Originally Posted by Dr Millmoss
It's hard to escape thinking of postwar Modernism, as this is the analog to contextual design. Modernism in architecture, in its most basic sense, is the building treated as an object, devoid of context or relationship to anything but itself. In city planning, it's treating everything which came before as wrong-headed and expendable. Modernists were anxious in every respect to wipe the slate clean and start over, and they actually got their way in many places over a long period of time. We are now in the position to fairly judge their success. The reply is a lot more about New Urbanism in planning than Postmodernism in architecture.
Style really has little to nothing do with any of this. Architectural pastiche can be just and noncontextual as Modern architecture. Bland does not inherently fit any better than bold. Clothes do not make the building. As a city planner in my former life, I can tell you that 99% of what came across my counter was dull and unimaginative by intention. As Buckminster Fuller said, bankers design buildings, not architects.
I do think the reactionary style amongst planning and zoning boards is in large part due to the depredations of modernism. After all, if you've seen large swaths or your city transformed into glass wind tunnels, you might develop a soft spot for "nice" architecture, no matter how bland or derivative.
Of course, you have to acknowledge that the real "failure" of modernist architecture was its amenability to cheap and fast construction, serving as legitimatizing cover for countless soulless knockoffs of some actually pretty sterling buildings. Not unlike the dreary mass market "minimal" stuff that took only the simple surfaces of Bauhaus and ignored the careful refinement of detail and execution.
OTOH I see this as an exciting time for architecture, with what to my eye looks like the first persuasive move beyond modernism that's coherent enough to think of as a "movement." I've seen it called "techno baroque", "pile of shapes", and "free-form", but in the right hands Gehry style effusions can be energizing and uplifting, or serene and contemplative. For the latter, look no further than the new DeYoung Museum in SF's Golden Gate Park, a long undulating copper clad building, punctuated by a partially twisted tower. For my money, it's got it all over the Mario Botto designed SF Museum of Modern Art, a po-mo temple of culture that is very clear about it's rigidly enforced hierarchies where the DeYoung is beguilingly casual. There's something about busting up that cube that really seems to invite a different relationship to inhabiting the interior, which is why I like it so much. It goes beyond the latest thing in facades to rethink the whole idea of how we use and interact with made spaces.
We can also hope that the intricacy of fabrication involved will be proof against sail form Targets or shuffled deck banks.