Reflections on the Challenges to the Orthodoxy of Modern Movement and Universality in Architecture
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Reflections on the Challenges to the Orthodoxy of Modern Movement and Universality in Architecture

From a 1960s standpoint, architectsÂ’ attitude worldwide towards universality coincided with the increasing interest in traditional architecture and cultural issues. They broke away from the ideas that were promoted by the first generation of modern architects.

The continuous opposition of the architectural profession and other related fields to the International Style and the phenomenon of universality in architecture is likely to be an important factor that provoked the debates over the development of twentieth-century architecture. A large number of architects worldwide distrusted the inability of twentieth-century architecture to respond to the specific environmental issues of particular regions. They also believed that the positive response of architecture must lie in the recreation of forms true and responsive to the region as well as to methods of construction. In fact, architects began to value the architecture that is rooted in the location and the culture of a region, as opposed to an imported international style, rooted in a common technology rather than a common humanism. However, it is likely that architecture should have reference to the physical, cultural and political contexts that envelop it.

From a 1960s standpoint, architects’ attitude worldwide towards universality coincided with the increasing interest in traditional architecture and cultural issues. They broke away from the ideas that were promoted by the first generation of modern architects. This period witnessed a strong rejection of the tenents of the International Style, whose buildings were regarded as unresponsive to the surroundings as well as less demanding of creativity. This disintegration has been a response to the obvious impact of modern architecture on the forms of cities around the world. However, the challenges to the orthodoxy of the Modern Movement and the International Style were heightened with the publication of a series of influential books in the 1960s including, Jane Jacobs’ The Death and Life of Great American Cities (1961), Robert Venturi’s Complexity and Contradiction (1966), Aldo Rossi’s The Architecture of the City (1966) and Hassan Fathy’s Architecture for the Poor (first published as Gourna: A Tale of Two Villages in 1969).

Jacobs’ book was the first prediction of the terrible human consequences coming from the concept of universality in city planning. Jacobs believed that modern architecture and urbanism lacks the use of social analysis and that late modernist theories were inappropriate to the urban built environment. She also argued that modernist architects followed the principles of modern movement planning rather than the nature and character of their own urban neighbourhoods and built “low-income projects that become worse centres of delinquency, vandalism and general social hopelessness than the slums they were supposed to replace”. Jacobs’ ideas corresponded to that of Fathy’s village-planning, especially his famous New Gourna village (1945-1948) and the New Bariz village (1967), where he rejected the universal planning-principles of modernism in favour of the Islamic-Arab city planning which underlined a host of social and environmental issues.

Venturi’s Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture expresses the postmodern rebellion against the purism of modernism. Venturi issued his "gentle manifesto" against what he termed "the puritanically moral language" of late modernism. He believed that modernist architects simplify and abstract architecture to the extent of separating it "from the experience of life and the needs of society". Although modernists produced numerous attractive and appealing buildings, Venturi considered them unexpressive and unrelated to human’s needs. And even he commented with a sense of humor on Mies van der Rohe's famous dictum, ‘Less is more’ as "Less is a bore". However, the most important aspect of Venturi’s book was its emphasis on using rich examples from past periods to acknowledge the continuity of architecture throughout time. While Venturi’s discussion implied that modernism produced meaningless architecture, Jacobs criticized the destruction of the unity of the urban cities, which were shaped by these modernist buildings.

Aldo Rossi, an Italian architect and one of the most influential theorists in twentieth century architecture, shared the same views with both Jacobs and Venturi. Rossi expressed his views and architectural thoughts and theories in his seminal book, "The Architecture of the City", where he analyzed the principles and forms of the city's construction. The book represented a strong statement against the functionalism and ideals of modern architecture. However, the main intention of the book was to preserve the old crafts of architecture, tradition and culture.

The preceding discussion revealed that modern movement affirmed the creation of forms appropriate to the modern age by allowing them to be thought of in new ways as well as giving the result universality, while Jacobs, Fathy, Venturi, and Rossi opposed the unnecessary change and the concept of universality. In this, the disagreement of these books with modernism was not a matter of using modern or traditional forms and building techniques, but to assert that architectural styles are not universally applicable and that the uniqueness of different parts of the world should not be denied. However, while there is no direct connection between these four books in terms of their contents, they have many issues in common which played an essential role in changing the attitudes towards modern architecture, as well as asserted the importance of orienting architecture in the direction of improving human living condition.

 Bibliography:1. Aldo Rossi, The Architecture of the City. New York, 1982.

2. Hassan Fathy, Architecture for the Poor: An Experiment in Rural Egypt. Chicago, 1973.

3. Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities. New York, 1961.

4. Robert Venturi, Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture. New York, 1966.

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Comments (13)

Intriguing subject. I encountered a bit of this while studying sociology and anthropology.

Intriguing indeed. Another excellent post.

Thank you James and Steve for your appreciated comment

Ranked #11 in Architecture

Very good write up, fascinating one.

Thank you Sir for your kind comment

great job thank you

Combining history, culture and the need for modern solutions can be quite a challenge!

Thanks Ann, you always has attentive and thoughtful comments..Appreciate

Interesting info well presented.

Thanks Melissa for your kind comment

Very interesting article. Enjoyed reading the facts about this article. Well done.

Thanks Caryn for your appreciated comment

Came back for a well deserved vote.

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