Structural Expressionism

Structural Expressionism, also Late Modern Architecture, and more notably High-Tech Architecture or Hi-Tech Architecture, is a movement within architecture and industrial design that is characterised by making the construction and technology of a building the main point of departure for the appearance of the building or object. In practice, this means that pipes and tubes are sometimes mounted on the outside of the building and are distinguished from other building components by their colour. The movement had its heyday in the 1980s, with the first building of the movement being the Centre Pompidou in Paris, designed by Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers and completed in 1977.

High-Tech architecture is a technically determined architectural movement that emerged in the 1970s. At that time, as new technologies such as structural steel came into consideration for construction, new design and form-finding processes were developed. To this day, buildings of high-tech architecture use novel materials from the high-tech industry or high technology and are characterised by forward-looking design that uses a great deal of glass and steel.

Buildings of this architectural style have been constructed predominantly in North America and Europe. High-tech architecture is deeply connected with the so-called Chicago School, which emerged after the Second World War. The models were, for example, the high-rise buildings of Mies van der Rohe such as the 860-880 Lake Shore Drive Apartments and 19th-century engineering buildings (e.g. by Vladimir Grigorievich Shukhov).


Scientific as well as technological advances had a major impact on industrialised nations in the 1970s. The race into space reached its climax in 1969 with the moon landing. At the same time, a rapid military development took place. These advances ensured that many people now believed that much more could be achieved through technological progress. Technical devices became commonplace through the use of screens, headphones, etc.

Thus, it was only logical that architects also began to integrate high-tech into their designs in order to find an architectural answer to the technologisation of industrialised countries. With its approach, high-tech architecture renewed the belief in progress and in the ability of technology to improve the world. This is particularly evident in Kenzo Tange's plans for technologically advanced buildings in Japan during the post-war boom of the 1960s - although few of these designs were actually realised.


High-tech architecture takes its name from the book "High Tech: The Industrial Style and Source Book for The Home" by design journalists Joan Kron and Suzanne Slesin, published by Clarkson N. Potter Publishers (New York) in November 1978. The book, illustrated with hundreds of photographs, shows how designers, architects and builders used classic industrial objects - library shelving, glassware, metal decking, restaurant equipment, factory lights and runway signal lights, industrial carpeting, etc. - to create their own designs. They were selected from industrial catalogues for the flats. The book's foreword is by architect Emilio Ambasz - once curator of the design department of the Museum of Modern Art. Ambasz thereby places the trend in its historical context.

Due to the book's notoriety and popularity, this style of décor became known as "high-tech" and forced the use of the still ambiguous term "high-tech" in everyday language. In 1979, the term high-tech first appeared in a New Yorker cartoon when a wife scolds her husband for not being sufficiently high-tech: "You're middle-, middle-, middle-tech." After Esquire compiled Kron and Slesin's book into six educational episodes, retailers across the United States began incorporating high-tech decor into their window and furniture departments. The book was reprinted in England, France and Japan and, as in the original edition, each issue included a directory of local sources for the items illustrated.


High-tech architecture was in some ways a response to the growing disillusionment with Modern Architecture. The desire for low-cost real estate increasingly led to inferior finishes, loss of quality and a less aesthetic appearance in Modern Architecture buildings. High-tech architecture created a new aesthetic that contrasted with the average modern architecture. When discussing the High Tech aesthetic in the book High Tech: The Industrial Style and Source Book for The Home, the authors emphasise the use of building elements that one's parents would probably find impossible. This pointed remark illustrates the rebellious attitude behind it.

Kron and Slesin go on to explain that the term "high-tech" is used in architectural circles to have a name for the increasing number of residential and public buildings that are designed to be practical - with exposed pipes and a technological look ("nuts-and-bolts, exposed-pipes, technological look"). The Centre Pompidou is a good example of this, as it highlights one of the central intentions of high-tech architecture: here, the technical elements of the building are flaunted by being exposed. In this way, the technical aspects create the aesthetics of the building.

High-tech architecture aims to give everything an industrial appearance. Thus, in interior design, the trend of using industrial objects in the living area emerged, such as beakers as flower vases. This trend towards industrial aesthetics has been encouraged by the conversion of industrial spaces into living spaces.

No matter how dominant the industrial look appears in buildings, the principle of functionality (a legacy of Modern Architecture) has essentially always been adhered to. The components actually always serve a purpose. At the same time, however, the type of use of the building should not be fixed: a building should provide all the technical services that are necessary for a diverse, open use ("technical services are provided but do not become set").

Differentiation from other architectural styles

High-tech architecture brought Modern Architecture up to date: it extended the earlier ideas of Modern Architecture to include even more advanced technological achievements. This architectural style therefore also serves as a bridge between Modern Architecture and Postmodern Architecture - but there are also grey areas where one category ends and the other begins. In the 1980s, it became increasingly difficult to distinguish between High-Tech architecture and Postmodern architecture, as many of the leitmotifs and ideas of High-Tech architecture were then integrated into the formal language of Postmodern schools of architecture.

Criticism of High-Tech Architecture

Early high-tech buildings of the 1970s are referred to by historian Reyner Banham as "service sheds" because, in addition to the structure of the building, they also reveal the installations, pipes and conduits of the building services.


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High-Tech Architecture
Norman Foster
Richard Rogers
Structural Expressionism


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This page was last changed on 2021-09-21.