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Architecture - Overview - Postmodernism

press century university building

As the twenty-first century opened, new architectural paradigms emerged. One building type that gained new cachet as the embodiment of urban identity and cultural striving was the art museum. Such commissions came to represent the pinnacle of an architect's career, particularly after Frank Gehry made the small city of Bilbao, Spain, a cultural destination with his Guggenheim Museum on the waterfront there.

Gehry's free-form undulating buildings are only one representation of postmodernism, a multifaceted philosophical MBF Tower, Penang, Malaysia. Constructed 1990–1993. In designing the MBF Tower, architect Ken Yeang utilized construction methods that allowed for natural light and ventilation, a technique seen more and more frequently in the twenty-first century. PABLO ZIEGLER/EMPORIS.COM and artistic expression derived from literary analysis. In many instances the drive of late-twentieth-century architects to break the strictures of conventional mid-twentieth-century modernism rendered their efforts both disjointed and self-absorbed. The counterpart to this kind of postmodernism is found in so-called developing countries around the globe. Since roughly 1950 there has been a growing reawakening in these areas to long-standing regional building cultures and building methods. This "critical regionalism" encourages architects to draw once again on the wisdom gained in centuries of construction in their regions, in preference to the imported European and American building forms and methods, with the accompanying reliance on high energy consumption for lighting, heating, and cooling buildings. This regionalism began with the work of Hasan Fathy in Egypt and his advocacy of adobe brick in vaulted and domed construction, a time-honored building method in that land, and one that used building materials available at minimal cost. More recently in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, numerous Middle Eastern countries, and generally in the Third World nations, there has been a return to traditional building forms (but often using twentieth-century materials) for various public buildings but especially for mosques because of their strong symbolic importance. In Sri Lanka, architect Geoffrey Bawa drew on imagery associated with traditional small-scale village meeting houses for his expansive Sri Lanka Parliament of Sri Lanka, Kotte (near Colombo). Constructed 1980–1983. Beginning in the mid-twentieth century, some architects advocated a return to traditional designs that drew upon the resources readily available in the area. Drawing internally on the British House of Commons, the external forms are inspired by ancestral local buildings of assembly. © 2004 LANDOV LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. REPRODUCED BY PERMISSION Parliament building complex; its recognizable broad overhanging eaves and open pavilion-like structures providing shade and free movement of air in this tropical country.

Around the globe, as the twenty-first century began there was rising interest in sustainable building design and construction, in using materials in ways that minimize toxic production methods, and in using natural sunlight for energy and natural air movement and water for cooling. In this way, over time, the impact of such architecture on public resources will be limited and the total social and economic cost minimized. Among many late-twentieth-century architects who drew on this design philosophy, one whose work is particularly interesting is Ken Yeang of Malaysia. His thirty-two-story MBF Tower in Penang employs the skyscraper tower form, a symbol of progressive modernity, but also uses traditional ideas such as curved external terraces and separation of elements to promote natural ventilation in place of massive cooling machinery.

These examples demonstrate that there need be no elemental conflict between the use of modern materials such as concrete, glass, steel, and aluminum in the creation of traditional forms that reflect long-established ways of living and also make accommodation to local climatic conditions.


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Leland M. Roth

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