Deconstruction Boom: Anthony Vidler on Deconstructivist Architecture in 2003

Article excerpt

IN 1988, when the Museum of Modern Art mounted Nthe "Deconstructivist Architecture" show, curated by Philip Johnson and Mark Wigley, the seven architects assembled beneath this ambiguous banner--Peter Eisenman, Frank Gehry, Zaha Hadid, Rein Koolhaas, Daniel Libeskind, Bernard Tschumi, and Coop Himmelb(I)au--were unambiguously seen as "theoretical," dismissed as such, and excoriated by both proponents of various "postmodernisms" and conservative anti-intellectuals. Any idea that "Deconstructivism" was a movement of consequence beyond the art gallery was rejected out of hand. Yet nearly twenty years later these "theoretical" architects have emerged as major practitioners on a global scale. Still theoretical in formal and programmatic pose, they are far from theoretical in practice, having realized some of the most significant cultural commissions of the late twentieth century.

Initially this was accomplished largely in the European context, with (to name only a few) Gehry's Guggenheim Bilbao; Koolhaas's Euralille, France, and Kunsthal Rotterdam; Hadid's Vitra Fire Station, in Germany, and, more recently, the Bergisel Ski Jump, in Innsbruck, Austria; Coop Himmelb(l)au's UFA Cinema Center, in Dresden; Tschumi's Le Fresnoy art center and Rouen Concert Hall, both in France; and, of course, Libeskind's Jewish Museum in Berlin. In the past year, these architects' role as cultural constructors has been amply confirmed. Eisenman's Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, in Berlin, and his City of Culture for Galicia, Spain, are under construction, as is Tschumi's Acropolis Museum in Athens. In the US, Gehry's Walt Disney Concert Hall, Los Angeles; Koolhaas's student center at the Illinois Institute of Technology, Chicago; and Hadid's Lois & Richard Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Art, Cincinnati, have just opened, with Koolhaas's Seattle Public Library in construction. Coop Himmelb(I)au has received a commission for a high school in Los Angeles, and Libeskind's winning entry for the "non-competition" for the World Trade Center site is in design development.

All the evidence leads to the conclusion that what was, in 1988, called "Deconstructivism"--whatever that rubric represented--has certainly come of age. Which raises the question: Has a tendency that was never entirely unified now attained the status of a movement? Stylistic evidence, if such can be adduced in a modernist context, would argue against this supposition. Even the most tenacious periodizer and style hunter would find it difficult to identify a single mode of expression among these architects; labels such as "late modern" and "neo-avant-garde" fall short of serious characterization, and they resist being incorporated into a generalized postmodernism. If a movement may be identified, it would be, like all modern movements in the twentieth century, based on principle--on a common theoretical stance. …