Jacques Derrida, a French philosopher, was known for his criticism in regards to the relationship between a subject and its intrinsic meaning. This was applied within the literature field, as he deeply questioned the idea of self-attaching and associating meaning to text or information that had no prior, fixed definition. Derrida decided to coin this philosophical concept as, ‘Deconstructivism’, which later, not only became a response to several theoretical and philosophical movements happening within the 20th century, but also allowed for pioneering, conceptual artists such as Frank Gehry and Zaha Hadid, to break away from traditional norms in response to the previous Modernism and Post Modernism movements.
Deconstructivism appeared in the late 1980s, with a preference for abstracted and technological forms, as opposed to the mindset of Modernist artists. Those belonging to the Modernism period, believed in factors such as rationalised structural elements, material fidelity, with an emphasis on functionality firsthand. Post Modernism, on the other hand, influenced Deconstructivism in aspects of unpredictability, controlled chaos, distortion and fragmentation. However, the Deconstructivists rejected Post Modernism’s usage of ornamentation, interesting forms utilised as only a form of decoration and their acceptance of historical references. Those within the disciplines of architecture and art explored the breakage of heritage and traditions as a response to Derrida’s paradoxical theory of ‘fixed definitions.’ Like Derrida, who was an advocate for non-fixated meanings, the Deconstructivists strived to decontextualize their work from a perceived notion while creating new associations with various subject matters and elements. They explored the ideas of semiotics, by taking away the meaning of symbols and affiliations between objects and the way they have been perceived by the public eye. Deconstructivists gravitated towards new material usage and innovative appearing structures. These elements were extremely apparent within the architectural and product design works of pioneer artists such as Frank Gehry and Zaha Hadid that stand as great monuments within various countries today.
The main characteristics of works belonging to the Deconstructivism movement included forms that have been broken down and shredded into unrelated and non-traditional building blocks. Structures have been made to appear more interesting through the use of layering and twisting of geometrical shapes. The Deconstructivists no longer followed through with creating basic and traditional rectilinear shaped structures, which previous movements would just model after. Although structures had been redeveloped through multi-layering of geometrical appearing objects, surfaces still managed to appear smooth and curved on their very exterior. The breakage of standardised objects is similar to that of the Cubists’ methods. Artists such as Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque, categorised as being members of the Cubism movement, dealt with the breakage of structural planes within their paintings, shattering the notion of a pretty picture. Examples include Les Demoiselles d’Avignon by Picasso as well as Mandora by Braque, where the subject matter is not obvious and detail isn’t take into great consideration. The proportions are also not accurate in measurement. Such factors used to be deeply regarded in previous movements yet the Cubism movement eventually broke these ideals. Similarly, with the Deconstructivism movement, it was the breakage of three dimensional objects instead of the two dimensionalities of such Cubist paintings. One would have thought that because such objects involved the breakage of structural planes, several different materials would have been used. Instead, the Deconstructivists focused on a single material, forming their monuments with large expanses of it.
Frank Gehry, a Canadian-American architect based in Los Angeles, focused greatly on the distortion of using human scale in order to determine the building’s scale. He tends to exaggerate the size in which the direction of his buildings takes. Gehry’s buildings are enormous and often stand out as opposed to the construction of other buildings in their surrounding environment. One of his most famous monuments to date, is the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao located in Bilbao, Spain. It was constructed from 1993 onwards, and opened to the public after it was completed in 1997. Prior to mid 20th century, art museums that were constructed and based in Europe and America followed Neoclassical traditions with regards to the appearance and functionality of their structure. These structures had common elements apparent on their exterior; these included, pedimented fronts, long colonnades, and lofty rotundas. An example would be the National Gallery of Art by John Russell Pope, located in Washington, USA. Because of the way in which these buildings were planned, the exhibition galleries were arranged in traditional rows that went hand in hand with understated decorative elements. These ‘decorative’ elements therefore, did not complement the artworks being displayed. Instead of merely following in the footsteps of architects in previous movements, Gehry’s Guggenheim was characterised by swirling forms and shapes that contrasted with the industrial landscape of Bilbao itself. As abstracted as the exterior appears, Gehry contextualises it with reference to the location’s heritage. From the riverside, the building resembles a boat connecting back to the location’s past as a shipping and commercial centre. The appearance of an asymmetrical exterior doesn’t give any hint to those observing from outside as to what may be on the interior. The new innovative material used was titanium as opposed to what was traditionally used; stone and concrete. Deconstructivists loved to make use of a large expanse of material while incorporating a small percentage of others. In this case, titanium was the majority, with the small minority being limestone, glass, and steel. There was also an advancement in technology with regards to the development plan of Guggenheim Museum Bilbao; the curves on the exterior were designed by Catia; a computer software. To light up the interior space, Gehry took into account, both natural and artificial light. Natural light floods into the interior space through a wide roof window above, with artificial LED lights brightening up the rest of the space. Unlike Chartres Cathedral, one of many churches from the Gothic period, that makes full advantage of the several windows to fill the interior with natural light or Sainte Foy, one of many churches from the Romanesque period, that prefer darker and less lit interiors, Guggenheim Bilbao takes into account both natural light and an advancement in technology; artificial LED lights. Similarly, Zaha Hadid, an Iraqi-born, British based architect of the Deconstructivism movement, emulates similar principles to her very own buildings. Some of her most notable works include Vitra Fire Station located in Germany, Heydar Aliyev Center situated in Baku, Azerbaijan and MAXXI National Museum of XXI Century Arts constructed in Rome, Italy.
The Deconstructivists also placed their focus upon not just architecture, but also product design. They wanted to reshape people’s mindsets on the image of furniture. Frank Gehry not only revolutionised architecture, but also furniture through his Easy Edges Collection. Gehry’s main inspiration was the usage of an ordinary material, which was corrugated cardboard. He noted that the material was weak and flimsy when dealt with in individual, single sheets yet gained strength in layers. Through layering, he managed to redefine the design of a chair through usage of an unordinary material, while at the same time, making it functional and durable. Later on, his Experimental Edges Collection emphasised more on being rough, ragged, unfinished-looking, and textured. Unlike the usual notions of chairs having to have a smooth surface to seat on, Gehry played with density at certain sections through varying the widths of corrugated cardboard and purposely misaligning some pieces. Meanwhile, Zaha Hadid played with changing the perception of what a teapot cup set should look like through one of her works, Seoul Tea Service. Made out of ceramic and carbon fibre, Hadid accomplished a high geometric look for the tea pot as well as the cups, making everything the opposite from what a tea set would look like. With Z Play, a stool set completed in 2002, Hadid finishes it off with a full on futuristic look, while making them appear as large scaled geometric shapes, replicated and placed in our everyday space.
Deconstructivism, although at first a philosophical critic within the literary field, has influenced several conceptual artists, architects and designers alike to rethink the relationship between works and meanings. It has taught that there is no single intrinsic meaning that is restricted to just one work, but rather several, which can change fluidly despite semiotics and norms already set in place.