DECONSTRUCTIVISM

   Deconstructivism was first introduced to the public in a 1988 exhibition held at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City and organized by the American architect Philip Johnson and theoretician Mark Wigley. This style is characterized by a desire among architects to "deconstruct" the traditional classical aesthetics of symmetry, balance, and harmony that had informed architectural design since antiquity. The previous generation of 20th-century architects had already made great strides in this direction. But although most International style architects had resisted any comparison to classicism in their architecture through the creation of a stripped-down style devoid of applied historical referencing, the universal regularity of the International style ultimately came to be considered classical. Deconstructivism, however, was primarily shaped by the philosophical ideas of the French philosopher Jacques Derrida (1930-2004), whose ideas on the subject were first expressed in the 1960s and published in his On Grammatology. Derrida was a linguist; he cultivated through the use of language the more general idea that nothing has one single, intrinsic meaning, but words, ideas, and images must always be understood in relation to their surrounding context.
   Thus, the term "deconstruction" itself cannot be pinned to one specific definition, but must instead be seen as a constantly shifting process. Derrida also challenged basic assumptions of Western philosophy, whereby binary opposites have been constructed over time as a way of organizing information—but this processing of information involves setting up opposing viewpoints that always defer to the hierarchically "superior" view. In linguistics, then, one word is always "privileged" over its "opposite." For example, presence is privileged over absence, life over death, and fullness over emptiness. These three examples make us wonder if this particular hierarchy is the inescapable predicament of human existence, or if one can transcend this physicality, perhaps with the help of Eastern philosophy. Derrida's philosophy runs much deeper than this brief discussion, but this overview can at least serve as a platform for an analysis of Deconstructivist architecture.
   Deconstructivist buildings appear to be distorted, off-center, twisted into more dynamic forms. This architectural dynamism has historical references to the early-20th-century Italian Futurist as well as Russian Constructivist architecture of the same period, both of which sought to create a politically and socially charged move toward newer forms of modernity. A good example of this new style is seen in Zaha Hadid's Vitra Fire Station, built in Weil-am-Rhein, Germany, in 1989-1993, and in Frank Gehry's Guggenheim Museum, constructed in Bilbao, Spain, in 1993-1997. Other Deconstructivist architects cited in the initial 1988 exhibition include Rem Koolhaus, a Dutch-born architect who currently teaches at the Graduate School of Design at Harvard University. A theoretician as well as an architect, Koolhaus has published widely on current issues such as globalization versus regionalism, prosperity and the consumer market, population growth and urbanism. His Casa di Musica, built in Porto, Portugal, in 2001-2005, opened to rave reviews complimenting not only its new engineering challenges, but also the balance between its intellectual foundation and its sensual beauty. This large structure appears to be a monumental rectangle that has been sliced away in its corners, cutting through its roofline, and shaving off part of its sides to create a geometric shape without name. Resting on one of the smaller sides of this shape, the building gives a "decentered" appearance and a new appreciation for nonrectilinear shapes. Kool-haus's Seattle Central Library, opened in 2004, is an 11-story steel and glass structure that also appears fragmented, with shapes that seem to hover above the lower levels at sharp angles. This building was also meant to be a prototype for Koolhaus's ideas on cross-functional buildings, in that he hoped to include hospital units for homeless people within the context of the library.
   Coop Himmelb(l)au, the cooperative group with a name that plays on the words for "heaven-blue" and cooperative construction, was established in Vienna in the late 1960s by Wolf Prix, Helmut Swiczinsky, and Michael Holzer, and now has offices worldwide. Their UFA-Palast, built as a movie theater in Dresden in 1993-1998, is part of a vast rebuilding of the city after the division between East and West Germany was dissolved. This contorted glass shape leans sharply to one side, providing what could initially be interpreted as an alarming vista. Bernard Tschumi, who was also represented in the 1988 exhibition of Deconstructivist architecture, used the principles of Deconstructivism in his design for the Alfred Lerner Hall at Columbia University in New York City, which was built in 1999 with one entirely glazed exterior curtain wall tilted at an angle to give the appearance of one giant window, slipping downward.
   Daniel Libeskind's Deconstructivist buildings provoke a different reaction in that they appear to jut up and out from the comfort of their foundations. His Jewish Museum, completed in Berlin in 1999, gives this impression, as does, in a more powerful way, his addition to the Denver Art Museum, completed in 2006. This structure, called the Frederic C. Hamilton Building, is perhaps the most daring engineering feat to date. Made of titanium and glass, cantilevered pyramids thrust outward and upward, like a giant ship sailing forward. His 2002-2003 plans for the Memorial Foundations at the World Trade Center also include elements of Deconstructivism.
   Finally, perhaps the most tied to the philosophical basis for Deconstructivism is Peter Eisenman, who worked with Jacques Derrida in the formation of his own theoretical discourse. Primarily a theoretical architect, his few commissions sometimes reveal a Deconstructivist style of architecture. His Wexner Center for the Arts, which opened on the campus of Ohio State University in Columbus in 1989, is a good example of his work. While one side of the building is made of brick to create a visual link to the old armory, the other sides of the building reveal Eisenman's more characteristic use of white concrete, punctured and uplifted to create a wider range of shape and form.
   Ultimately, Deconstructivist architecture cannot be seen as simply a new stylistic emphasis; it also resulted in fundamental changes to how architecture is perceived worldwide. Greater architectural diversity tends to be more celebrated over the establishment of a dominant style, and regional influences are beginning to negate the imposition of a dominant culture onto architectural discourse. This regional sensitivity resulted in the formation of Critical Regionalism and shares a concurrent architectural development with Deconstructivism.

Historical Dictionaries of Literature and the Arts. . 2008.

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