The Isms Of Architecture
Kenneth Frampton


Kenneth Frampton

©Monica Pidgeon

In my view, the enormous diffuse production of architecture today can be revealingly categorised under five isms. These may be defined as follows: The first of the isms is productivism. I suppose one can locate its beginnings with the Crystal Palace of 1851 designed by Sir Joseph Paxton. Productivism today is largely represented by such architects as Norman Foster, Richard Rogers, César Pelli. The second of the isms I would like to call rationalism - and in fact this is the name that it has been given by its protagonists who, by and large, are mainly Italian or practise on the continent of Europe. The third of the isms is structuralism and is almost exclusively restricted to architects and theoreticians working in Holland. The fourth of the isms is populism and is almost exclusively restricted to architects working primarily in North America and in England. And, finally, the fifth of the isms is regionalism which can be broadly found throughout the world and can be defined in many different ways. I suppose the first thing that has to be said is that these isms are not in common use, or not in totally consistent use. Productivism, for example, is a category which I have invented to apply to those kinds of buildings, or to that approach to building design, where the end product is more or less regarded as nothing more than a large-scale piece of industrial design. Most of the architects who practise in this way do not actually use the term productivism. On the other hand, rationalism, or perhaps neo-rationalism in order to distinguish it from the pre-war Italian rationalists, is in fact a term that is used by Italian critics who have sought to define the movement. The same can apply to structuralism. Certain Dutch critics have in fact referred to the theoretical writings and practice of such Dutch architects as Aldo van Eyck and Herman Hertzberger quite categorically under the term of structuralism or, more precisely, Dutch structuralism. When one comes to the fourth term, once again it's very largely a category that I've invented. I think none of the North American or English architects very much concerned for the way in which the architecture is popularly received by the society would in fact concur with me in describing their work as populist. Finally, regionalism is such a difficult term to define that I will come to discuss it towards the end of this talk.


Willis Faber Building, Ipswich, England, By Foster Associates

©Foster Associates

My first slide shows an axonometric aerial view of the Willis Faber Insurance building erected in Ipswich in England in 1975 to the designs of Norman Foster & Associates. The most important thing to notice about this building is it completely fills up the site, that the façade of the building is almost entirely blank; one could say that this building is nothing but a piece of very high quality technical packaging of a certain quantum of space.

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