Contradictio in Terminis

Host institution

Universidad Politécnica de Madrid. ETSAM-UPM




Finalist (2016) – X PhD Thesis Competition Arquia Foundation. Barcelona, Spain

Contradictio in Terminis commits a triple act of heresy. First, it proposes a critical revision of architectural postmodernity as if it was the result of a unitary project. Second, it elaborates this account by using the ideas of ambiguity and contradiction, even though both terms are problematic even today and have negative connotations. And third, it does so through the theoretical work of three antagonistic figures: Robert Venturi, Peter Eisenman and Rem Koolhaas, trying to persuade us that there are strong connections between their respective theoretical postulates.

We imagine that these arguments are sufficient for the guardians of academic virtue and intellectual rigour to end their interest in the present research. We begin, in fact, by putting them at the forefront so that no one is misled and does not waste their precious time. However, knowing that there are increasing numbers of people attracted to heresy and to looking in the wrong direction, it is possible that someone is tempted by the abyss and wishes to plunge into it little by little. The following paragraphs serve as an official summary of the work:

To purge repression, to express anguish, to show resistance to the system, to deny its ability to express the truth or to raise the consciousness of the sublime… A significant part of postmodern architectural production seemed to find a critical way to deal with this period. As it had been established in modern culture, the architectural work was provided with an ambiguous code, but, according to postmodern sensibility, this code became unreadable.

The leading and structuring hypotheses of this research are two. First, the architecture of the twentieth century has increasingly embodied the dialectic of ambiguity to its theoretical discourse. Second, the use of tools related to the study of language caused its linguistic dissolution. Both hypotheses are closely interconnected due to a common interest: the destruction of the internal coherence of the architectural project.

This work is a critical review of architectural postmodernism through the theoretical production of three of its most prominent architects: Robert Venturi, Peter Eisenman and Rem Koolhaas. Nowadays, there is a collective feeling that we are witnessing a cultural and economic paradigm shift. Therefore, after nearly half a century since the conceptual bases of postmodernism were formulated, it seems possible to analyse it with a distant sight. Several publications by authors such as Anthony Vidler, Michael Hays, Reinhold Martin or Pier Vittorio Aureli have offered new readings about the reasons and facts that have shaped this period. This work aims to supplement them by lighting certain overlooked aspects of the architectural legacy from past decades, considering it the consequence of a fruitful relationship between architecture and ambiguity, and its provocative consummation as a contradictio in terminis.