Super Postmodern

Master of Architecture Thesis
Princeton University
Instructor: Elizabeth Diller
Advisor: Jesse Reiser

Assistance: John Murphey, Toshiki Hirano, Dana McKinney, Nasra Nimaga, Nushelle de Silva, Jean Choi, Razvan Ghilic-Micu, Erica Nobori, Patrick Tierny, Silan Yip


Note: The etymology of Super originates from Latin, meaning "above, beyond." Starting from the premise that architecture from the 1960s onward (including Historicism and Deconstructivism) has been a Post-Modernist discipline, my thesis proposed a prescriptive theory to go "above and beyond" the exhausting binary oppositions between signification vs. denial of meaning, and emerge beyond the labyrinth of Postmodern ontological regimes. The way above is sought through the concept of noise as a cultural construct. This is akin to Renaissance Humanist architectural propositions that utilized ratio and proportion systems based on Pythagorean music theory (with the supposition that music reveals invisible universal order, with its innate beauty and emotive qualities). That purity of concept was eroded from Baroque onwardwith its counterpointed fugal and canonic compositions that broke free from homophonic simplicity. If we consider microtonal music from Asia or complex percussive improvisational techniques from Africa we see that ratio based proportion system is missing the vast forest for a single tree. The messy and diffused state of music since Quattrocento has resulted in sonorities, harmonics, themes, forms, and techniques that can be noise to some and delight to others. How is the value of these oscillating systems assigned? Language? Emotions? Can this oscillation be controlled and applied to Architecture?

Constantly alternating from focus to blur, noise is always culturally defined. Architecturally, the decades-long tendency to escape signification and narratives has resulted in tectonic visual noises: formal inventions aimed to be devoid of communicative potential through abstraction.

Liberating the repressed desire to communicate through buildings, we are witnessing a recursion to Postmodern intellectual positions; a nascent architectural movement that may be described as Super Postmodern. However, unlike the pre-globalization era of the Postmodernists, contemporary culture is far more complex and contradictory, lending to more than just singular (or at best dualistic) iconic gestures.

The cultural conditions are rife for the discovery of new methods and approaches to exponentially expand the narrative potential of architecture through visual noise. Using its ability to alternate between focus and blur of multiple signs and communicative effects, visual noise is the instrument by which a more nuanced and complex architectonic narrative is developed. Multiple appropriate narratives (focus) in architecture will be applied while the remaining formal qualities will be subjugated to noise (blur).

Surrounded by controversy since its inception, Park51, aka the “Ground Zero Mosque,” in downtown Manhattan cannot escape the public reading of its signification and narratives. The prototypical nature of this thesis will be demonstrated by applying the principles to a reimagined fictional design of this building.