroys the dominance of the right angle and the cube by using the diagonal line and the `slice' of space.

3. Uses ideas and images from Russian Revolutionary architecture and design -Russian Constructivism

4. Searches for more DYNAMIC spatial possibilities and experiences not explored (or forbidden) by the Modern Movement.

5. Provokes shock, uncertainty, unease, disquiet, disruption, distortion by challenging familiar ideas about space, order and regularity in the environment.

6. Rejects the idea of the `perfect form' for a particular activity and rejects the familiar relationship between certain forms and certain activities.

7. Note the work of the architects, Peter Eisenman, Bernard Tschumi and Zaha Hadid.

Note that while Memphis designs attack the lack of colour, texture, pattern or sensuality of the Modern Movement, Deconstructivism attacks the closed and precise forms and spaces of the Modern Movement. The same design attitudes are simply directed at different aspects of the design of space.


How did a technique like this come to be applied in the field of design?

To answer this you have to look at the state of architecture in the 1960s/70s. At that time, there was a general feeling amongst architects and the general public that architecture, then known as the International Style had become inhumane and monotonous and hostile.
Like Freud's patients who saw nothing wrong with their behaviour (though everyone else did) and like the seemingly perfect arguments in the texts analysed by Derrida, there was a fundamentally illogical and inconsistent quality to the 'behaviour' of Modern Architecture no matter how rational it appeared to be. The end result was hostile to the extent that some of the Modern housing projects were being evacuated and blown up. What had gone wrong?
1. Modern Architecture pretended to be the most rational, technologically advanced and perfectly functional system.

2. It also pretended to be based entirely on the carefully quantified needs and requirements of its users.

3. At the time there did not seem to be any alternative ways of thinking about architecture other than this 'scientific and rational' approach centred in the Functionalist tradition of Modern Architecture.

4. Form in this sense was merely an effect, an epiphenomenon of the interaction of stated functions and by some remarkable coincidence that same form somehow always managed to end up as cubic or orthogonal in nature.

5. Modern Architecture presented itself as the perfect model of the human experience which it sought to represent. To do so however it inevitably ignored the sometimes messy, conflicting, contradictory and ambiguous situations that arise in the interaction of many different activities and functions.

6. The model had to appear to be perfect. The fact that it must repress the reality of the experience it represented in order to do so became ever more obvious in the later decades of the 20th century.

The different architectural responses to these increasingly obvious flaws in the ideology of the Modern could be found in the range of new styles which came into fashion in the 1970s: Historicism with its outright rejection of Modernism itself; Hi Tech with its belief that all problems could ultimately be resolved by technological means; Regionalism, with its search for cultural identity in traditional forms and other stylistic attempts to break out of the Modernist trap. These styles could also be considered to be fragments of Modernism given independent existence as Modernism itself explodes. Like the others:

a) Collaborations: Philosophy and Architecture
In 1983, the architect Bernard Tschumi invited the philosopher Derrida to collaborate with New York architect Peter Eisenman on a garden for La Villette. Derrida was working on Plato's Timaeus, and it entered the project. Timaeus is the first Greek account of the creation of the natural world by a purposeful, divine craftsman-Creator. But Plato has a problem. He maintains that every object has both an idea/form - a purely intelligible, perfect and eternal model - and a changing sensible copy. The copy must have some place in which it can be created. Plato conjures one: a receptacle, or chora.
b) Le Parc de la Villette

The Park was an official French government project, one of Francois Mitterrand's Grands Projets d'urbanisme parisien. Like other projects of the 80s - the Bastille Opera, Louvre Pyramid, and Grande Arche at La Defense - it was aesthetically, politically and economically controversial. The Presidential committee allocated a 125-acre site and $200m budget.

The site was a former slaughterhouse and market, Baron Haussmann's 1867 scheme for modern, "efficient" meat-processing in the north east corner of metropolitan Paris. Bordered by canals, railways and the Boulevard Macdonald, it's at the heart of a working-class area with a large immigrant population. Largely completed by 1992, the Park is not so much a recreation of natural landscape as a Ikm-long urban entertainment-leisure complex.


c) Deconstruction at the Park

Tschumi proposed an "architecture of disjunction". Could this be seen as deconstructive?

(1) It upsets architectural assumptions about systems.

The Park has systems: of points, surfaces and lines. But they're superimposed so that they mutually distort and sometimes clash with each other. Paths intersect buildings, ramps and steps are cut off, etc. The systems avoid synthesis. There's no single coherent outcome.

(2) It's a contaminated architecture.

Tschumi encouraged the architectural to collide with non-architectural ideas, elements, forms, etc, from cinema, literature and other cultural fields. "It encourages conflict over synthesis, fragmentation over unity, madness and play over careful management."

this scarcely sounds functional... ...

d) The ‘Choral Work’ by Eisenman

Eisenman had been working deconstructively since the late 1970s, questioning architectural oppositions: interior/exterior, structure/decoration, etc. He came up with a polychoral design, citing three texts:

• His own earlier housing project for Cannaregio, Venice.
Derrida's text on the chora, and his drawing,
Tschumi's plan for the Park, quoted in miniature.

"Choral Work" has an inclined steel ground plane with acid-etched lines tracing Tschumi's systems. Eisenman deployed his "quarrying" strategy: expose the foundations of a site, its history, and include them in the work. If they're not there, build them. So "Choral Work" includes constructed fragments of the old Paris city walls, in white marble; and underground, the 1867 abattoirs.

Deconstructivism may be considered to be one of these stylistic fragments of the Modern with its goals being:

1. To dissolve the fixed and determined forms of the Modern and reveal the dynamic formal possibilities that lay within the program offered by the institution and its context.

2. At the same time there was a denial that architects could produce some perfectly authentic representation of the program and its context which by the nature of things were always unstable and in flux.

3. Here we have a final rejection of the Functionalist tradition that had driven the Modern from its beginnings. In a sense the relationship between the program and its resulting form were coincidental: a chance meeting of the interacting activities of the institution, always in flux, with the state of the architectural language and technology at the time.

4. There was an equally obsessive attempt to destroy the predominance of the right angle in architecture – that sign of rationalist order and of the predetermined.

5. To reveal those forms, possibilities and approaches that Modern Architecture had repressed in order to become 'perfect'.

6. They deconstructed the forms of Modern Architecture by creating apparently illogical clashes of grids, spaces and volumes - breaking open the form of buildings.

7. They used diagonal lines to destroy the perfect right-angled geometries of the Modern Movement.

8. They left beams projecting/unfinished/incomplete, walls broken and slanted, windows turned at angles, rough materials, exposed construction methods and so on.

9. All this to reveal what the Modern Movement had tried to suppress in the name of order: that buildings were complex and sometimes contradictory.

10. To move beyond the traditional categories of architectural thought: functionalism, beauty and the inhabitable. To de-centre architecture from these central assumptions.

Ideas such as these were arrived at by some European and American architects who were familiar with Derrida's work particularly the American architects Bernard Tschumi and Peter Eisenman. The key concept in both the philosophical and architectural ideologies of the Postmodern centred on the rejection of fixed models, schemas, grand meta-narratives or other ‘total’ explanations of any sort on the assumption that the clarity and order which they portray is built on a repression of the real diversity and heterogeneity of things. In other words, it is a lie.

Form, in the sense of a representation of things, must, in this ideology reflect the infinite plurality and flux of experience. In architecture if this meant a dissolution of visual order, then so be it, for after all that order, which had sustained Western civilization for so long as a similarity between things, was a completely inauthentic representation of experience.

Modern Architecture had not allowed the expression of contradictions. That is, conflicts of function between different spaces. Everything had to look unified, smooth and well organized: A WHOLE AND PERFECT MACHINE.

The Deconstructivist approach sought to reveal these contradictions - to bring them into the open - TO MAKE THEM HAPPEN (even if they did not exist). If you look at a Deconstructivist building you will see different spaces intersecting one another in irregular ways. This is a attempt to reveal the character of each and every space and the occasional conflict and coincidence in the relationship between them.

Another part of the Modern philosophy was that architecture and buildings were serious issues. Every part of the building had to be based on a functional problem and solution. This was a kind of 'scientific' approach to design. The results of this were, in general, that many buildings in the 1950s and early 1960s looked faceless and boring.
They were unable to express the joy, sensuality, tactility or pleasure which earlier architectures had shown.
These human expressions and sensory needs had been repressed in favour of scientific rationality. Form, after all, in the Modern sense was merely an effect of function. It had no other emotional or sensory purpose of its own.

Part of the Deconstructivist philosophy was therefore to detach architecture from 'function' as such and to allow a 'free play' of design. In a sense to make architecture/design a 'pure' art. It might solve some of the functional problems but that was not its main purpose. 

If Deconstructivist buildings look unfinished, that is exactly the way they are supposed to look because according to the Decon philosophy no building is an isolated and self-contained machine. As mentioned above:

1. The relationship between the nature of the program and the state of the architectural language at the time is purely coincidental.

2. In this way the ‘finished’ building may be regarded as a SNAPSHOT of a dynamic but ultimately irresolvable relationship.

3. It can never be finished in the sense that no statement can ever fully encapsulate the reality to which it refers. (The model of an event or experience can never adequately represent the referent system it is supposed to represent. To do so it would have to unimaginably complex; as complex as the reality to which it refers. Impossible of course).

4. Equally, buildings are FRAGMENTS OF THE CITY and the theory goes: if they ARE fragments: THEY SHOULD LOOK LIKE FRAGMENTS. (Naive, but there you are).

5. Remember, for Deconstructivism everything has to be REVEALED.

6. Modern Architecture treated every project as a separate and self-contained event and Modern buildings therefore responded only to their immediate site (context). This kept things simple and easy to quantify in the making of each building.

7. According to the Deconstructive philosophy, however, this 'repressed' the fact that a building is simply a small part of a great complex of other events which make up the City. As such it should respond to the whole universe of sites which surrounded it. That is to the City as a whole. It would respond by making its shapes indeterminate and apparently and obviously part of something else.

8. Simply this: no Deconstructivist building could look complete in itself for to do that would be a kind of repression - a denial of its relationship to other buildings and part of the great urban machine.


If all these attitudes are taken into account, together with the psychoanalytical roots of Deconstructivism, the end result is that every building becomes:


That is:

1. The designer has to continually reveal in the building its sources, its context and its essentially FRAGMENTARY nature.

2. He/she has to prevent the formation of what looks like a whole and complete thing in itself. (The natural tendency to make things whole, to tidy them up, to close off alternative avenues of thought has to be resisted in the interests of what Deconstructivist philosophy would regard as 'truth' or at least authenticity).

3. In other words, the designer cannot repress the events, ideas, the temporary nature of the program and the context which surround the building and give it meaning.

4. The designer, like the psychoanalyst, continues to DISLOCATE any tendency to smooth things over or hide things.

5. Nor can the designer cannot pretend that this particular form is the only possible, rational way of doing things in a particular site/situation/program or context.

6. The form of the building - its diverse materials, its unrelated construction methods, its multiple axes, its disconnected volumes - must express that NO PARTICULAR FORM IS VALUABLE IN ITSELF.

7. The designer expresses, by the supposedly incomplete form of his or her buildings, that other options and forms are possible and in fact that there is no 'ultimate Truth' or Order to be expressed in any single building.

Bearing this in mind and looking at Deconstructivist buildings, it is almost possible to see the design process in action. Frozen, so to speak at an arbitrary point in the development process. These buildings look unfinished - they look as if they are IN A STATE OF BECOMING.

To make the building look 'complete' would be to suggest that everything had been worked out and made consistent with itself in this project. But, But, But, that would be to eliminate alternative ways of viewing the same event and that would be a repressive approach. So, we end up back on the psychoanalyst's couch!


In the 1970s a group of American architects including Peter Eisenman started to emphasize and distort the grids and frameworks of his buildings. This was a process which became more dramatic and insistent over time up to the 1980s when Eisenman's buildings became recognizably 'Deconstructivist'. His work and writings and his discussions with Jacque Derrida on the process of deconstruction in architecture form the intellectual base of this movement. Note also the work of Zaha Hadid, Morphosis, Bernard Tschumi, Daniel Libeskind, Michael Sorkin, Coop Himmelbau, Gunter Behnisch, Lebbeus Woods, Kazuo Shinohara, SITE, amongst others.


What is the reality behind all this heavy-weight philosophy and psycho-babble? It is that Deconstructivism has become a fashionable style which is simply different from and perhaps no more 'meaningful' than other styles. What we see is that designers who know nothing about the background to Deconstructivism and care even less, produce what we would 'recognize' as a Decon building. The ultimate test is this, can we tell the difference between a building designed by a card-carrying, fully aware, Deconstructivist architect and a building styled by another designer to look like a Deconstructivist building? The answer is, probably not. It is what the building looks like 'on the ground' so to speak that is the bottom line on this issue. What the designers think they are doing - no matter how 'meaningful' or significant to them - and what they actually do can be seen as two different things. In other words, it does not matter what the designer thinks, it is what he or she produces that is important to us, the users/observers.