Deconstructivism in Architecture: Characteristics

Deconstructivism in Architecture: Characteristics
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  • 0:04 Postmodern Architecture
  • 0:51 Deconstructivism
  • 1:45 Characteristics
  • 3:20 Form
  • 4:22 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

There are many ways to break rules. In this lesson, we'll explore a trend in architecture based around a very specific kind of rule-breaking, and see what this means in terms of constructing a building.

Postmodern Architecture

The basic rules of form and style are not to be taken lightly. Western society has built up a set of expectations that define a common aesthetic across centuries, even millennia. They're important. So, naturally, one of the main themes of the 20th century was breaking these rules. The 20th century saw a major rise in avant-garde arts, those that challenge traditions. One of the most definitive moments has been postmodernism, defined by a rejection of the concept that art requires grand theories and strict definitions. However, there are many ways to break the rules. One, which breaks the traditions of architecture by rejecting the idea that structures need to assume a coherent form, is called deconstructivism.


So, what exactly is deconstructivism? Like most postmodern movements, it's not really a single, coherent ideology but more a style of architectural rule breaking. Deconstructivists are opposed to the idea that a building needs to look and feel consistent and organized. Instead, they strive to create structures that are broken into basic components that do not seem connected. Think of it this way. A normal house is made up of cooperative shapes: triangles, rectangles, maybe even circles. Instead of trying to combine these shapes into a coherent structure, a deconstructivist architect would present this building in terms of the individual shapes, without trying to make them fit together. In fact, the more juxtaposed and segregated they feel, the better. Each shape, angle, or form gets attention for itself, without having to be seen as part of a whole.


That sounds like some very fancy architecture theory there, but what does it mean in terms of how actual buildings look? Deconstructivist architects want to create buildings that challenge traditional ideas about harmony in structure, and they do so by disorienting the view. There are three basic ways to do this. First is by juxtaposition, or creating a clear contrast between forms that are near each other. If two things generally would not belong together, deconstructivists like to place them as close as possible to each other.

The next characteristic is the use of non-rectilinear shapes. A rectilinear shape is one with straight lines that meet at right angles. If you look through the history of architecture, you'll notice a lot of squares and rectangles. Deconstructivists try to subvert those expectations by refusing to use normal squares and rectangles. Circles, triangles, or unequal polygons are used instead.

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