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Architecture's Historical Turn

Phenomenology and the Rise of the Postmodern

2010
Author:

Jorge Otero-Pailos

Architecture's Historical Turn

Examines the origins and influence of postmodernist thought in architectural theory

In Architecture’s Historical Turn, Jorge Otero-Pailos shows how architectural phenomenology radically transformed the way architects engaged, theorized, and produced history. He reveals how, ultimately, the rise of architectural phenomenology played a crucial double role in the rise of postmodernism, creating the antimodern specter of a historical consciousness and offering the modern notion of essential experience as the means to defeat it.

With Jorge Otero-Pailos’ investigation of the echo phenomenology found in post-WWII architecture, a forgotten chapter in the crisis of Modernism is finally taken into account. His book skillfully weaves together the contribution of innovative Beaux-Arts architects, such as Jean Labatut, radical American designers, such as Charles Moore, and European theorists, such as Christian Norberg-Schulz and Kenneth Frampton, with the discourse of contemporary philosophers. He convincingly argues that the introduction of the concept of experience has allowed, in a hitherto overlooked dialogue across the Atlantic, for the development of a stimulating critical production more than twenty years before the uttering of Postmodernism.

Jean-Louis Cohen, New York University

Architecture’s Historical Turn traces the hidden history of architectural phenomenology, a movement that reflected a key turning point in the early phases of postmodernism and a legitimating source for those architects who first dared to confront history as an intellectual problem and not merely as a stylistic question.

Jorge Otero-Pailos shows how architectural phenomenology radically transformed how architects engaged, theorized, and produced history. In the first critical intellectual account of the movement, Otero-Pailos discusses the contributions of leading members, including Jean Labatut, Charles Moore, Christian Norberg-Schulz, and Kenneth Frampton. For architects maturing after World War II, Otero-Pailos contends, architectural history was a problem rather than a given. Paradoxically, their awareness of modernism’s historicity led some of them to search for an ahistorical experiential constant that might underpin all architectural expression. They drew from phenomenology, exploring the work of Bachelard, Merleau-Ponty, Heidegger, and Ricoeur, which they translated for architectural audiences. Initially, the concept that experience could be a timeless architectural language provided a unifying intellectual basis for the stylistic pluralism that characterized postmodernism. It helped give theory—especially the theory of architectural history—a new importance over practice. However, as Otero-Pailos makes clear, architectural phenomenologists could not accept the idea of theory as an end in itself. In the mid-1980s they were caught in the contradictory and untenable position of having to formulate their own demotion of theory.

Otero-Pailos reveals how, ultimately, the rise of architectural phenomenology played a crucial double role in the rise of postmodernism, creating the antimodern specter of a historical consciousness and offering the modern notion of essential experience as the means to defeat it.

Architecture's Historical Turn

Jorge Otero-Pailos is assistant professor of historic preservation at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation.

Architecture's Historical Turn

With Jorge Otero-Pailos’ investigation of the echo phenomenology found in post-WWII architecture, a forgotten chapter in the crisis of Modernism is finally taken into account. His book skillfully weaves together the contribution of innovative Beaux-Arts architects, such as Jean Labatut, radical American designers, such as Charles Moore, and European theorists, such as Christian Norberg-Schulz and Kenneth Frampton, with the discourse of contemporary philosophers. He convincingly argues that the introduction of the concept of experience has allowed, in a hitherto overlooked dialogue across the Atlantic, for the development of a stimulating critical production more than twenty years before the uttering of Postmodernism.

Jean-Louis Cohen, New York University

Otero-Pailos draws convincing parallels between Moore’s emphasis on a more richly diverse architecture and his acute distaste for the profession’s restrictive, conformist mind-set at mid-century.

Architectural Record

This architectural theorist’s historiography of theory in American departments of Architecture is a useful contribution and provocative challenge to phenomenological research dealing with architectural and environmental concerns. Otero-Pailos’ book is a valuable addition to the phenomenological literature on environmental and architectural matters because it reviews some early innovative efforts to generate theories and designs that arose from and sought to enhance human experience.

Environmental & Architectural Phenomenology Newsletter

Otero-Pailos’ book is a milestone for the historiography of architectural phenomenology and reveals what this discipline has accomplished and generated.

Environmental & Architectural Phenomenology Newsletter