Since the 1970s the crisis in the building industry (and the consequent crisis of clientele) has reduced the architect, like the artist, to a parvenu on the cultural scene. The architect maintains a social position but has ceased to be able to leave any mark on the "real" environment; after a period of negotium (employment), there is now a state of otium (free time). To make up for this lack of activity, the architect is now occupied with the memory of building--rereading history, appropriating and transferring it to unrealized projects—into "ephemeral apparata for entering into architecture," that is, triumphal arches honoring architectonic fantasies. Limited in what he can build, the architect has instead entered the realm of imagination, where cultural and economic chains to a client have neither weight nor meaning. No longer constrained by any uniform morphology, the architect can take pleasure in assembling references to everything from archeology to Constructivism, or creating hyper-realist realizations. And so an irreverence toward history is born. The construction site has become a scenography workshop, and socially unrealizable architecture is transformed through plaster and theatrical wings from an illusory presence into a reality--the simulated becomes the “original,” that is, the authentic.
Post-modernism preaches the mythical and divine function of architecture as the highest of all sciences of building. It presumes a relation between architecture and architectonic teleology, and considers only well-known and primary principles: sacred ideas and entities, discovered in the past and in history. Critical considerations aside, the "Strada Novissima" of post-modernism is important precisely because it concretizes artificial and ephemeral architectural construction. It therefore questions all "exhibited" presentations, exposing them as fictions and symbolically celebrating the identity of an architecture that has no identity.
"Strada Novissima" accepts the presence of illusion and the absence of the authentic and identifiable. Every imaginary edifice can make reference to every other; all things reciprocally cancel each other out to exalt the sacred "writing" of architecture. All principles of construction can be drawn from this encyclopedia of historical references.
In the end the most radical intervention is decidedly that of Frank Gehry, the California architect, who has refuted monumentalizations and imitations by proposing a wood-frame skeleton through which to view the 16th-century architecture of the arsenal "in perspective," thus turning this post-modernist rebirth into what might be called a "renaissance of the Renaissance."
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Finally, the work tends toward a retro appropriation of history; it is as though Venturi’s Greek-style Pop facade or Scolari’s axonometric image gives a "contemporary" reading of history, seeing it not in its existential origins but according to an intellectual embalming. Every project is based, beyond the evidence of references (from Palladio to Loos, from Bernini to Malevich), on the temporal fracturing of individual facades, so that architectonic moments from classicism to modernism can coexist. The contamination and fragmentation of cultural inheritances breaks up historical linearity: one could compare it to collage. The architecture is made up of broken images, thereby running the risk of reducing built form to illustrative flatness.
Germano Celant, "Strada Novissima" in "The Presence of the Past" (Artforum: December 1980).