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The Dominance of Modernity in a Post-Modern, Pseudo-Liberal Contemporary Environment

Observing the built environment which architectural practice formed since the end of 1800’s one can see repetitive patterns of forms, meanings, materials and expression. Even when those are not crystal clear and they are hiding behind the glazing windows of the extra-avant-garde forms of parametric (sic) architecture. One could claim that architecture is stuck in a regressive linear creativity process. The previous observation of mine could be criticised as a nihilistic critique, and that this statements apply just on the architecture of Modernity. This article is an attempt to reveal the dominance of the fundamental narrative of Modernity until today and make visible that the novel movements of contemporary architecture are under its yoke and they are fooled into a pseudo-liberal system. I claim that architecture is imprisoned into the fortress of deterministic linear creative process of pure reasoning. Before starting the inquiry to determine the factors which contributed to the situation that was described earlier I want to give the emphasis of this critical attempt to the dynamics between sociology - philosophy - architectural theory & practice. By this premise I assume that any of the parameters is autonomous and that all the above create a holistic dynamic system of interrelations. Each of these is affected and is affecting the other in a dynamic way. The inquiry will have a form of three parallel timelines, one per participant of the system, which I may now call the System of the Built Environment (SBE).

“How Architectural Theory and Practice Became Regressive”

The timeline begins with Industrial Revolution regarding the field of Sociology. This era is the starting point of Modernity as a historical period and is marked with mass production, automation and efficiency. Mass production was asking for quick and efficient processes which were coming from algorithmic thinking. Social forces drove philosophical thinking to the narrations of Enlightenment. The rational way of thinking and acting was the main imperatives of this movement as Epistemology was born. Human cognition was believed to be an a priori situation of human nous and reasoning was logic when it was referred to these pre-existing situations of a human mind. And this is how Modern architecture was born. Social and economic forces of the Industrial Revolution, necessity for efficiently built housing for the masses and the industries, along with he perception about space as an a priori form which can be logically structured with pure reason, led to the House Machine. Standardisation of the built form, the materials and the construction methods were the parameters that gave birth to the universal style of Modern architecture.

The later observations about Modernity are not something new. In fact within the history there were many attempts to overrule the narratives of Modernity in all the participants of SBE. There were sociological shifts, philosophical attempts and movements in architectural theory and practice that opposed Modernity. In architecture, the uniformity of style and the standardisation of the form and construction were opposed by the post-modern movement and more specifically the American neorealism and the Italian rationalism. The architects who represented these movements showed an escapism towards the restrictions of artistic expression. The will for artistic liberation pushed the architects to use the formal language of the past as well as elements of pop culture and embrace kitsch, as it happened in the case of American neorealism. Being influenced by the philosophy of structuralism and more specifically the linguistic structuralism, architecture was perceived in analogy with language. Using this analogy, despite the fundamental will for liberation, architectural design was imprisoned in a new prison. The Lexicon, Syntax and Grammar of architectural design, which determine form and meaning by perceiving then as a priori established rules, became the new norm and restrictive factor.

Another attempt to oppose the narratives of Modernity is the phenomenological approach of perception of the architectural space. Rushed from the philosophical writings of Martin Heidegger about space as a collection of cognitive experiences of the human mind, architectural theorists attempted to give to the architectural space what is commonly known as atmosphere. Designing the atmosphere of the space the architects are categorising the emotions, the psychology and the cognitive experiences of the people with a view to their manipulation via the selection of forms, materials and lighting. The rhetoric of architecture on the one hand became vague and poetic instead of the mechanistic language of Modernity but on the other hand it became very descriptive about the emotions which a person who experiences a designed space should feel. The new norm in this case is the bible of feelings and the ways of their manipulation by architectural means.

Despite the endeavours to escape Modernity, its fundamental narrative is engraved to every attempt ever since the era which was marked by Industrial Revolution and Enlightenment. This infamous narrative is the need for the existence of a deterministic and linear design process; a process based on pure reasoning. Architects are creating reference systems of values and rules which become unquestionable and undeniable norms in order to design with what was called earlier pure reasoning. The margins for architectural creativity and creative thinking, within these establishments which architects create for themselves, is becoming thinner and thinner. When architecture creates these kind of deterministic systems in order to have its own “logic” reasons to take design decisions, it detaches itself from the SBE. The dominance of Modernity’s Grand Narrative is the reason why architecture could never be responsive to any emergent issue that emerges from social issues and it is backed up by philosophy. The yoke of Modernity is the reason why architecture can never be “democratic” or “sustainable” or “critical”. These norms which architectural theory and practice creates, sometimes is called standardisation, sometimes rationality and some others phenomenology, they all have the common characteristic of a teleological and deterministic thinking process. A process which outcome is more or less predictable, as it is controlled by strict rules and strongly established value systems. The stricter the rules and the clearer the normative design process, the less adaptive is the architectural practice.

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