Architecture against all rules: How deconstructivism pushes architecture to its limits

Futuristic monoliths by Zaha Hadid, surreal buildings by Frank Gehry and abstract sculptures by Daniel Libeskind – buildings by these renowned architects have made deconstructivism popular in architecture. But like brutalist architecture, deconstructivist building style also claims higher goals than the concept would initially suggest.

Deconstructivism: Architecture breaks the rules of modern architecture

As a stylistic direction in architecture, "deconstructive" describes not only the "dismantling" or "taking apart" of constructions, but above all, a break from the usual construction methods of postmodernism. Buildings of deconstructivism often radically resist the harmonious ideals of geometry and straightforwardness. Distorted walls and corners, asymmetrical surfaces and seemingly randomly arranged buildings are combined like collages to form artistic sculptures. Strict lines and forms are replaced by free and organic elements. In this way, even massive concrete blocks can appear like gentle, filigree works of art.

Pioneer of the avant-garde style movement

The exhibition "Deconstructivist Architecture" from 1988 in the New York "Museum of Modern Art" is regarded as the beginning of this extraordinary style. The exhibition presented works by seven design and architectural greats who are known today as representatives of Deconstructivism. But ten years earlier, a design by Frank Gehry already showed typical features of Deconstructivism. His house in Santa Monica is considered the first deconstructivist building. The Canadian-American architect not only invented the architectural style, but also repeatedly pushed it to the limits of what was possible.

Our following five examples show how versatile and creative deconstructivism is in architecture.

Portrait of Frank Gehry

1. Walt Disney Concert Hall by Frank Gehry

In the middle of Los Angeles, Frank Gehry has created a monumental monument to himself and deconstructivism with the Walt Disney Concert Hall. Shiny and matt stainless steel surfaces reflect the light like up and down musical notes.

Inaugurated in 2003, the concert hall with its collage-like character and curved forms is an impressive lesson in architectural style. The founder of deconstructivism has also realised fascinating buildings in Europe and Germany, for example, the Gehry buildings "Neue Zollhaus" in Düsseldorf and the Vitra Design Museum in Weil am Rhein in Baden-Württemberg.

2. Heydar Aliyev Center by Zaha Hadid

With flowing, dynamic forms, the "Queen of Curves", Zaha Hadid, has made even steel and concrete buildings appear to be in motion, defying all straight lines. One of her many masterpieces and examples of deconstructivism is the Heydar Aliyev Center in Baku, whose design was the result of an international competition in 2007.

The cultural centre of Azerbaijan deviates almost provocatively from the formal language of the surrounding architecture with sculptural waves, curves and folds. The light-reflecting shell changes its appearance depending on the position and angle of the sun. In order to realise the challenging construction, the concrete body was combined with a special lattice frame system of glass fibre reinforced panels.

3. Royal Ontario Museum by Daniel Libeskind

The American architect and urban planner, Daniel Libeskind, has also realised buildings in the style of deconstructivism worldwide. Among his most famous works is the extension for the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) in downtown Toronto. The name of the new building, "Michael Lee-Chin Crystal", which opened in 2007, refers to the sponsor of the multi-million project and the abstract appearance of the building:

Five intersecting, metal-clad structures combine to form a futuristic sculpture without right angles and straight walls. The organically interlocking prisms transform the museum complex into a huge crystal. To this day, the extension of the ROM is one of the most complicated building projects in North America.

4. National Stadium Beijing by Herzog & de Meuron

With the National Stadium in Beijing, the architect duo Herzog & de Meuron have designed a new type of public space in the Chinese capital for the 2008 Summer Olympics. The gigantic arena deconstructs the traditional idea of what a sports facility can look like. Even from a distance, the irregular structure of the façade can be seen, which breaks the building down into huge individual pieces.

The separate elements support each other and grow together to form a grid-like, open formation in which the transitions between inside and outside become blurred. Oblique columns, beams and stairs interweave into a thicket that seems to have been created by nature, giving the beam construction the title of a "bird's nest".

5. Groningen Museum by Alessandro Mendini & Friends

The Groninger Museum in the Netherlands, with its colourful façade, shows how an art museum itself can become an art object. The Italian designer Alessandro Mendini was commissioned to design the new art museum after the old building had become too small. Construction work began in 1992 and the museum moved in 1994. For the concept Mendini worked together with three guest architects: Philipe Starck, Michele de Lucchi and Coop Himmelb(l)au added their own parts of the building to the design. A structure made of traditional brick, a circular building faced with aluminium panels, and a pavilion made of steel, concrete, tar and glass stand in stark contrast to each other and to the main building.

The Mendini complex is characterised by the colourful cladding and the yellow tower of the central pavilion. The interior and exterior design mixes feature different styles, for example, functional elements from the Bauhaus and typical Italian terrazzo motifs. These surprising breaks in style and irregularities are what make up the deconstructive charm of the Groningen Museum.

Deconstructivist buildings have lost none of their originality and avant-garde charm to this day. We are curious to see how architects and designers will push modern architecture to its limits in the future.

Which buildings of deconstructivism particularly impress you? Do you know of other examples of this extraordinary architectural style? We look forward to your comments.

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