‘Less is more.’ – Mies van der Rohe

‘Less is a bore.’ – Robert Venturi

10 Distinctive characteristics of Post Modernism

In reaction to restrictive ideals and simplistic, minimalistic forms of Modernism, Postmodernism was a movement that emerged in the 1960s, described first in a book called ‘Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture’ by Robert Venturi and later in another book by him and his wife Denise Scott Brown, ‘Learning from Las Vegas’.

The movement since then has seen a variety of buildings that were built in the previous century and given rise to the ideals that are still followed. Deconstructivism and Critical Regionalism are some movements that have derived from the same.

1. Sculptural and Abstract Forms

Buildings were built to break the uniformity of architecture of that time. Forms that were never seen before were then seen in built structures – bringing an artistic quality to them. Not necessarily organic, but the idea of aesthetics of the façade of the buildings was changing and becoming more imaginative. It clues into the idea that architecture is also a creative field and architects can include an element of originality in their building style.

2. Fragmentation

In contrast to the buildings that were singular imposing structures and dominated their surrounding context, building complexes emerged where one building was broken down into smaller blocks with divided functions. This meant that this was still a single building but worked as connected units and allowed the structure to explore different techniques and amplified the effect of the overall built form.

3. Asymmetry

The geometry and balance of previous architectural styles were severely contested by both smaller building features and the entire building itself. Built forms started to look more unique and interesting instead of boring or machine-like, and captured the attention of the users and the passersby.

4. Color and Ornamentation

Buildings had regained decorative elements, as a complete contrast to the minimalism of Modernism. This ornamentation was used as a strategic tool to create an interesting façade. The use of color was done by both muted tones and very bright shades that made the building look eye-catching. A tool to create interest or make a statement, architects of the Postmodern era did not shy away from colors.

5. Materiality

With the advancements in technology and construction, newer materials were available for architects to use and apply to their buildings in innovative ways. Unlike older architectural movements, there was no particular material that dominated the Post-modernism movement. Everything, ranging from brick and concrete to glass and steel were used and utilized to their utmost potential. Materials had started being used as a tool to design, rather than just a tool to build.

6. ‘Humor’ or ‘Irony’

An element of playfulness can be seen as a characteristic of Postmodernism, where buildings are not limited to act as functional structures but could be so much more. As a design concept, or even to clue into the function, elements of humor were used as embellishments. Exaggerated forms allowed the buildings to come to life and create feelings of joy and excitement among the users.

7. Symbolism

The impact of the building was amplified by symbolic forms, elements, and spaces. This was done to understand the purpose of the building and multiple aspects of the situational context were considered when designing the building, to make them more expressive and sensitive. Architects seemed to be more thoughtful and subtle with their design concepts.

8. Trompe l’oeil

This French phrase translates to ‘trick of the eye’. It is predominantly an art technique that uses imagery to create illusions within the space. A technique used by painters, the elements are painted with such realistic detail that it deceives the onlooker. A similar was also used in the planning of spaces to create an illusion of depth.

9. Classical and Traditional Elements

Unlike Neoclassicism, classical elements were not directly used in the buildings, but they seemed to have been adapted and used. Traditional and local cultural styles were used as an inspiration and cues from these were taken to allow the building to connect with its context and its function more closely.

10. Double Coding (Contradiction)

Buildings with very contrasting styles on two parts of the façade, such that the lower façade seems detached from the upper façade is referred to as double coding. An amalgamation of various tools and building features are used together to create such an effect. This allowed a different interpretation of the building as per the view of the building and allowed the building to convey different meanings.


Ruchika is an aspiring architect and an enthusiastic writer. She likes exploring design principles and methodologies and is open to new possibilities and alternatives in the field of Architecture.

Write A Comment