Deconstructivism is a movement in architecture that has been widely misinterpreted. By definition, it is a movement that appeared in the 1980s as a response to Modernism and Post Modernism. It is characterized by the absence of unity, harmony, and symmetry and is denoted commonly through distorted geometry or fragmentation of constructed building. There are many famous architects whose designs fall under the category of Deconstructivism but a lot of them seem to reject any affiliations of their work to this particular movement. The question that arises here is why deconstructivism is plagued with such notoriety. To understand this, one must look at the origin of its philosophy and why its virtues held relevance in the context of architecture.
Jacques Derrida, a French philosopher is credited with the development of Deconstruction. He applied it in relation to written text and its interpretation. The philosophy of deconstruction essentially says that written words form a part of subjective truth and there is no one way to interpret a piece of written information. Words change meaning with context and are interpreted in different ways by different people. Whatever beliefs of right and wrong or good and bad that have been propagated through written text for centuries are based on the idea of “An absolute truth” which lies at the core of these beliefs.
Derrida asks us to question the existence that absolute truth and analyze the way we look at things. He asks us to shake our beliefs and try to look for meaning by deliberation with an unbiased eye so that we are able to find value in the ideas that are often overlooked. This idea of re-evaluating pre-determined principles captured the attention of architects like Peter Eisenman and Bernard Tschumi. The principles of deconstructivism can be seen in Eisenman’s Wexner Center of Art and Tschumi’s Parc de la Villette where they intentionally defy known architectural traditions.
In Wexner Center of Art, Eisenman incorporates a white metal grid to signify scaffolding and give the building a sense of incompleteness or fragmentation. Whereas Tschumi is designed by Parc de la Villette with an intention to create a vacuum and remove any preconception that people might associate with an urban park. Another architect whose work follows the principles of deconstructivism is Daniel Libeskind. His design for the Jewish Museum is conceived as a “trace” of the “erasure” of the holocaust, with an intention to depict the void left by the memory of Jews. It is designed as a twisted zig-zag and a line of voids or empty spaces run linearly through the entire building.
The instances of deconstructivism mentioned here try to create what Derrida called a “Metaphysics of presence”, or the presence of an absence. Deconstructivism attempts to move away from the rules of modernism like, “Form follows Function” and “Purity of form”. It tries to question all accepted architectural traditions, not to cause disruption or controversy but to explore what the antithesis of these traditions can offer. Architects like Frank Gehry don’t agree with the classification of their work under deconstructivism, because for them the deconstruction or the distorted geometry of their buildings is not inspired by Derrida’s philosophy but from other sources like abstract expressionism, cubism or minimalism.
Rife with criticism, Deconstructivism has been under attack for its lack of attention to the context of the location in which the building exists and its blatant disregard for architectural principles. But one must not forget that if deconstructivism disregards these principles, it also reworks architectural traditions back into the design of the building in its own way. Derrida’s theory asks us to look at both sides of beliefs without bias and discover what might have been previously unknown. It asks us not to pursue answers but to relish in the confusion. Deconstructivism might be a response to the ideals of modernism and postmodernism but it does a simple duty of questioning everything that we accept at face value. It can’t be called a proper movement as the architects associated with it have different interpretations of what it conveys but it is undoubtedly a true form of architecture.