Skip to content

Understanding The Deconstructive Architecture

Embed from Getty Images


Rather than seeking answers in the constructed buildings designed by the contemporary architects and the way they look, to comprehend the Deconstructive Architecture, one must read the written content by the contemporary architects and the way they conceptualized their projects.


“Within architectural circles, much confusion surrounds the term ‘deconstruction.’” [N Leach on page 317 of Rethinking Architecture]

The year 1998 marked a turning point in the very essence of architecture when architect Philip Johnson and Mark Wigley from the curator’s standpoint presented the exhibition titled “Deconstructivist Architecture”.

At the aforementioned event held at the Museum of Modern Art in New York the public had a chance to observe the work of seven architects; Zaha M. Hadid, Peter Eisenman, Bernard Tschumi, Coop Himelblau, Daniel Libeskind, Frank O. Gehry and Rem Koolhaas.

The architectural projects featured at the aforesaid exhibition have been summarized with the generic brand of  “Deconstructivist Architecture”.

A verdict summoned the exhibition’s curators stood that the displayed work from each participating architect was regarded as unique and different from one another.

In his attempt to draw a universal perspective that describes Deconstructivist Architecture, Johnson claimed that this new rising architectural tide did not respond to a particular style, nor is obedient to a specific set of rules and it does not constitute a movement.

“Deconstructivist architecture is not a new style. We arrogate to its development none of the messianic fervor of the modern movement, none of the exclusivity of that catholic and Calvinist cause. Deconstructivist architecture represents no movement; it is not creed. It has no ‘three rules’ of compliance. It is not even ‘seven architects’.“ [Philip Johnson on page 7 of Deconstructivist Architecture]

Therefore the architecture displayed at MOMA in 1988:

  1. It has no particular method but one should perceive it as Deconstructivist Architecture;
  2. It has no precise course yet one should read it as Deconstructivist Architecture; and
  3. Does not constitute a movement yet one should know it as  Deconstrucivist Architecture.

Taking the above suppositions by Johnson into consideration, one remains puzzled upon facing the following question;

What is the criteria that the curators embraced when selecting the projects that are the correct representation of Deconstructivist Architecture?

The architectural critic Kenneth Frampton expresses the uncertainty, which the monograph’s rationalization of Deconstructivist Architecture has caused.

Marking the death of Philip Johnson in his obituary for The Independent, Frampton has accused the curators. Mark Wigley, in particular, was blamed for spreading further confusion regarding Deconstructivist Architecture rather than actually providing a clearer understanding of this very complex subject. []

Both the curators have emphasised that the architecture housed in the MOMA’s exhibition seventeen years ago, is linked to the Soviet modern movement drawn from 1920.

Wigley does admit that Deconstructivist Architecture is devoted to the principles adopted by the Constructivists. Yet he claims that the featured architecture does not share or have a common aesthetic.

One cannot help but wonder whether Wigley has ever come across the book by Iakov Chernikov. The above-mentioned remarks by Wigley on Deconstructivist Architecture as being a non-aesthetical one might seem conflicting to a reader who has been enriched by Chernikov’s extensive writing on architecture.

The Constructivist architectural academic Chernikov wrote “Fantasy and Construction” where he explicitly introduces new ways in which architectural aesthetics could develop. Chernikov’s focal point stands in exploring the association between the construction of a building and a machine.

Furthermore, Wigley has disregarded Derrida’s liaison with Deconstructivist Architecture. [Mark Wigley on page 10 of Deconstructivist Architecture]

Architects Peter Eisenman and Bernard Tschumi whose works were highlighted in the “Deconstructivist Architecture” exhibition have associated their projects to writing of the French philosopher, Jacques Derrida.

In an interview conducted by Christopher Norris, the founder of deconstructive thinking, Jacques Derrida has been expansively interrogated regarding his influence on the future development of Deconstructive Architecture.

Derrida has implied that deconstruction does not have a specific methodology nor does it abide by a particular formula, and it does not constitute a movement.

Instead, Derrida suggests for it to be considered as a discourse which could eventually lead to or challenge a movement or movements in the future. [Jacques Derrida on page 10 of Deconstruction in Architecture]

The negation of the style is to be found also in the vocabulary of the participating architects at the exhibition, “Deconstructivist Architecture”.

Another participating architect, Rem Koolhaas, has also acknowledged the absence of the mutual conduct. He confirms that the unorthodox architects today do not have a common interest when dealing with architecture. [Rem Koolhaas on page 78 of Icon, June issue, 2004]

In a lecture delivered in Columbia University in February 1991, Swiss architect Bernard Tschumi recognized the fact that many architects who are considered to be deconstructivist refuse to be associated with a style.

According to Tschumi, architects refuse the deconstructivist prefix attached to their work, because it derives from a movement that has been triggered by the deconstructivist philosopher Jacques Derrida.

“…deconstructivism was born – immediately called a ‘style’ – precisely what these architects had been trying to avoid. Any interest in poststructuralist thought and deconstruction stemmed from the fact that they challenged the idea of a single unified set of images. the idea of certainty, and of course, the idea of an identifiable language”. [Bernard Tschumi on page 251 of Architecture and Disjunction]

Tschumi endorses his reasoning with the argument that whilst the deconstructive architecture true to deconstructive philosophy is supposed to question the established and unified methodology of thinking, how can it still serve its purpose if in turn, it becomes a style.

Perhaps Theodor Adorno’s emphasis that a rejection of a particular style actually presents a style itself in its own right could constitute a formula solving the mystery surrounding the Deconstructive Architecture

“The absolute rejection of style becomes itself a style.” [Theodor Adorno on page 5 of Rethinking Architecture]

Therefore, to able to comprehend the Deconstructive Architecture, one must not seek answers in the constructed buildings, designed by the contemporary architects and the way they look.

To comprehend the Deconstructive Architecture, one must read the written content by the contemporary architects and the way they conceptualized their projects.

Be First to Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *