Avant-Garde, to put it in simplistic terms began in the early 1900s with the rejection of ornamentation and elaborate features. It has been associated with words such as “modern” and “contemporary”, encompassing within it several styles such as Bauhaus, De Stijl, Constructivism, and Futurism.
Avant-Garde Architecture in the present day scenario not only “breaks” from tradition but also encompasses relevance to the future. It strives to create an individualistic and iconic identity. One of the increasingly popular approaches is to utilize material or building features in a manner that departs from its traditional application.
Another interesting approach is to derive a unique form from inventive, functional solutions and standard intermittent elements. Avant-garde architecture could also be depicted as an experience or perspective of a past event and its representation forming a narrative. Examples are illustrated later in the essay.
Greenberg had indicated that avant-garde was conceived “by the elite, for the elite” in his book “Avant-Garde and Kitsch”. He generalized that for the avant-garde to connect with the bourgeois society, it had to transform into Kitsch (a mass-produced, poor imitation of the avant-garde).
In the contemporaneous context, while a majority of avant-garde projects are conceived for and by the elite individuals or organizations, state-funded projects (for public use such as libraries, museums, etc.) also possess characteristics of avant-garde architecture targeted at the masses without transforming into Kitsch thus contradicting Greenberg’s generalization. There are several outstanding present-day examples ranging from parametricism to deconstructivism such as Seattle Public Library – Rem Koolhaas, Heydar Aliyev Centre – Zaha Hadid, Brooklyn Bridge Park – Michael Van Valkenburgh.
‘Content is to be dissolved so completely into form that the work of art or literature cannot be reduced in whole or in part to anything, not itself’ – Greenberg
As per Greenberg’s theory, the LEGO House by BIG architects is an outstanding example of how the content influences the form and makes it indiscernible from its context. The form is conceptualized from the basic function and application of legos and the function of the building incorporates the values and cultures of the LEGO industry. The colors, space organization, and volumetric masses are derived from the LEGO industry and the experience is immersive into the LEGO culture.
Interestingly enough, it features ribbon windows, roof gardens, a free-standing facade free of structural constraints, column-free exhibition, and gallery spaces, i.e. principles from Le Corbusier’s Five Points of Architecture. What makes it avant-garde is the simplistic origin of the structure that works in synchrony with the building function and concept.
Figure 01 – Overview of LEGO House. The Lego House appears to be constructed from oversized Lego bricks and uses primary colors as part of its wayfinding system(Credit: Lego)
Image available at: https://img.newatlas.com/lego-house-completed-1.jpg?auto=format%2Ccompress&fit=max&q=6 0&w=1000&s=3ec5e3e2e7160345c9debdc00d770ec8
Shigeru Ban’s proposal for the Nomadic museum as a portable structure was inspired by Gregory Colbert’s idea for a traveling exhibition. However, his proposal for a structure constructed from recyclable material was a response to the Great Hanshin earthquake of 2005. It could be modified for disaster relief shelters and temporary housing based on the material available on location. The structure was assembled in New York, Santa Monica, and Tokyo with varying configurations and material selection addressing each site’s constraints, highlighting the universal adaptability of the structure. The success of the museum was overwhelming and overshadowed the art exhibited, which resulted in Colbert switching to a different architect for the later exhibitions. The avant-garde nature of this structure was in its mobility, universal adaptability, and ability to adopt various configurations.
Figure 02 – The Front facade of Nomadic Museum showcasing the use of paper tube columns and PVC pipe roof trusses
Image available at: https://www.archdaily.com/777307/ad-classics-nomadic-museum-shigeru-ban-architects
Daniel Libeskind’s Jewish Museum elaborates on the experiences of the Jewish community during the Holocaust era in Berlin, Germany. Its avant-garde nature is represented by the three different axial routes in the building that each have its narrative and recreates the experiences of the emigrated Jews. There is a reference to the past highlighting the tragedies incurred by the Jewish community in the use of voids, dead ends, and use of solid reinforced concrete walls symbolizing the terror during Nazi Germany.
Figure 03 View of the Jewish Museum, Berlin Germany
Image available at: https://libeskind.com/work/jewish-museum-berlin/
However, it also needs to be understood that ‘avant-garde architecture’ itself is an oxymoron – avant-garde being a representation of the present (here and now) and architecture, a symbol of permanence (long-lasting) thus altering its interpretation thus making it imperative to keep future relevance and context in mind.