The extraordinary festival of formal inventiveness that has dominated the architectural world since the 1980s—a festival that was initially stimulated by opposition to the historicist Postmodernism of the 1960s and ’70s—has produced some of the most powerful, monumental statements of the early 21st century. Fueled by digital parametricism in design and innovative engineering technologies, the new “deconstructive” forms exhibited as a small avant-garde movement at New York’s MoMA in 1988 are now in multiple transformations sought after in corporate boardrooms and by cultural foundations worldwide. Beginning with the dramatic story of Coop Himmelb(l)au’s transition from anti-architectural radicals in the 1960s to the architects of the European Central Bank headquarters in 2015, the critic and frequent RECORD contributor Joseph Giovannini traces the history of what he sees as a continuous avant-garde movement, from 1920s Expressionists to the neo-avant-garde Deconstructionists and their contemporary offspring. “Disruptive” and “constructively irrational,” this is a tendency that has, he argues, always run parallel to more “static” modernisms, but is now released through digitalization, into its full force. Assembling a brilliantly illustrated roster of stories, anecdotes, and critical assessments of the work of a wide range of protagonists, tracing their varied careers, precedents, interrelations, and academic and institutional histories, he has produced an extraordinary 831-page, 2½"- thick volume, with suitably exuberant vertigo-testing graphics to match.
Here Gehry, Koolhaas, Tschumi, Libeskind, and Hadid find their place beside Matta-Clark, Laurie Anderson, and Vito Acconci in a cultural history of the postwar period’s revolt against rationalism. Unlikely juxtapositions, visually acute comparisons, and a narrative that sweepingly takes us through the heady climates at London’s Architectural Association and New York’s Institute of Architecture and Urban Studies, as well as dance halls and performance spaces, add up to a rich retrospective vision of our recent present. The author’s own background in literary studies and architecture provide a parallel and knowledgeable account of the theoretical debates of the era as being intimately linked to its formal inventions. The French are here in force, of course, but also Lebbeus Woods, that powerful voice of opposition through drawing, and Ann Bergren, the feminist theorist who elucidated Derrida for architects with classicist eloquence. In this redressing of imbalances, one especially welcome in the light of her premature death at age 65, Zaha Hadid finally finds her place as a stubborn pioneer of an architecture that has yet to be fully explored—one only intimated in the works of the previous generation.
Refreshing in its refusal to fall into the polemics of star architecture critiques, this is a tale of an architecture that Giovannini sees as having finally caught up with the “shape-shifting” sciences and art movements of the early 20th century. Presenting himself as an enthusiastic supporter, a generational sympathizer, and an informative companion on the reader’s voyage through these assembled texts, Giovaninni traces paths through biographies, mini-histories of groups, and cultural eruptions that underlie his approach to the history of the period. In one sense, we are treated to the author’s personal journal, beginning with his witnessing of the Parisian uprisings of 1968 but, in another, to the mature retrospection of a fellow architect who has, over the many years since, faithfully and engagingly documented the unfolding of this “movement” as it has, in so many different ways, attempted to create an architecture that moves.