Critical Response

Paolo Partoghesi’s conception of Postmodernism in architecture is complex. Some of the main points of Partoghesi’s article turned out to be prophetic. At the same time, the researcher’s vision of the development of architecture complies with and complements the architectural reality and shape the latter in many ways. However, the author of the article is referring to some controversial issues to understanding of which there is no unambiguous approach. All in all, the author’s approach towards the matters being discussed is progressive, however, at some points, the article itself lacks objectivity.  

Postmodernism originated as purely literary movement in the early twentieth century. Since the movement gained momentum, it has transcended the limits of from of art and became a cultural phenomenon of its age. The researcher asserts that the term ‘postmodernism’ itself was introduced by Ihab Hassan in the year 1971 to denote a specific movement in literature. It is admitted that criticism and historiography were peculiar to Postmodernism as an architectural movement. The researcher points out that one of the key distinctive features of the definition of postmodernism is difference rather than focus on identity. Evidently, an approach towards the understanding of postmodernism like that oversimplifies the meaning of this particular trend in art. At the same time, one of the most important observations made by the researcher is that Postmodernism in general is characterized by a great deal of discrepancies. The discrepancy here consists primarily in the following. Postmodernism in architectural sense tends to artistically reconsider its past experiences and make use of the achievements of previous historical periods in the art of architecture. With regard to this, the architect is emphasizes the importance of the First Industrial Revolution.


Paolo Portoghesi reckons that Postmodernism in architectural sense is inseparably connected with the development of science and technology. Novelty, modifications, and quantifications can be regarded as the attributes of contemporary architecture. Furthermore, these are the aspects that assert themselves at the confluence of architecture, design, and the development of science and technology. Thanks to this correlation, “architectonic archetypes as precious instruments of communication” were reestablished. Consequently, Postmidernism in architecture has proved itself to be an instrument capable of producing and transmitting some specific communicative models. Archetype, in this respect, is defined as the least meaningful unit, an elementary institution based on language and key architectural practices. Evidently, architectonic archetypes are capable of influencing people’s lifestyle and day-to-day activities. Therefore, the factor of architectural archetypes should be taken into account by all means.

Another distinctive feature of postmodern architecture, according to Portoghesi, is the tendency towards dismantling the grounds for the whole “theory of bourgeois society”. The researcher admits that stereotypic thinking, characteristic of capitalist and socialist societies by equal measures, has shifted significantly due to the globalization processes and rapid development of science and technology. This has resulted in reconsideration of space, beauty, and comfort. Consequently, architectonic patterns were changed as well. It happened so that under the circumstance of world’s population growth and the increasing amounts of the production of goods people’s living patterns and the purpose of architecture as well focus on “avoiding waste”. Artists, thinkers, and architects of postmodern age see their mission in understanding people’s demands. At the same time, the author admits the fragility of Modern Movement. This, however, does not diminish the contribution of that particular period to the development of architecture. Rejecting the canons of Modern Movement and searching for something qualitatively new have shaped the tendencies for the development of architecture in the first half and the middle of the twentieth century.

Close attention should be paid to the premise as follows. Useful is synonymous to beautiful; structural truth means esthetic worth; function is more important than form (the plane of content is more important than the plane of expression); there is a need to find a compromise between architecture and construction; decorations and accessories are barely permissible. Paolo Portoghesi states that these particular principles are left out of account. At the same time, it is possible to assume that these principles can be regarded as the key elements of the architect’s creative and artistic manifesto. In other words, Portoghesi implies these fundamentals should be taken into account. The fundamentals in this particular case prove themselves to be ambiguous by nature and thus can be questioned. The premise itself sounds doubtful because it implies the conception of beauty, a process that is individual in itself. Particularly, this is the case when the author of the article attempts to impose his opinion on the audience. 

One the most noticeable drawbacks of the Modern Movement, according to Partoghesi, is that city planning at that time was understood as merely “the science of territorial transformations”. Postmodernist architects, on the other hand, focused on, for example, “the continuity of the urban fabric”, and “the fundamental importance of enclosed spaces”. Developing this statement further, the researcher addresses the problem of an energy crisis. Environmental-friendly and energetically less consuming technologies can be viewed as the main factors of the progressive development of architecture.  Furthermore, it is stated that they the environmental-friendly and energy-saving technologies are potentially capable of preventing postmodern architecture form collapse.

Pondering the aftermaths of the crisis of urban architecture, Portoghesi points out that decay of a town’s/city’s infrastructure is inevitable. With regard to this, the architect disapproves the society of mass consumption. The premise that urban space is destined to collapse implies the reference to the waste production and recycle problem. But most importantly, the factor of the natural resources’ depletion positions itself as the important aspect of postmodern architecture problem.  

Developing this statement further, Paolo Portoghesi states that “the large city is the child of the great political institutions”. The architect tends to criticize the idea of a large city itself claiming the latter is vain and purposeless. A metropolis locates public and cultural institutions, scientific and recreational facilities. It is assumed that the long-term consequences of these structures’ impact on environment and people’s living patterns are underestimated. Furthermore, the effects of that kind are fraught with danger. One of the possible solutions potentially capable of eliminating environmental and social hazards the change of geographic demarcation and the realization of the potential of smaller cities.

The idea of the development of postmodern architecture is closely related to the concept of post-industrial society. Freedom from “totalitarian temptations” is listed among the distinctive features of post-industrial society. The dimension of totalitarianism Paolo Portoghesi is referring to positions itself as mainly architectural, namely, urban. Architectonics, with regard to this, turns out to a factor determining and, at the same time, manifesting the state of mind. Liberation of though, restoring caring attitude of people towards nature necessitates the change of living patterns, reconsideration of quality of life. Explicitly, these changes manifest themselves through architectonics.

As far as totalitarianism is concerned, it is important to mention the following. Totalitarianism positions itself as, above all else, a social and political concept. Apparently, Paolo Patoghrsi’s approach towards postmodern architecture is shaped by the relics of the World War I and the World War II. This may very well be considered a plausible explanation as to why the architect pays such a close attention to the social dimensions of his own area of expertise. By and large, restoration of the link between civilized world and the world of nature can be viewed as a means of renewal and enhancement of both, the environment and the human habitats. Paolo Portoghesi repeatedly points out that architecture should be contemplated in its inherent relation to politics, economy, environmental conditions, demands of society, and people’s living patterns. Much in this case depends particularly on the state of environment and community’s capability to adapt. The author of the article attempts to be trustworthy and intelligible. Thus, he employs logical means of persuasion and addresses his own experience as an architect. At times, it seems that the researcher does not take the fact that some of the issues he is contemplating are individual, therefore, subjective. Subjectivity and individual approach alike are the markers of free thinking. All things considered, Paolo Portoghesi positions himself as a strong proponent of Environmentalism, relinquishment of control of personality to person’s own consciousness, sense of duty and dignity, and independent, free thinking.

All in all, Paolo Portoghesi’s approach towards postmodern architecture can be characterized as environmentally conscious. In this respect, it can be characterized as prophetic as well, especially when the current state of things is taken into account. It is argued that Postmodernism as aesthetic, philosophical, and cultural phenomenon triggers a great deal of broader social concerns. This is presumably due to the fact that the mode of thinking in global sense needs changing. The concept of postmodernity is characterized by a great deal of discrepancies. Discrepancy consists in a fact that there is no unambiguous approach towards the definition of postmodernity. Architectural dimension of Postmodernism is unique. Above all else, environmental thinking is peculiar to Paolo Portoghesi’s approach. The statements made by the researcher lack objectivity to a certain extent. However, all arguments sound logically justifiable. Thus, the architect’s research proves itself to be credible and trustworthy. One of the very few drawbacks of the article is that its author tends to impose his opinion on the audience in some way.

All in all, postmodernism in architecture combines the two key tendencies: historicism, on the one hand, and rejecting the pas tendencies. This turns out to be one of the main inconsistencies of postmodernity. Paolo Portoghesi argues that geographic demarcation and the realization of the potential of smaller cities may be of use in terms of renewal and enhancement of both, the environment and the human habitats. The researcher’s experience as an architect appears to be self-explanatory in this particular case. After a careful examination of the statements made by Paolo Portoghesi, one can with utter surety assume that the historical events shape the world we live in. By his work, Portoghesi urges his audience to consider the concept of beauty and comfort. Economically, our lives mingle with the state of environment. But most importantly, our apprehension of art and beauty depends on how we interact with all life that surrounds us, and the environment (nature) in particular. Therefore, the link between civilization and nature should be reconsidered by all means.