Why Deconstructivism Marks A Paradigm Shift in Architecture | NONAGON.style
Why Deconstructivism Marks A Paradigm Shift in Architecture

Why Deconstructivism Marks A Paradigm Shift in Architecture

Deconstruction theory in architecture

Cissy Wang
Written by –
Cissy Wang
on August 31st 2019
Cissy is a fresh graduate from CUHK with a major in English and Comparative Literature. Her writing gears towards the poetics of space in social, cultural and urban spaces. "In libris libertas" has always been her motto.

Philosophy of Deconstructivist Architecture

Derrida’s Haunt

The term “Deconstruction” is first coined and developed by French philosopher Jacques Derrida, which is a literary theory and philosophy of language derived principally from Derrida’s 1967 work Of Grammatology.

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Jaques Derrida (1930-2004), French philosopher | image source

“When we deconstruct anything, we simply do not destroy, dissolve or cancel the legitimacy of what what we will be constructing”. — Jacques Derrida

Deconstructivism: A New Approach in Architecture

Deconstructivism, or Deconstructionist architecture is characterized by fragmentation, surface manipulation, non-rectilinear shapes, and radical manifestation of complexity in a building which distorts and dislocates architectural conventions concerning structure and envelope.


“This is an architecture of disruption, dislocation, deflection, deviation and distortion, rather than of demolition, dismantling, decay, decomposition, or disintegration. It displays the structure instead of destroying it.” — Mark Wigley, Deconstructivist Architecture


However, misconceptions surrounding deconstructivism may be the result of the terminology itself. As the word “deconstruct” literally translates as to demolish and destroy, Deconstructivist architecture appears to be taking apart an existing structure or demolishing of a constructed structure as an act of rebellion. In fact, deconstructivism in architecture is neither demolition nor dissimulation, but rather juxtaposition of elements that appear to contradict each other in order to challenge traditional ideas of harmony, unity, continuity, and stability arise from the geometry of purity and formal composition. In short, architectural deconstruction presents an unprecedented challenge to the traditional architectural conventions, standing in opposition to the limiting rules of modernism.

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Exhibition view of Deconstructivist Architecture at MoMA, 1988 | image source

In 1988, an exhibition title “Deconstructivist Architecture ”organized by Philip Johnson and Mark Wigley was displayed at MoMA, which featured works done by Zaha Hadid, Peter Eisenman, Daniel Libeskind, amongst many others. Curator Johnson articulated in the preface to the Deconstructivist Architecture catalog that the exhibition was “a confluence of a few important architects’ work of the years since 1980 that shows a similar approach with very similar forms as an outcome”. He asserted that Deconstructivism is really no more than a series of postmodern impulses instead of an established design style or coherent movement. In other words, Johnson and Widley saw the similarities in the architects’ approach to design and combined them under the exhibition.

Architecture In the Style of “Deconstructivism”

As is admitted by its practitioners, Deconstructive Architecture aims to take form apart — to degrade connections, symmetries, and coherence. For this reason, deconstructivist buildings resemble the severe structural damage such as dislocation, internal tearing and melting suffered after a hurricane, earthquake, internal explosion, fire, or nuclear war!

Vitra Design Museum

Architect: Frank O. Gehry

Location: Weil am Rhein, Germany,

Project Year: 1989

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The best example of deconstructionism complexity of this architecture is the Vitra Design Museum designed by Frank Gehry. It is a white, bare cube-shaped building, which was deconstructed using geometry evoking abstract expressionism and cubism.

Beijing National Stadium

Location: Beijing, China

Project Year: 2007

Considered to be the world’s largest enclosed space, the Beijing national stadium has a gross volume of three million cubic meters. It is also the world’s largest steel structure, banking in 26 kilometers of unwrapped steel used. Nicknamed the “Bird’s nest” the innovative structure was designed by Herzog & De Meuron Architekten, Arup Sport and the China Architecture Design and Research Group. The majestic stadium was built for the Olympic venue and it can receive 91,000 visitors. Combining the Chinese tradition and modern influence, the circular shape of the construct represents heaven, but is also described as the bird’s nest, with patterns inspired by Chinese-style crazed pottery.

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After all the requirements and regulations imposed by the National Stadium Company, the designers also had to keep in mind the potential earthquake threat. The twisting steel sections forming the roof provide stability to the structure and give it the appearance of a bird’s nest actually. With billions of dollars spent on the building, the project received much criticism centered on the fact that the space didn’t seem to consider the impact of the Olympics on a long-term scale. There are plans to incorporate different facilities and make use of the stadium’s space, but overall, the conception and execution of the stadium are undeniably brilliant, making the construct a sight to be witnessed.

Vitra Fire Station

Architect: Zaha Hadid

Location: Weil am RheinGermany

Project Year: 1994

The linear, layered series of walls that make up Vitra Fire Station in Weil am Rhein, Germany, are the work of Zaha Hadid. The concrete planes of the building bend, tilt and break according to the conceptual dynamic forces that were harnessed to connect the landscape and the architecture.

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The construction appears to be frozen in motion, a suspended state of tension creates a sense of instability even. When looked at from a certain angle, the sense of instability intensifies as horizontal planes slip over one another. The interiors can only be sensed from a perpendicular viewpoint, with partitions minimized, the space seems to be ready to explode into action at any time. The fire house has been converted into a museum that showcases Vitra’s chair designs, but the construct remains as one of the most perplexing designs in architecture.

UFA Cinema Center

Architect: Coop Himmelb(l)au

Location: Dresden, Germany

Project Year: 1998

Designed by Coop Himmelblau, UFA Cinema Center is a modernist structure risen from the ashes from the fire-bomb ravaged city of Dresden.

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It confronts the issue of public space, which is currently endangered in European cities, it has an urban functionality to it and disintegrates single-purposed notions of buildings. The design is characterized by two interconnected building units: The Cinema Block and the Crystal. Eight cinemas located in the first block can hold 2600 guests, and the Crystal is a glass shell serving mostly as a foyer and as a public square. The interweaving of public squares, passageways and public interiors present an energizing way of characterizing the new center of Dresden.

Final Thoughts

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The Heydar Aliyev Centre in Baku, Azerbaijan, Zaha Hadid | image source

However, most architects have rejected the label of being “Deconstructivists”, distancing themselves from any sort of movement. Bernard Tschumi believed that “calling the work of these architects a ‘movement’ or a new ‘style’ was out of context and showed a lack of understanding to their ideas”, claiming that the style was merely a move against postmodernism. Unfortunately for them, the term resonated with the public, and their works have been referred to as “deconstructivist” ever since. In fact, their Deconstructivist approach to design created some of the world’s most iconic and award-winning structures to date, influencing hundreds of up-and-coming architects.


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