The 1990s were a decade of design theories. They were the years of numerous books on architectural theory, with the best designers seeking to construct theorems and works that served to demonstrate their ideas. First and foremost such projects as the Kunsthal by Rem Koolhaas (a theorisation on how a space can bring together apparently conflictual and antagonistic geometric figureslike prisms and spirals), the Jewish Museum by Daniel Libeskind (a theorisation on the use of architecture as a metaphor for history), the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao (a demonstration of how pop culture can coexist with the baroque, and bothwith the contemporary city).
However, we can also look to works that came later: for example the blobby and digital buildings that demonstrated how the computer could be used to generate new built and urban geometries.We now live in a period marked by many doubts and less certainties. We are afraid of realising overly iconic works and of falling into the excesses that become inevitable in the wake of overly precise ideas.
We have less trouble in returning to the past – there is no longer an idea that it is necessary to propose innovative products at any cost – and we tend to return to approaches that, until a few years back, appeared to have fallen out of fashion.
In particular, there appears to be a delineation of three trends
The first is neo-organic. This has little to do with the super-organicism of Greg Lynn or Nox, that, to be clear, employed computer-generated manipulations to create buildings characterised by complex fractal geometries and which, in the end, caused buildings
to resemble a medusa or a head of cauliflower. The new organics prefer instead the use of softer, less overtly allusive forms, constructed of natural materials such as wood and stone. While there may be a slight hint of Alvar Aalto or Frank Lloyd Wright though, these works conserve their own freshness and modernity.
The second trend is technological.However, it is extraneous to the excesses of high-tech: the virtuosities of Norman Foster or Santiago Calatrava. On the contrary, it appears to move towards the style of the Apple store, where technological innovation is suggested not by pipes and tie rods, but by lightness, transparency, simplicity and versatility. Where instead of a futuristic steel structure there is a preference for glass, with the aerodynamic desk substituted by a table in blonde wood, the computer cables hidden from view or even eliminated. In the end new devices are all wireless.
The third trend is neo-modernist. Far from the heroic season of the Modern Movement, marked by a Calvinist work ethic that saw standardisation and the reduction of ornaments as the path towards a better future. Today modernism is viewed, instead, as one style among many others, perhaps the best for expressing a desire for order and rigour, though not necessarily frankness or economy.
Despite the fact that the new stars claim to look on the globalised world with suspicion, in reality each pursues a language that remains one of internationalisation. Proof is to be found when looking at a building without its surrounding landscape: it is difficult to tell where it comes from. For some this is a misfortune, though we consider it anything but. A vast quantity of good architecture – from the pyramids to the temples of Magna Grecia – has always been indifferent to national borders.