1960s Institution Architecture:
Avant-Garde Roots and Function
Dr. Lina Stergiou
From the early twentieth century, the avant-garde forms an important cultural and
interdisciplinary sub-system with a strong impact on architecture. However, it is only in the
sixties that the term ‘avant-garde’ starts describing architects, groups, and material and
immaterial productions of the latter – simultaneously associated with and distant from wide
cultural avant-garde circles of their time. The sixties mark the period when the term enters into
architectural history books and writings of theory and criticism. A disciplinary consciousness
of the phenomenon is now manifest along with the term’s appropriation as endogenous
architectural quality. A terminological approach to the avant-garde of the sixties provides tools
for detecting its patterns of formation and ideological constructions, and for uncovering how
these may even shape avant-garde’s understanding up to the present.
The origin of the French term ‘avant-garde’ is military. Since the twelfth century it has referred
to the ‘foremost part of an army; the vanguard or van.’1 There are few military theoreticians of
classical warfare who have not devoted some words to it in their treatises. Its first use in a non-
military context is during the 1820s in France, by Saint-Simon and his disciples.2 Social theorist
Henri de Saint-Simon (1760-1825) elaborated a model of a state-technocratic socialism in
which society would be led by the artist, the scientist, and the industrialist. Of these, the artist,
the man of imagination, would be the avant-garde.3 In this first Saint-Simonian phase art was
by definition conceived as the avant-garde of society. An artistic avant-garde, which would
detach itself from other artistic tendencies of its time, did not hitherto exist. By the 1850s,
within twenty years of this coinage in arts and politics, the usage of the term proliferated in
other directions as well and spread to the cultural arena, describing writers in particular. In this
second phase, the ‘avant-garde’ appeared attached to a subgroup within the arts and literature.
Not all writers, not all artists, were ‘avant-garde,’ but only some. This signifies the emergence
of our modern understanding and usage of the term.4 A third phase of the avant-garde is its
radical transition from the singular to the plural. In other words, there is a co-existence in time
and competition between ‘avant-gardes.’ There are few artists today who do not claim to be or
who are not described by art critics as such. The term has become synonymous with artistic
It is widely acknowledged that the avant-garde has been amply explored in the field of art and
literature and it is from these two fields that much of its history6 and many concepts emerge
(Poggioli, 1962; Bürger, 1974). The avant-garde is a broader cultural tendency though, shaped
by politics, architecture, design, theatre, dance, music, intellectuals, and more. From a
historical formation’s perspective, it defines a network of identifiably distinct social groupings
based on common cultural attitudes and practices. Yet they differ from modernism, which is a
larger category with which the avant-garde only partially coincides, even if both peaked during
the interwar period.7 The distinction between avant-garde and modernism is a fairly recent one,
even if authors such as Theodor Adorno and Renato Poggioli used these terms as though they
While not underestimating the ambivalence that the question ‘what is the avant-garde’ still has
in the arts and the literary field today, if it is a historic category or an ongoing project, and if
so, what defines this project,9 a respective straightforward enquiry has not yet amply
preoccupied the architectural field. Even so, the 1960s mark a shift. It is in this decade when
the term ‘avant-garde’ also begins to describe buildings, architects and their productions,
correlating with the study of the reciprocal relation between architecture and the avant-garde.
This assertion develops through the mapping of the usage of the term in a corpus of influential
pieces of architectural history published during a period that begins with the approximate end
of the interwar modern movement in 1932 until today. These books are chosen for offering the
widest possible space- and timeframe including the period mentioned above.
The corpus is comprised by Hitchcock, Henry-Russell and Philip Johnson, The International
Style. Architecture since 1922;10 Pevsner, Nikolaus, Pioneers of Modern Design;11 Giedion,
Sigfried, Space, Time and Architecture: The Growth of a New Tradition;12 Hitchcock, Henry-
Russell, Architecture: Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries;13 Banham, Reyner, Theory and
Design in the First Machine Age;14 Benevolo, Leonardo, History of Modern Architecture;15
Fleming, John, Hugh Honour and Nikolaus Pevsner, The Penguin Dictionary of Architecture;16
Tafuri, Manfredo and Francesco Dal Co, Modern Architecture;17 Frampton, Kenneth, Modern
Architecture: A Critical History;18 Curtis, William, Modern architecture since 1900;19
Colquhoun, Alan, Modern Architecture;20 and Cohen, Jean-Louis, The Future of Architecture.
The term ‘avant-garde’ first appears in this corpus in 1960. From this year onwards it gradually
gains momentum, most frequently describing the so-called Soviet avant-garde and fractions of
the modern movement. The essay elaborates this occurrence, and suggests that it results from
the historical inquiry into the modern movement and its interrelation with the avant-garde, as
well as from revisiting the so-called Soviet avant-garde. I refer to both as ‘historical avant-
garde,’ a term frequently used by Manfredo Tafuri who claimed that the modern
movement is the avant-garde architecture par excellence.22
Even if the avant-garde enters architectural discourse in the 1960s, most of the existing
methods and approaches to the architectural avant-garde from the 1960s until today, take the
term as given; the avant-garde is commonly understood as those architectures that are ‘avant-
garde.’ Rarely is it conceptualized and examined with other research objectives: Patrick
Schumacher, for example, elaborates it as a sub-topic in his discourse analysis of the discipline
and the evolutionary mechanism of architecture, which he names autopoiesis (Schumacher,
2011 and 2012); Michael Hays constructs a theory of ‘Late Avant-Garde’ architecture (Hays,
2010); Hilde Heynen examines which variations of the modern movement are ‘avant-garde’
within other related research objectives (Heynen, 1999); Manfredo Tafuri writes a history of
the architectural avant-garde formation and elaborates a concept, but an indirect and
fragmentary one (Tafuri, 1980); and Leonardo Benevolo discerns three conceptual categories
of the avant-garde, not explicitly elaborated yet clear enough, and relates them to a large span
of architectural and urban history (Benevolo, 1960). The relatively limited preoccupation with
the architectural avant-garde as a concept, theory or history of formation, makes the term
remain a slippery one, and is often used as buzz word.23
This essay develops an argument about the reasons why the above takes place. It is informed
by a second corpus of seminal pieces of architectural theory and criticism, books and articles,
in which the term ‘avant-garde’ appears in their title,24 and are published from the year the term
‘avant-garde’ starts describing architecture, 1960, until today. Through these writings this
paper detects the reasons that various authors ‘avantgardify’ specific architects, groups,
material and immaterial architectural productions.25
My corpus is comprised by: Tafuri, Manfredo, Theories and History of Architecture;26
The Sphere and the Labyrinth: Avant-Gardes and Architecture from Piranesi to the 1970s;27
‘Toward a Critique of Architectural Ideology’;28 Architecture and Utopia: Design and
Capitalist Development;29 Scolari, Massimo, 'The New Architecture and the Avant-Garde';30
Grassi, Giorgio, ‘Avant-Garde and Continuity’;31 Eisenman, Peter, ‘Autonomy and the Avant-
Garde. The necessity of an Architectural Avant-Garde in America’;32 Hays, Michael K.,
'Reproduction and Negation: The Cognitive Project of the Avant-Garde';33 Frampton, Kenneth,
'Towards a Critical Regionalism. Six Points for an Architecture of Resistance';34 Speaks,
Michael, 'Which Way Avant-Garde?';35 and Hays, Michael K., Architecture's Desire: Reading
the Late Avant-Garde.36
My essay argues about the disciplinary role of the ‘avant-garde.’ This is elaborated through
analysing the aspects of formation and ideological templates of the avant-gardism of the 1960s
as compared to those of the ‘historical avant-garde.’ It is also examined through the case of the
‘Soviet avant-garde’ architecture, continuously revisited and re-avantgardified from the 1960s
until today; more specifically, through its re-avantgardification within the framework of
Deconstructivist architecture in 1988. By drawing attention to the fact that the term becomes
used all the more frequently from the 1960s onwards, describing a large number of architectural
productions, the article suggests the term’s operational role within the discipline and points at
the instrumental nature of the ‘avant-garde.’
It is the methodology of my essay to regard as ‘avant-garde’ the architects, groups, material
and immaterial architectural productions that were avantgardified by the authors of my
historiographic corpus.37 I refer to the ‘avant-garde,’ within quotes, to indicate a building,
work, person, group, movement or tendency that is denominated as such in this corpus. The
avant-garde, without quotes, refers to theories and concepts within architecture but also within
other fields. While the above supposition sometimes stands separate to what is taken as given
in the wide avant-garde discourse, it derives from the standpoint of this essay: the architectural
avant-garde is here discussed as a product of architectural discourse, for what it came to stand
for architects from the 1960s onwards. This essay does not address what the architectural avant-
garde really is, or what it was in the 1960s. It rather shows how it was and still is understood
by architects. Which values does it carry, and how does it function ideologically and culturally
within the field?
In the 1960s a radical transformation of the perception of time takes place within the field of
architectural history. For historians of the period, such as Reyner Banham (1960), Peter Collins
(1965) and Manfredo Tafuri (1968), the modern movement already belongs to the past, and
continuity with interwar modernism is replaced by the acquisition of a certain historical
distance. The years from 1960 to 1965 sum up the historical research into what was, for the
new generation of architects, the forgotten heroic modernism,38 and the early seventies marks
the moment when it is also pronounced ‘officially’ dead. Charles Jencks, the main spokesman
for postmodern architecture, dates modern architecture's symbolic demise on July 15, 1972.39
During the 1960s, the modern movement is thus relegated to history as a theme for reflection
and becomes a subject of intense discourse.40 This is followed by excitement, by the imitation
of its formal vocabulary,41 by continuing its idea of technological advancement and social and
urban practices, already taking place in the post-war period - but also receives severe criticism
such as that by Jane Jacobs.42 This historical inquiry extends to modern masters’ manifold
collaboration with the avant-garde of the twenties and thirties, a subject that receives particular
interest and contributes to the set-off for the architectural avant-garde discourse. Architectural
historian Anthony Vidler attests that the publication of Reyner Banham’s Theory and Design
in the First Machine Age (1960) concurrently creates an excitement for research into the
forgotten history of the avant-garde.43
The Soviet architecture of 1917 to 1932 follows a different trajectory within western
architectural history. In the years between 1932 and the 1960s it faces active repression and
passive misinformation in the West.44 The 1960s mark the moment when it starts being
gradually revisited and even evokes an enthusiastic reception by architects.45 Soviet
Constructivism and Rationalism, the architecture of OSA and ASNOVA respectively,46 by
attracting historical attention, affect architectural magazines and projects. ‘The influence of the
Russian Constructivists on architects in the 1960s and 1970s is discernible both in the
magazines and projects of the period,’ architectural historian Beatriz Colomina attests.47 The
historical inquiry into them is due both to the myth of rediscovering a forgotten treasure when
the temporary freedom in the 1960s in Russia permits a return to the sources, as well as to a
leftist ideological inclination of historians, theoreticians, critics and magazines. While the
Russian revolution is a prime motivator of historical research for both leftwing and liberal
historians, the hegemonic response is however to dissociate the Soviet avant-garde from
involvement in revolutionary politics, until 1962, at least. The Cold War mostly depoliticizes
this avant-garde tout court.48
Little magazines of the 1960s and early seventies are also devoted to the history of the modern
movement and the Soviet architecture of 1917 to 1932. As ‘little magazines’ are considered
various phenomena including posters, manifestos, flyers, postcards, letters, building
cookbooks, manuals, or advertisements.49 Intertwined with history and theory, they initiate a
discourse on what it is frequently called the ‘historical avant-garde.’ They compile previously
unavailable sources, rivalling and often exceeding those available in books at that time.50 AD
in 197051 and VH 101 in 197252 for example, are dedicated to the history of the so-called Soviet
While entirely absent from the publishing year 1932 to 1960, Reyner Banham first employs
the term in 1960. Its usage in Theory and Design in the First Machine Age (1960) is, however,
only indicative of the heretofore general perception within the field: to only describe cultural
dynamics excluding architecture. ‘Avant-garde’ is here mentioned twice; first, to describe
‘Herwarth Walden, proprietor of a gallery and magazine, both called Der Sturm;’53 and second,
the Parisian movements of the early 1920s that felt gratified through the phrase and magazine
It is in the same year, however, that Leonardo Benevolo, an architectural historian, becomes
the first in my corpus to attach it to architectures. In his History of Modem Architecture (1960),
he avantgardifies the so-called Soviet avant-garde, the modern movement, and architectures
from 1880 to 1914, such as the Chicago school, Art Nouveau, Adolf Loos, Tony Garnier and
August Perret. His denominations are far from arbitrary since he methodically explores the
avant-garde, notably placed in italics, and formulates three conceptual categories which
combine architectural and cultural tendencies. The first one denotes the architect as genius
artist, who criticizes the world, aims at originality, evolves a personal style and disagrees with
the dominant trends.55 The second conception relates to the re-establishment of the link
between art and life. The third category denotes the architect as collective and social force who,
in opposition to the aristocratic and individualist character of the first category, claims the new
‘art’ of the proletariat in contrast to the bourgeois.56
Moreover, Sigfried Giedion’s 1967 history book provides more context, particularly because
he adds new chapters for the fifth edition of Space, Time and Architecture, first published in
1941. It is in this edition, and not in the previous ones, that he includes the term. Employed
twice in the new chapters, the ‘avant-garde’ describes in both cases CIAM (1928-1959), the
principal organization of the modern movement which he directed.57 For him, ‘CIAM was an
avant-garde movement.’58 A fundamental change is taking place in the 1960s: the avant-garde
spirit starts permeating architecture. It is not an exogenous cultural dynamic with which
architecture interrelates or not; it gradually starts describing architects, architectural
productions, movements and institutions. It becomes an endogenous quality.
Thus, in the 1960s the term ‘avant-garde’ appears in architectural history books along with the
avantgardification of diverse architectural productions, architects and groups; a historical
interest in the avant-garde phenomenon in its relation to architecture, along with the beginning
of an architectural appropriation of the avant-garde occur. For architectural historians of my
corpus, both for those who use the term, such as Banham, and for those who don’t, such as
Philip Johnson, Nicolaus Pevsner, and Henry-Russell Hitchcock, architecture and the avant-
garde were rather incompatible activities. These activities belonged to different domains, a
disposition also shared and finely articulated by the architectural historian Peter Collins (1965),
an excerpt of which I include in the next section. Benevolo is the first historian in my corpus
to suggest that they fuel each other occasionally. By unfolding the reciprocal relation between
the two, he avantgardifies those architectures which form part of this connection. For example,
he elaborates the manifold collaboration of the modern movement with the avant-garde such
as in the Bauhaus, in which Feininger, Kandinsky and Klee worked to re-establish this link
between art and life;59 or scrutinizes the complex relation of Walter Gropius to it, and of Mies
van de Rohe to Novembergruppe and review G.60 He avantgardifies all of them. Giedion, in
his additions for the fifth 1967 edition, presents a remarkably mature, yet unrefined
architectural avant-garde awareness. Even more, it exemplifies a common post-1960s slipshod
way of using the term, implying a positive value or elite paradigm, which Giedion ex post facto
grants to CIAM, under his direction.
Parameters that allow the shift of the 1960s include, first, the intense interest in the interrelation
of the modern masters with the avant-garde, from a historical perspective distant to the present,
as supported by Vidler. Second, it includes the growing focus on the cultural dimension of
architecture, on architecture as a cultural artefact, apparent through journals such as
Oppositions. First appearing in September 1973, Oppositions’ content concentrates on the
cultural parameters of the modern movement, situating the heroic figures of the 1920s and the
functionalist ethos embodied in histories of modernist architecture in a wider cultural
modernity. It introduces new methodologies, like Marxism and structural linguistics.
Oppositions extends the history of the modern movement ‘from ideas and forms to institutions
and societal conflicts,’ which are however hard to reconcile with professional practice.61 Third,
the 1960s also mark the beginning of contemporary architecture theory.62
Fourth, the historical study and fascination with the so-called Soviet avant-garde as a derivative
of linguistics is important. The term ‘Russian avant-garde’ is codified from the 1960s within
the Western context.63 The denomination of the Soviet phenomenon as ‘avant-garde’ takes
place by agents of the artistic, literary and cultural avant-garde discourse, before architects
revisit it. Thus architecture’s enthusiasm for Soviet architecture transforms into a keen passion
for an ‘avant-garde’ architecture per se. An engagement with the concept and its formal
language also becomes fervour for the term ‘avant-garde,’ as all stand next to each other in
various writings on the Soviet cultural phenomenon. For the architects of the 1960s the
‘Soviet avant-garde’ starts representing what an ‘avant-garde’ architecture is, related to
formal language and ideology. In their convergences with the modern movement - both are
part of new historical knowledge – they play a vital role in shaping the architectural avant-
gardism of the 1960s.
‘Avant-gardism’ summarizes the qualities of the ‘avant-garde,’ and bundles up the
commitment to them into an attitude and even an ideology.64 This definition by David
Cottington, delineating the diverse ‘avant-garde’ architectures of the 1960s, guides the way in
which avant-gardism is here to be read. While this section refers to tendencies deriving from
parameters of formation, the next one concentrates in the ideological ingredients and to the
diverse avantgardified architectures of this decade.
The study of the ‘historical avant-garde’ from a fresh, new historical perspective, the
familiarization with its aspects of formation and ideology, and the assimilation of some of the
latter coalesce in the 1960s;65 they go hand-in-hand with the beginning of an avant-gardism
that permeates most architecture. It adopts some of the ‘historical avant-garde’ patterns of
formation and ideological templates, summarized as: innovation in formal language or
building types; progress and technological advancement, at least as a claim; the
internalization of an ideological battle (in a disciplinary or broader sense, even if the latter
does not always include a relation to revolutionary politics); bold theoretical positions and/or
manifestos, publishing of magazines, exhibitions, a wide and extensive collaboration with the
avant-garde, and working within an international network of circulation of ideas.
Measured against the above aspects of formation and ideologies of the ‘historical avant-garde’
in a comparative fashion, Colomina notes that just as experimental little magazines of the
1920s and 1930s drive the historical avant-garde, little magazines of the 1960s and 1970s not
only study the avant-garde but move towards their own rebirth and transformation.66 Joan
Ockman, associate editor and editorial consultant of the journal Oppositions, describes the
journal’s title and editorial agenda, which, by assimilating the ideological elements of the
historical avant-garde aims at continuing its legacy. Ockman writes,
The title could also be understood as...an intention to be new, to start from scratch, from
‘degree zero,’ a polemical project nodding to Roland Barthes and typical of avant-garde
magazines in the heyday of modernism: namely, to return a stagnant architectural culture
to its ABC’s, to a pioneer and reformist role in cultural politics. The contradictions inherent
in being an avant-gardist little magazine in America in the 1970s are undoubtedly among the
most interesting aspects of Opposition’s publishing life.67
Arguably, a door for architectural avant-gardism opens in 1955. It is the year when Reyner
Banham publishes the article ‘The New Brutalism,’68 in which he employs the notion of the
‘image.’ ‘Image’ is for him something visually valuable, not necessarily by the standards of
classical aesthetics, and when seen affects emotions. It suggests ‘that the building should be an
immediately apprehensible visual entity,’ even if he admits that ‘the form grasped by the eye
should be confirmed by experience of the building in use.’15 Banham notes in 1986 that as the
image and photographs of U.S. industrial buildings became the creative source of the modern
movement,69 their work became almost exclusively known through the rise of the immaterial
sites of architectural production - exhibitions, publications, journals.70 This presupposes the
escalation of an appreciation of the ‘image,’ which he defended in 1955.
As part of this phenomenon, the 1960s witness an appropriation of the formal language of the
modern movement and the ‘Soviet avant-garde.’ The scholar of Soviet architecture Anatole
Kopp attests that so-called ‘Constructivist’ and ‘Rationalist’ projects are innumerably
produced in European schools of architecture in the mid-1960s, and their formal vocabulary
suddenly becomes fashionable in building production. In some cases, the magazine of OSA71
replaces the works of Le Corbusier and of the Bauhaus as the chosen formal source.72 Similarly,
as Kopp implies, the style of the modern movement is also widely adopted. This is finely
summarized, and criticized, in 1961 by the architectural historian Nikolaus Pevsner. He writes
Of course, this time architects were not returning to the Gothic or the classical so much as to
modern styles themselves – creating ‘neo’ versions of modernisms in Italy’s neoliberty style,
in the work of Philip Johnson, in the neo-expressionism of Le Corbusier’s Ronchamp...‘neo
Art Nouveau,’ ‘neo de Stijl,’ ‘neo School of Amsterdam,’ and ‘neo Perret’...73
Bruno Zevi is another architectural historian to testify the above. He uses in 1965 the term
‘anti avant-garde’ for describing neoliberty, neorealism, environmental perceptionism,
historicism, mannerism, which, he claims, has produced no substantial shifts, but only works
of regressive retreat. For Zevi, this regressive retreat is done by all architectures of his time
– the faithful remaining to the modern tradition, the new historicist approach, pop
architecture.74 Nonetheless, besides pop architecture - commonly understood as the work
of Archigram, Archizoom, Constant or Superstudio - none of the architectures Zevi refers to
are denominated as ‘avant-garde’ in my historiographic corpus. In fact, no
architectural production is avantgardified in this corpus if merely for the reason of
displaying ‘historical avant-garde’s’ formal language, even if innovatively deployed, without
having developed other aspects which drive avant-gardism. It is part of my intent in this
essay to separate the term ‘avant-garde’ from other evaluative attributes such as ‘successful,’
which Zevi probably besets in the ‘anti avant-garde.’75 The ‘avant-garde,’ this essay
supports, indicates a unique quality, enmeshed in an operational disciplinary role. This is
elaborated in the next section.
Avantgardified architectures of the 1960s do not merely include building production as their
activity, and the opposite is likely. The introduction of ‘image’ in architectural discourse
prepares the ground for the unfolding of such ‘avant-garde’ architectures of the 1960s which
express themselves through powerful images, and which, moreover, adopt the visual codes of
their contemporary avant-garde. They immediately convey avant-gardism, not by
architecture’s formal language but by association with the visual codes of the artistic and
graphic design avant-garde of their time. Archigram, for instance, employs pop and op art
aesthetics, collage and montage, arresting advertising techniques, and striking graphics.
Constant communicates his vision of a utopian architecture in a non-commodity socialism (the
New Babylon project) through models and illustrations ‘looking like a cross between
Constructivism and Abstract Expressionism.’76
Even if met with strong opposition by theorists and critics, they strongly display an
involvement in a range of other activities such as exhibitions, and in the publication of little
magazines in which graphic novelties and polemical articles are introduced. ‘Avant-garde’
group Archigram, for example, circulates a magazine, with the group’s name, from May 1961
to 1970. Publishing nine issues altogether, its founding members include provocative
statements. While remaining apolitical, innocent, hobbyists, teenagers, and consumerists, 77
and sensing that mass leisure and mechanization is part of a social and political process, they
aim to provoke change. They proclaim that ‘we are predisposed to agree a series of logical
propositions that WILL ACTUALLY LEAD TO CHANGE.’ 78 Archigram group initiates
change in a consumer democracy, in which the consumer is less a target and more of a
Avantgardified architects of the 1960s are also preoccupied with the writing of manifestos. A
fine example is Constant. Being educated as a painter and having established with Guy Debord
and Asger Jorn in 1957 the Situationist International (SI), he collaborated with Aldo Van Eyck
and believed ‘that architecture could change the world,’79 Constant works towards the concept
of ‘Unitary Town Planning’ as part of the SI. Its principles are stated in 1958 in a writing style
echoing the manifestos of the early twentieth century:
The following eleven points, which convey a brief definition of the Situationist action, are to
be construed as a preparatory theme for the third conference of the International Situationists
5. Unitary town planning is determined by the uninterrupted complex activity through which
man’s environment is consciously recreated according to progressive plans in all domains.80
In a similar writing style, Constant describes in 1960 The New Babylon, a project he furthers
on his own on the basis of ‘Unitary Town Planning’:
Individualist culture is at its end, its institutions are exhausted.
New Babylon is not primarily a town plan project. Equally, it is not intended as a work of art
in the traditional sense nor as an example of architectonic structure.
The modern city is dead; it has fallen victim to utility. New Babylon is a project for a city in
which it is possible to live. And to live means to be creative. 81
Summarizing, the architectural ‘avant-gardes’ of the 1960s assimilate some structures of
formation, from a materialist perspective, that derive from the ‘historical avant-garde.’ The
avant-garde starts in the 1960s signifying a positive value. It would not be perilous to claim
that it gradually becomes an evaluation filter and a type of distinction, as this hypothesis is also
supported from a historical and theoretical perspective within avant-garde discourse.82 In any
case, avant-gardism is rich and diverse in the 1960s, penetrating the whole spectrum of
architecture. It is manifested in magazines and architects’ diverse work and activities.
Avant-gardism of the 1960s resembles in complex combinations some formative aspects of the
‘historical avant-garde,’ one of which is the internalization of an ideological battle. Two
commonplace ideas of the historical avant-garde are opposition and the idea of the break with
the past. The initiatives of the ‘avant-gardes’ of the 1960s are filtered through these ideological
The avant-garde marks out defiance, a finally violent rejection of tradition, and insists on a
clean break with the past.83 Its artists are conventionally considered as having a prophetic
function, helping their contemporaries invent the future. They incarnate change, which occurs
as a historical necessity, with the ‘troops’ following close behind. The idea that the avant-garde
creates a rupture with the past presupposes an adherence to the idea of linear progress,
evolutionism, revolutionism, and a perception of history as a succession of events.84 This idea
is in avant-garde theory and criticism both opposed and supported – for example, by Habermas,
who claims that, in fact, it is directed against what might be called a false normativity in history;
for him, the avant-garde spirit seeks to use the past in a different way.85 However this may be,
this idea was transmitted to architecture, shaping the avant-gardism of the 1960s. While this is
evident in the editorial agenda of the journal Oppositions, Benevolo claims in 1960 that the
(architectural and cultural) avant-garde enterprises always begin by asserting their own
freedom and originality in relation to all preceding ones, retaining their independence from the
rest of society while putting forward theories valid for all.86
Avant-garde art is also, in its classical theorizing, an oppositional formation or a negation
culture. Peter Bürger conceptualizes in 197487 the historical avant-garde on the critique it
exercised on the institution ‘art,’ representing at that period of time ‘art for art’s sake.’ For
Poggioli in 1962 the historical avant-garde wants to react against the dominant nuclei of society
and mass culture, while keeping its free exchange with it. For him, ‘the avant-garde looks and
works like a culture of negation.’88 Fredric Jameson, though, claims that the avant-garde of the
1960s is no longer oppositional and marginal. It constitutes the very dominant aesthetics of
consumer society itself. It significantly serves this society’s commodity production as a virtual
laboratory of new forms and fashions with a precise socioeconomic functionality.89 Issues like
the one Jameson raises derive from the gap between the concept and ideology of the avant-
garde and its formation,90 as well as from the variations that the subject of opposition take
within the theory of the avant-garde.
Likewise, the ‘avant-garde’ architects of the 1960s adopt an oppositional stance, aiming at a
rupture with the status quo, as they claim. Here I add that their opposition does not target
everything and all. Their opposition is directed to specific conditions of external reality and/or
specific internal conditions of architecture. It targets either the reality outside architecture or
ideological templates prevailing within architecture of their times - or both, but not to all of
their aspects and respective segments. There are segments with which it coalesces and from
which it attracts support. Demystifying the oppositional nature of the avant-garde is an
approach supported in avant-garde discourse, including Thomas Crow. Referring to the 1960s
and writing in 1985, Crow describes the avant-garde formation as a ‘negotiated resistance.’
The society of consumption, in which the avant-garde groups are formed, displaces resistant
impulses but also gives a refuge in a relatively unregulated social space, where contrary social
definitions can survive and occasionally flourish. Much of this is, for Crow, a ‘permitted
disorder.’ Once the zone of permitted freedom exists, it can be seized by the avant-garde groups
which articulate for themselves a counter-consensual identity, an implicit message of rupture
and discontinuity. The expansion of cultural economy continually creates new fringe areas,
which the avant-garde, as incorporated subculture, occupies with marginal positions and new
recruits. Its unique position between higher and lower zones of commodity culture makes the
avant-garde perform a special and powerful function: it searches out areas of social practice,
not yet completely available to efficient utilization, and makes them discrete and visible.91
The external conditions of architecture during the 1960s, which comprise the social, political
and economic reality forces, are characterized by protest and liberation - the opposition to the
U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War, the May 1968 events in France, the civil rights
movement or the rise of the women’s liberation movement. A return to class struggle also
appears as the economic boom that follows the war shows signs of wear and tear and labour’s
mood strikingly changes from its calm post-war wage negotiations. Also, in contrast to the
1950s, the centre of gravity in politics shifts towards the moderate left, which formed the
government of many European countries. By the end of the decade the first welfare states
appear in all advanced capitalist countries in Europe and the U.S.92 Production is being
gradually transformed by technological revolution - this is after all when the information age
starts - and is gradually globalized. The system of development moves through the use of
cybernetics towards immateriality, which gives new impulse to the study of highly formalized
languages such as simulation and programming.
The internal conditions of architecture are by the 1960s largely defined by the expansion and
enrichment of the modern movement paradigm. A number of ideas are included in its wide and
abstract nature, yet during the post-war period they are specified and formulated as distinct
tendencies. The orthogonal modernist formal language continues as a style; yet it is
complemented with Scharoun-like curvatures in the organic architecture, but also with
Constructivist-like multiple angled formal language in dispersed examples. The scale is
enlarged with the ‘new monumentality,’ and connected to civic and political ideas around the
monument. ‘Corporatism’ achieves the modernist anonymity in a U.S. context of advanced
capitalism and corporate bureaucracy. The period is also marked by the closure of CIAM in
1959, and the formation of Team X in 1956,93 bringing into the discourse a social theory based
on their concept of Gemeinschaft, and a systems theory which sees society as information
This is the time when the avant-garde enters the architectural discourse and the newly formed
‘avant-gardes’ of the 1960s appear. As my historiographic corpus shows, and by summarizing
them in categories, they are four: first, the defenders of the everyday vernacular, social
relevance, city movements and participationists, environmental activism or purely activism;94
second, the technological utopia of Archigram, Archizoom, Superstudio, Metabolism, Yona
Friedman, Michael Webb and Constant; and third, the rise of information technologies and
computerization, supported by the Yale School of Architecture and the Architectural
Association School of Architecture in London. Finally, in the early seventies, a dominant
‘avant-garde’ is Autonomy. Its counterpart is the equally dominant architectural Post-
But which are the targets of opposition, as well as alliances, of the above ‘avant-garde’
categories? The first ‘avant-garde’ expresses the social and political upheaval of the late 1960s
related to activism, the right to the city, and to the struggle regarding planning laws and urban
renewal. This ‘avant-garde’ turns to strategies of stimulus, critique and struggle.95 It allies with
those segments of the political domain which support such claims, with the activist segments
of society, and with the leftist intellectuals of the Frankfurt school and the neo-Marxian studies.
It opposes the status quo of the discipline of the times described before. The second ‘avant-
garde’ is comprised by divergent groups which however share the generic passion for techno-
utopia. Among them, Archigram is the most popular. Using lowbrow visual art imagery,
Archigram assaults the status quo of architecture as a conventional, high-brow, ‘upper class’
discipline. Its alliances derive from mass culture and society, thus from the majority of the
domain of arts and design, as well as from the society at large. The third ‘avant-garde’
introduces new science and technology in the field, which already affect and radically change
society and the modes of production. It neither leads nor aligns with the technological sector
of production. It rather lines up with those segments of art, design and culture, which share an
enthusiasm for the new capacities in communications and information techniques, as well as
with its concurrent ‘technetronic’ segments of society. Finally, and within the early seventies,
the ‘avant-garde’ of Autonomy indicates a stance of radical opposition and withdrawal from
its current and undesirable external conditions of consumerism and the rise of popular culture.96
To these external conditions it asserts its own determinism: it is an almost heroic withdrawal
from the market forces. At the same time, it opposes the disciplinary status quo, at least as
defined by the other dominant ‘avant-garde,’ dominant from the 1970s onwards, architectural
Post-modernism. Autonomy finds its voice in the journal Oppositions, which, as mentioned
before, states its desire to initiate a polemical project, one which will return the now stagnant
architectural culture to a pioneer and reformist role in cultural politics.97
The subject of oppositions of the new ’avant-garde’ architectures of the 1960s is rich and
diverse; its alliances too. They can be thought as a complex system of oppositions and
negotiations maneuvering between architecture and its diverse external forces, be it social,
economic and political ones, including rest of social players or professional groups. It
rearranges the existing value system and the given order. This uncovers an aspect of the
nature of the architectural avant-garde from a theoretical perspective.
In this essay the approach to the architectural avant-garde of the 1960s derives from those
avantgardified architectures which appear in important history books written by seminal
authors. The hypothesis is thus not irrelevant to the methodology this essay follows. The claim
however is that the ‘avant-garde’ architectures derive from an avantgardification activity, by
specific historians, who act within their own objectivity, subjectivity and time frame. Set in
motion by those who avantgardify, the ‘avant-garde’ is the result of a mechanism of selection.
Some, only few, architectures pass through the avant-garde filter of the architectural historian.
Moreover, as the system of oppositions and negotiations shows, the ‘avant-garde’ architectures
rearrange architecture’s internal rules and values in relation to all that surrounds it. This
rearrangement of system values is not only initiated by the ‘avant-garde’ architects of the
1960s, but also by the authors of my theory and criticism corpus, such as Tafuri (1968). In the
case of the latter, the ‘avant-garde’ becomes their tool, a paradigm, able to let them orchestrate
architecture’s internal rules in relation to external societal function systems, which constantly
evolve. This is equivalent to what the ‘avant-garde’ does. In this sense the ‘avant-garde’ and
the theoreticians and critics who avantgardify point towards the same direction. Placing both
under the umbrella of the architectural avant-garde, as a phenomenon, concept or idea, the
architectural avant-garde displays an operational nature, towards synchronizing architecture’s
internal rules and external conditions. This (undeclared by all) goal, or direction, is
accommodated by the lack of systematic study of the architectural avant-garde – of ‘what it
really is.’ As mentioned in the introduction of this essay, the architectural avant-garde has not
been sufficiently examined until today, and the reason is obvious.
What the 1960s introduce is a new code in architecture indicating distinction, and a new type
of paradigm as the norm. The multifaceted nature of this new evaluation filter presents a new-
fangled complication for architecture, which is not always the case for the arts and other
cultural fields. It derives from the fact that any distinction through the avant-garde is granted
via operational modes, dispositions, and heretofore tools of architecture (exhibitions,
magazines, writings) instead of heretofore ends (buildings and cities). It is granted by putting
aside the traditional codes of utility and function which make sense only when attached to the
building and urban space production. Another intricacy is its formation in collaboration with
the broader avant-garde, which blurs the disciplinary boundaries and complicates the internal
system-rules of architecture (which is at its base, and like any other discipline, a self-enclosed,
self-referential system). These complications are finely illuminated in the words of Peter
Collins. Referring to the relation of architecture to painting and sculpture (he does not explicitly
mention avant-garde art but his examples, like Bruno Taut, are), he writes in 1965:
Hence today (when, thanks to the efforts of the Bauhaus, the new tectonic forms
appropriate for reinforced concrete and steel and have been fully adopted) painting and
sculpture may prove more of a hindrance to architectural creativity than an aid…For the
danger of architectural design of laying too much emphasis on abstract painting and sculpture
as formative disciplines is that they lead to the idea of a building as simply an object in space,
instead of as part of a space. They thus accentuate the evil…98
As the subsequent decades show, architecture resolves the aforementioned complications by
placing the ‘avant-garde’ in its ideological core, its productive irritator. It operates on an
ideological level, indirectly influencing the building and urban space production, and directly
fuelling its cultural one. Yet the equation between architecture’s cultural and tectonic
dimension, which are just two of its facets, is now balanced in relation to the 1960s. With their
powerful dynamics, the ideologically inclined initiatives of the ‘avant-garde’ of the 1960s start
off what will gradually become fate: its turn into a disciplinary tool. This is assisted by the
growing historical knowledge and awareness of the interwar avant-garde’s value starting in the
1960s. The ‘avant-garde’ gradually develops into a code of evaluation and distinction, an elite
paradigm for directing architecture’s internal system rules measured against its surroundings.
Its instrumental nature is exemplified next, through one out of the many post-1960s re-
avantgardifications of the ‘Soviet avant-garde’, which takes place in 1988.
Initiated in the 1960s, the re-avantgardification of the ‘Soviet avant-garde’ is still taking
place, slowly and steadily. One example, seminal in architecture, happened within the
‘apolitical’ context of the architecture of Western Europe and the U.S. In 1988, the Tate
Gallery, London, launches the ‘Deconstruction’ symposium,99 and the Museum of Modern
Art, New York, mounts the exhibition ‘Deconstructivist Architecture.’100 Both state that the
origin of Deconstruction is Constructivism, the ‘Soviet avant-garde.’ Moreover, the
MoMA exhibition stresses the formal similarities between Deconstructivist
projects and Constructivism, yet excludes the latter’s built work, and concentrates on its
architectural experiments. Curator Philip Johnson states in the preface of the exhibition
It is perhaps not strange that the new forms of deconstructivist architecture hark back to
Russian Constructivism... I am fascinated by these formal similarities, of our architects
to each other, on the one hand, and to the Russian movement on the other. Some of these
similarities are not known to the younger architects themselves, let alone the predominated.
Take the most obvious formal theme repeated by every one of the artists: the diagonal
overlapping of rectangular or trapezoid bars. These are also clear in the work of all the
Russian avant garde from Malevich to Lissitzky.101
Similarly, the Tate symposium examines the theoretical connections between Deconstruction
and Constructivism. This aim is stated in the symposium’s main publication,
At the beginning of the century a conscious theoretical development within architecture took
place in Russia, and Deconstructivist theories owe a debt to the Constructivists of that time.
Indeed, much of the present work stems from earlier, often intuitive, moves in this
My function here, as I see it, is to lay a ghost. The ghost is that of the Russian avant-
I think we can most carefully address and illuminate the relationship between historical
Constructivism and Deconstruction. [...] Deconstruction ... tends to be identified with
buildings that look massively ‘constructed’ or ‘deconstructed’ in a physical respect. Here
we touch the very essence of Constructivism and, consciously or unconsciously, the reason
for the present attention to this Russian work.104
Two interrelated premises are here present. First, the ‘Soviet avant-garde’ is re-avantgardified
in both the symposium and the exhibition for its innovative formal properties and ideological
positions (revolutionary politics excluded). Both aspects are affiliated with Deconstruction.
Deconstructivist architects adopt and develop the formal properties of the ‘Soviet avant-garde’
while authors and curators of the events affiliate Soviet ideological positions with
Deconstruction. Second, these authors and curators re-avantgardify the ‘Soviet avant-garde,’
stating that it is Deconstruction’s precursor, implying that Deconstruction is ‘avant-garde.’
However, Mark Wigley, co-curator of the MoMA exhibition, literally refuses to denominate
Deconstruction as ‘avant-garde.’ In fact, this negation is so strongly articulated that it leads to
the opposite direction: the impression is that Deconstruction categorically is ‘avant-garde.’
Deconstructivist architecture does not constitute an avant garde. It is not a rhetoric of the
new. Rather, it exposes the unfamiliar hidden within the traditional. It is the shock of the old.
[...]. Like the modern avant garde, it attempts to be disturbing, alienating, but not from the
traditional retreat of the avant garde, not from the margins. Rather it occupies and subverts
the centre. This work is not fundamentally different from the tradition it subverts.105
Some of the recognizable patterns of the ‘historical avant-garde’ adopted by this new ‘avant-
garde’ coalesce with the avant-gardism of the 1960s. As in the ‘historical avant-garde,’
publications, exhibitions and debates communicate Deconstruction’s ideas. Its network of
circulation of ideas expands within three months from London to New York. It creates a
powerful collaboration with the avant-garde, such as with the intellectual one and Jacques
Derrida, and employs its concepts, such as the so-called Cartesian linguistics and the
deconstruction of literary studies, so as to arrive at its foundational principles. Deconstruction
does not have an oppositional nature; its character is transformative, ‘it exploits the weakness
in the tradition in order to disturb rather than overthrow it.’106 While it ‘occupies and subverts
the centre,’107 it neither opposes the architectural status quo nor any of the external conditions
of architecture, avoiding a break with the past. Its writings are in a discursive style and not in
that of a manifesto.108 Finally, Deconstruction incorporates an ideological battle within a
disciplinary context, and articulates bold theoretical positions. Jacques Derrida, associate
member and spokesman of architectural Deconstruction, accounts for it the re-foundation, the
‘deconstruction,’ of architecture. This also signifies the desired direction of renewal of the
disciplinary grounds, the way that Deconstruction aims at driving and changing architecture’s
values and ideologies. Derrida states that,
Deconstruction is perhaps a way of questioning the architectural model...the metaphor of
foundations, of superstructures, what Kant calls ‘architectonic’ as well as the concept
of the archè...So Deconstruction means also putting into question...perhaps architecture
To make my point clear: during the eighties the re-avantgardification of the ‘Soviet avant-
garde’ allows another contemporary architecture, Deconstruction, to claim its denomination as
‘avant-garde.’ While during the seventies the ‘Soviet avant-garde’ offers a rich source of
innovative forms that the internal domain seeks within its general stance of withdrawal from
its socio-political context, now, along with ‘avant-garde’ Deconstruction, points at an
introverted re-exploration of the very foundations of architecture, at the ‘refounding’ of
architecture through structural linguistics. Later on, and within the more politicized external
conditions of the aftermath of September 11, 2001, the ‘Soviet avant-garde’ would be re-
avantgardified for its socio-politico-ideological nature, thus indirectly fuelling the socio-
politicized segments of the architectural discipline. For example, its re-avantgardification
in the exhibition 'Building the Revolution: Soviet Art and Architecture, 1915-1935,'110 in
2011 suggests a different direction of renewal. While it is often referred to as ‘revolutionary,’
as the title of the exhibition implies, its re-avantgardification is no longer only due to its
formal novelties but also to its political and social context, and the collective spirit it brings
about.111 This re-avantgardification indirectly encourages a politically and socially active
response of the discipline toward the new politicized global external conditions of the
2000s and 2010s. The ‘avant-garde’ works towards re-examining and transforming
architecture’s internal system rules in relation to all the external conditions that surround
it - a case that I elaborated in previous section regarding the 1960s.
The 1960s mark a shift. The historical study of the ‘Soviet avant-garde’ and modern
architecture’s relation with the avant-garde of the 1920s and 1930s finds an enthusiastic
reception by architects. The avant-garde enters architectural discourse, and the term ‘avant-
garde’ begins describing architects and diverse material and immaterial productions when
related to the wider avant-garde. Yet it gradually develops into an endogenous to architecture,
and positive quality, which does not necessarily qualify an interrelation with the avant-garde.
Architectural avant-gardism of the 1960s is rich and diverse, adopts patterns of formation, and
includes ideological templates of the ‘historical avant-garde.’ The term ‘avant-garde’ starts
indicating an evaluation code and elite paradigm, gradually developing into a disciplinary tool.
To clarify my final point: The avant-garde is a strong concept for its effects. About the artistic
avant-garde, Carol Duncan notes that ‘to be used, its meaning must be constantly and carefully
mediated’112, yet the same connotations apply to architecture. Avant-garde architecture serves
as model, in which what matters most is its usefulness to architecture’s internal system to serve
its own transformation. Transformations are necessary for constantly redefining its cognitive,
evaluative and normative grounds,113 thus keeping architecture’s position and role within
globally changing external forces - political, economic, and social - and among its own
professional players. As the case of the ‘Soviet avant-garde’ shows, at its very base, the avant-
garde’s nature is instrumental; it is a driver of difference and change in architecture. ‘Avant-
garde’ architectures contribute to prescribing architecture’s self-definition measured against
the different social systems it is situated in.
Dr. Lina Stergiou is Associate Professor of Architecture at Xi'an Jiaotong-Liverpool
University, China, co-founder and creative director of 4Life Strategies, a non-profit
organization for strategically design cross-disciplinary actions for life as agencies
for change, and principal of LS/Architecture&Strategies research lab. Independent Expert
for the Mies van der Rohe Award-European Union Prize for Contemporary Architecture. A
Princeton University Research Fellow and recipient of numerous research grants, her
research explores spatial politics and the avant-garde, including her forthcoming book on
The Concept of the Avant-Garde in Twentieth and Twenty-First Century Architecture.
1 The Oxford English Dictionary (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1933).
2 Cottington, David, The Avant Garde: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford: Oxford University
Press, 2013), p.5.
3 ‘Let us unite: in order to reach the same goal we have a different task to perform. We, the
artists, will serve you as avant-garde: the power of the arts is the most immediate and the most
rapid. [...] What destiny more beautiful for the arts than to exercise a positive influence on
society, a true ministry, and to project themselves ahead of all intellectual faculties, in the era
of their greatest development!’ Response of an artist to a scientist in an imaginary dialogue in
Saint-Simon, Henri de, Opinions littéraires, philosophiques et industrielles (Paris: Bossange
père, 1825), pp.346-7. Cited in Hadjinicolaou, Nicos, 'On the Ideology of Avant-Gardism,'
Praxis: A Journal of Radical Perspectives on the Arts, no.6 (1982), p.41. See also Egbert,
Donald "The Idea of the ‘Avant Garde’ in Art and Politics,” The American Historical Review,
vol.73, no.2 (December 1967), pp. 342-4.
4 Cottington, David, The Avant Garde, pp.5-6. See also Hadjinicolaou, Nicos, 'On the Ideology
5 Hadjinicolaou, Nicos, 'On the Ideology of Avant-Gardism,' p.43.
6 Cottington, David, The Avant Garde, pp.2-5.
7 Cottington, David, The Avant Garde, p.9.
8 Heynen, Hilde, Architecture and Modernity. A Critique (Cambridge, Mass.; London: MIT
Press, 1999), p.229.
9 See for example the issue ‘What Is an Avant-Garde?’, New Literary History, vol. 41, no. 4
10 Hitchcock, Henry-Russell and Philip Johnson, The International Style. Architecture since
1922 (New York; London: W.W. Norton, 1932); reprint 1966. I use the new edition: Hitchcock,
Henry-Russell and Philip Johnson, The International Style (New York; London: W.W. Norton,
11 Pevsner, Nikolaus, Pioneers of Modern Design (London: Faber and Faber, 1936); second ed.
1949; third ed. 1960. I use the third revised edition: Pevsner, Nikolaus, Pioneers of Modern
Design (Penguin, 1991).
12 Giedion, Sigfried, Space, Time and Architecture: The Growth of a New Tradition, Charles
Eliot Norton Lectures for 1938-1939 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1941); second ed.
1949; third ed. 1954; fourth ed. 1962; fifth ed. 1967. I use the fifth revised and enlarged edition:
Giedion, Sigfried, Space, Time and Architecture: The Growth of a New Tradition (Cambridge,
Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1995).
13 Hitchcock, Henry-Russell, Architecture: Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries (Baltimore:
Penguin Books, 1958); second ed. 1963; third ed. 1968; fourth ed. 1977. I use the fourth revised
edition: Hitchcock, Henry-Russell, Architecture: Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries (New
Haven, Conn.; London: Yale University Press, 1987).
14 Banham, Reyner, Theory and Design in the First Machine Age (Oxford: Butterworth
Architecture, 1960). I use the second edition: Banham, Reyner, Theory and Design in the First
Machine Age (Oxford: Butterworth Architecture, 1962).
15 Benevolo, Leonardo, Storia Dell'Architettura Moderna (Bari: Giuseppe Laterza&Figli,
1960). First English translation in UK from the third revised 1966 Italian edition: History of
Modern Architecture (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1971). I use: Benevolo, Leonardo,
History of Modern Architecture (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1977).
16 Fleming, John, Hugh Honour and Nikolaus Pevsner, The Penguin Dictionary of Architecture,
first edition (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1966); Fleming, John, Hugh Honour and Nikolaus
Pevsner, The Penguin Dictionary of Architecture, fourth edition (London, New York: Penguin,
1991); Fleming, John, Hugh Honour and Nikolaus Pevsner, The Penguin Dictionary of
Architecture and Landscape Architecture (London, New York: Penguin, 1999).
17 Tafuri, Manfredo and Francesco Dal Co, Architettura Contemporanea (Milano: Electa,
1976). English translation: Tafuri, Manfredo and Francesco Dal Co, Modern Architecture
(New York: H. N. Abrams, 1979).
18 Frampton, Kenneth, Modern Architecture: A Critical History (London: Thames and Hudson,
1980); second ed. 1985. I use the third edition: Frampton, Kenneth, Modern Architecture: A
Critical History (London: Thames and Hudson, 1992).
19 Curtis, William, Modern architecture since 1900 (London, New York: Phaidon, 1996).
20 Colquhoun, Alan, Modern Architecture, Oxford History of Art (Oxford: Oxford University
21 Cohen, Jean-Louis, The Future of Architecture. Since 1889 (London: Phaidon Press, 2012).
22 Tafuri, Manfredo, Theories and History of Architecture (London: Granada, 1980), ‘Note to
the second (Italian) edition’. Note: since the modern movement constitutes for him the avant-
garde definition doesn’t always require him to name it ‘historical’.
23 This assumption derives from my book-in-progress based on my doctoral dissertation The
Concept of the Avant-Garde in Twentieth and Twenty-First Century Architecture.
24 Only exception is Kenneth Frampton’s article in which, while the ‘rearguard’ appears only
as subtitle, it forms a core subject.
25 In this essay, any reference to theory and criticism indicates this specific corpus unless
26 Tafuri, Manfredo, Teorie E Storia Dell' Architettura (Bari: Laterza & Figli, 1968). English
translation: Theories and History of Architecture (London: Granada, 1980).
27 Tafuri, Manfredo, La sfera e il labirinto: Avanguardie e architettura da Piranesi agli anni
’70 (Torino: Giulio Einaudi editore, 1980). English translation: Tafuri, Manfredo, The Sphere
and the Labyrinth: Avant-Gardes and Architecture from Piranesi to the 1970s (Cambridge,
Mass.; London: MIT Press, 1990).
28 Tafuri, Manfredo, ‘Per una critica dell’ideologia architettonica,’ Contropiano, no.1 (January-
April 1969). English translation: ‘Toward a Critique of Architectural Ideology,’ in Architecture
Theory since 1968, ed. by K. Michael Hays (Cambridge, Mass.; London: MIT, 1998), pp.2-35.
29 Tafuri, Manfredo, Progretto e Utopia (Bari: Laterza&Figli, 1973). English translation:
Tafuri, Manfredo, Architecture and Utopia: Design and Capitalist Development (Cambridge,
Mass.; London: MIT Press, 1976).
30 Scolari, Massimo, 'The New Architecture and the Avant-Garde,' in Hays, Michael K., ed.,
Architecture Theory since 1968 (Cambridge, Mass.; London: MIT, 1998), pp.124-45.
31 Grassi, Giorgio, ‘Avant-Garde and Continuity,’ in Hays, Michael K., ed., Oppositions
Reader: Selected Readings from a Journal for Ideas and Criticism in Architecture, 1973-1984
(New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 1998), pp.390-411. The article was originally
published in Oppositions, no.21 (Summer 1980).
32 Eisenman, Peter, ‘Autonomy and the Avant-Garde. The necessity of an Architectural Avant-
Garde in America,’ in Somol, Robert, ed., Autonomy and Ideology: Positioning an Avant-
Garde in America (New York: Monacelli Press, 1997), pp.69-79.
33 Hays, Michael K., 'Reproduction and Negation: The Cognitive Project of the Avant-Garde',
in Ockman, Joan, ed., ArchitectureReproduction. Revisions 2 (New York, NY: Princeton
Architectural Press, 1988), pp.153-79.
34 Frampton, Kenneth, 'Towards a Critical Regionalism. Six Points for an Architecture of
Resistance', in Foster, Hal, ed., The Anti-Aesthetic: Essays on Postmodern Culture (Port
Townsend; Washington: Bay Press, 1983), pp.16-30.
35 Speaks, Michael, 'Which Way Avant-Garde?'. Assemblage, no.41 (April 2000), p.78.
36 Hays, Michael K., Architecture's Desire: Reading the Late Avant-Garde, Writing
Architecture Series (Cambridge, Mass.; London: MIT Press, 2010).
37 In this essay, any reference to history books indicates this specific corpus unless otherwise
38 Anthony Vidler shares his personal experience of this period. Being in 1960 in the first year
of his studies at the School of Architecture at Cambridge, he attests that Alison and Peter
Smithson’s special issue of Architectural Design on the ‘Heroic Period of Modern
Architecture (1917-1937)’ in December 1965 sums up modernism for his generation, in some
way as a sign for closure, but also of the need for competitive emulation. Vidler, Anthony,
Histories of the Immediate Present: Inventing Architectural Modernism (Cambridge, Mass.;
London: MIT, 2008), p.xv.
39 The famous quote of Charles Jencks is ‘Modern Architecture died in St. Louis, Missouri, on
July 15, 1972, at 3.32 p.m.,’ Jencks, Charles, The Language of Post-Modern Architecture (New
York: Rizzoli, 1977), p.9.
40 ‘Now  the generous myths of the initial Heroic period, having lost their role as
powerful ideas, are reduced to subjects of debate.’ Tafuri, Manfredo, Theories and History of
41 “Once relegated to the status of ‘history,’ modern architecture itself was susceptible to
academicization, even to revival...it was the revival of modern architecture as style...”
Vidler, Anthony, Histories of the Immediate Present, p.5.
42 See Jacobs, Jane, Death and Life of Great American Cities (London: Jonathan Cape, 1962).
43 Vidler, Anthony, Histories of the Immediate Present, p.xv.
44 Hal Foster, "What's Neo About the Neo-Avant-Garde?", October, vol.70 (Autumn 1994),
p.7. See also Khan-Magomedov, Selim O., Pioneers of Soviet Architecture: The Search for
New Solutions in the 1920s and 1930s (London: Thames and Hudson, 1987), p.9. And Hal
Foster, ‘Some Uses and Abuses of Russian Constructivism,’ in Andrews, Richard, ed., Art into
Life: Russian Constructivism 1914-1932 (New York: Rizzoli, 1990).
45 Kopp, Anatole, Constructivist Architecture in the USSR (London: Academy Editions, 1985),
46 Constructivism relates to the work of the group OSA, which is the acronym of Obedinerie
Sovremennykh Arkhitektorov, Union of Contemporary Architects. Rationalism relates to the
work of the group ASNOVA, which is the acronym of Assotsiatsiia Novykh Arkhitektorov,
Association of New Architects.
47 Colomina, Beatriz and Craig Buckley, eds., Clip, Stamp, Fold: The Radical Architecture of
Little Magazines, 196X to 197X (Barcelona: Actar, 2010), p.118.
48 See more in Wood, Paul, ‘The Politics of the Avant-Garde,’ in The Great Utopia. The
Russian and Soviet Avant-Garde, 1915-1932 (New York: Guggenheim Museum, 1992), pp.1-
49 Colomina, Beatriz and Craig Buckley, eds., Clip, Stamp, Fold, p.8.
50 Colomina, Beatriz and Craig Buckley, eds., Clip, Stamp, Fold, p.15.
51 ‘Building the USSR 1917-32,’ Architectural Design (February 1970).
52 ‘Architecture and the Artistic Avant-garde in the USSR from 1917-1934,’ VH 101, no.7/8
53 Banham, Reyner, Theory and Design in the First Machine Age, p.89.
54 Banham, Reyner, Theory and Design in the First Machine Age, p.209.
55 Benevolo, Leonardo, History of Modern Architecture, p.224.
56 Benevolo, Leonardo, History of Modern Architecture, p.556.
57 CIAM is the acronym of Congrès International d'Architecture Moderne, the International
Congress of Modern Architecture. Founded in 1928 by 28 European architects invited by Le
Corbusier, and with Sigfried Giedion as secretary general, this highly influential organization
had the objective to research and formalize the principles of the modern movement through
eleven congresses and events across Europe. It disbanded in 1959 with the final eleventh CIAM
meeting in Otterlo, Netherlands.
58 Giedion, Sigfried, Space, Time and Architecture, p.702.
59 Benevolo, Leonardo, History of Modern Architecture, p.398.
60 Benevolo, Leonardo, History of Modern Architecture, p.449-51.
61 Schwarzer, Mitchell, ‘History and Theory in Architectural Periodicals: Assembling
Oppositions,’ Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, vol. 58, no. 3 (September
62 ‘It does not seem particularly controversial to mark the beginning of contemporary
architecture theory in the sixties.’ Hays, Michael, Architecture's Desire, p.x.
63 “Camila Gray first codifies the term ‘Russian avant-garde’ in the Western context in her
pioneering monograph The Great Experiment: Russian Art, 1863-1922 in 1962.” Bowlt, John
E. and Olga Matich, eds., Laboratory of Dreams: The Russian Avant-garde and Cultural
Experiment (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1996), p.5.
64 Cottington, David, The Avant Garde, p.4.
65 ‘Against this [sense of closure of modernism with the historical research in it], the unruly
incursions of Archigram, who set up their ‘Living City’ exhibit in the front lobby of Terrace
in 1964, provided a healthy sense of utopianism and continuity with the early modern avant-
gardes.’ Vidler, Anthony, Histories of the Immediate Present, p.xv. A new generation of
historically conscious architects appears in the sixties. Reyner Banham observes in 1960, that
these architects read the writings of the Futurists for themselves, and feel once more the
compulsion of technological ideology and the need to take a firm grip on it. Banham, Reyner,
Architectural Review (May 1960), p.332.
66 Colomina, Beatriz and Craig Buckley, eds., Clip, Stamp, Fold, p.8.
67 My italics. Ockman, Joan, 'Resurrecting the Avant-Garde: The History and the Program of
Oppositions', in Ockman, Joan, ed., ArchitectureReproduction. Revisions 2, (New York:
Princeton Architectural Press, 1988), p.182.
68 Banham, Reyner, ‘The New Brutalism,’ Architectural Review 118, no.708 (December
1955), pp.354-61. The ‘image’ is first posed, in the fifties again, by Ernst Gombrich.
69 Banham, Reyner, A Concrete Atlantis: U.S. Industrial Building and European Modern
Architecture (Cambridge and London: MIT Press, 1986).
70 Banham, Reyner, A Concrete Atlantis, p.18. See also Colomina, Beatriz, Privacy and
Publicity. Modern Architecture as Mass Media (Cambridge, Mass.; London: MIT, 1994)
71 The magazine of OSA was Contemporary Architecture, in Russian Sovremennaya
Arkhitektura, and was published in Moscow from 1926 to 1930.
72 Kopp, Anatole, Constructivist Architecture in the USSR, p.6.
73 Nikolaus Pevsner in his famous talk on 10 January 1961 at the Royal Institute of British
Architects. It is published in: Pevsner, Reyner, ‘Modern Architecture and the Return of
Historicism,’ Journal of the Royal Institute of British Architects 68, no.6 (April 1961), pp.230-
74 Zevi, Bruno, ‘Architettura,’ in L’Espresso special issue (December 1965). Cited in Scolari,
Massimo, 'The New Architecture and the Avant-Garde,' p.126. In this article Scolari
avantgardifies the Italian Tendenza, comprised by Italian architects he selects to present in the
1973 exhibition he curates ‘Rational Architecture,’ XV Triennale of Milan, International
session of architecture. Scolari constructs out of the exhibition participants an ‘avant-garde’ of
the 1970s, the Tendenza, which he names ‘alternative avant-garde.’ He quotes Zevi so as to
support his avantgardification choice.
75 The Dictionary of Architecture (1991) provides the widest range of assessments of
architectures and architects in my corpus. I mention them so as to point out the abundance of
choices an author has for describing an architecture besides naming it ‘avant-garde.’ ‘Leading’,
86 times; ‘famous’ 22 times; ‘the greatest’ 22 times; ‘influential’ 18 times; ‘pioneer,’ 16 times;
‘genius,’ 14 times; ‘original,’ 13 times; ‘important,’ 11 times; ‘prolific,’ 6 times; ‘avant-garde’
6 times; ‘successful,’ 4 times; ‘visionary,’ 3 times; ‘revolutionary,’ 3 times; ‘brilliant,’ 3 times;
‘one of the best,’ 3 times; ‘ingenious,’ 2 times; ‘radical,’ 2 times; ‘prominent,’ 2 times;
‘outstanding,’ 2 times; ‘accomplished,’ 1 time; ‘interesting,’ 1 time; and ‘gifted,’ 1 time. In
this way I highlight that the use of the term has a particular meaning, which differs from other
76 Sadler, Simon, ‘New Babylon versus Plug-in City’ in Máčel, Otakar and Martin van
Schaik, eds., Exit Utopia: Architectural Provocations, 1956-1976 (Munich; London; New
York: Prestel, 2005), p.63.
77 Sadler, Simon, ‘New Babylon versus Plug-in City,’ p.65.
78 Archigram, no.9 (1970).
79 Sadler, Simon, ‘New Babylon versus Plug-in City,’ p.57.
80 Constant and Debord, ‘Situationist definitions’ (1958) in Internationale Situationniste,
(Paris, 1963), no.2. Cited in Conrads, Ulrich, ed., Programs and Manifestoes on 20th Century
Architecture (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1970), p.161.
81 Constant, ‘New Babylon’ (1960) in the exhibition catalogue of the Städtische
Kustgalerie Bochum, 1961. Cited in Conrads, Ulrich, ed., Programs and Manifestos, p.177.
82 ‘The avant-garde spirit is eminently aristocratic.’ Poggioli, Renato, The Theory of the Avant-
Garde, p.39. ‘The avant-garde is by definition an elite minority, and thus in its own way
aristocratic.’ Egbert, Donald, Social Radicalism and the Arts: Western Europe; a Cultural
History from the French Revolution to 1968 (London: Duckworth, 1970), p.714.
83 Williams, Raymond and Tony Pinkney, The Politics of Modernism: Against the New
Conformists (London: Verso, 1989), p.52.
84 Hadjinicolaou, Nicos, 'On the Ideology of Avant-Gardism,' pp.48-52.
85 Habermas, Jürgen, 'Modernity-an Incomplete Project,' in Foster, Hal, ed., The Anti-Aesthetic:
Essays on Postmodern Culture (New York: New Press, 2002), pp.3-4.
86 Benevolo, Leonardo, History of Modern Architecture, p.259.
87 Bürger, Peter, Theorie der Avantgarde (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag, 1974) English
translation: Bürger, Peter, Theory of the Avant-Garde (Manchester, Minneapolis: Manchester
University Press and University of Minnesota Press, 1984).
88 Poggioli, Renato, The Theory of the Avant-Garde, p.107.
89 Jameson, Fredric, 'Periodizing the 60s,' in Sayres, Sohnya, ed., The 60s without Apology
(Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press in cooperation with Social Text, 1984), p.196.
90 Cottington, David, The Avant Garde, p.85.
91 Crow, Thomas, 'Modernism and Mass Culture in the Visual Arts,' in Frascina, Francis, ed.,
Pollock and After: The Critical Debate (London: Harper & Row, 1985).
92 Hobsbawm, Eric, The Age of Extremes. A History of the World, 1914-1991 (New York:
Vintage books, 1996), pp.225-400. See also Marwick, Arthur, The Sixties (Oxford, New York:
Oxford University Press, 1998).
93 Team X was a loosely organized band of individuals which grew out of CIAM. It was named
after the committee responsible for planning the tenth congress of CIAM in 1956 in Dubrovnik:
the CIAM X Committee. The composition of the group varied through the years. The seven
more active members were: Jaap Bakema, Georges Candilis, Giancarlo De Carlo, Aldo van
Eyck, Alison and Peter Smithson and Shadrach Woods, and, at a later stage, Giancarlo De
Carlo. Team X organized its own meetings (1960-1981) after challenging the urban principles
of the CIAM organization and CIAM’s final dismantling in 1959.
94 Schumacher, Patrick, The Autopoiesis of Architecture. A New Framework for Architecture,
vol. I (West Sussex, UK: John Wiley & Sons, 2011), p.97.
95 Tafuri, Manfredo, ‘Per una critica dell’ideologia architettonica,’ Contropiano, no.1
(January-April 1969). English translation: Tafuri, Manfredo, ‘Toward a Critique of
Architectural Ideology,’ in Hays, Michael, ed., Architecture Theory since 1968 (Cambridge,
Mass.; London: MIT, 1998), p.33.
96 Editorial statement, Oppositions, no.3 (January 1974): There is an ‘awareness of the marginal
role played by architecture in a society dedicated to consumption...In the last analysis there are
perhaps only two factors that hold us together, apart from our mutual awareness of the marginal
role played by architecture in a society dedicated to consumption: firstly, a faith in the
importance of architecture as a poetic manifestation, and secondly, a belief in the importance
of criticism as a necessary force set in perennial opposition to the established values of an
empirically oriented society’.
97 Ockman, Joan, 'Resurrecting the Avant-Garde: The History and the Program of Oppositions,'
98 Collins, Peter, Changing Ideals in Modern Architecture 1750-1950 (London: Faber and
Faber, 1965), p.284.
99 This was a one-day symposium in March 1988 organized by the Academy Forum. In
conjunction with the symposium two special magazine issues have been published:
‘Deconstruction,’ Architectural Design, vol.58, no.3/4 (1988), and a year later
‘Deconstruction II,’ Architectural Design, vol.59, no.1/2 (1989). In the same year, 1988, the
symposium was synopsised in: Papadakis, Andreas, Catherine Cooke and Andrew Benjamin,
eds., Deconstruction: Omnibus Volume (London: Academy Editions, 1989).
100 Took place from June 23 to August 30, 1988. Curators: Philip Johnson and Mark Wigley.
Exhibition catalogue: Johnson, Philip and Mark Wigley, Deconstructivist Architecture (New
York: Museum of Modern Art, 1988).
101 Preface to the exhibition catalogue by Philip Johnson, in Johnson, Philip and Mark Wigley,
Deconstructivist Architecture, p.7.
102 Foreword in Papadakis, Andreas, Catherine Cooke and Andrew Benjamin, eds.,
103 Cooke, Catherine, ‘Russian Precursors,’ in Deconstruction, p.11.
104 Cooke, Catherine, ‘Russian Precursors,’ in Deconstruction, p.11.
105 Wigley, Mark, ‘Deconstructivist Architecture,’ in Deconstruction, p.133.
106 Wigley, Mark, ‘Deconstructivist Architecture,’ in Deconstruction, p.133.
107 Wigley, Mark, ‘Deconstructivist Architecture,’ in Deconstruction, p.133.
108 An interesting standpoint on these two forms is written by Vidler, Anthony, ‘From
Manifesto to Discourse,’ in Buckley, Craig, ed., After The Manifesto (New York: GSAPP
Books and T6) Ediciones, 2014), pp.24-39.
109 ‘Jacques Derrida. In Discussion with Christopher Norris,’ in Deconstruction, p.72.
110 The exhibition is produced by the State Museum of Contemporary Art, Thessaloniki, and
the Royal Academy of Arts, London. The catalogue carries the same title with the exhibition:
Building the Revolution: Soviet Art and Architecture 1915-1935 (London: Royal Academy of
Arts, 2011). The exhibition travels at the La Caixa Forum in Barcelona and in Madrid, in 2011;
at the Royal Academy of Arts, London, in 2012 (29 October - 22 January, curated by
MaryAnne Stevens and Maria Tsantsanoglou); and at the Martin Gropius Bau, Berlin, in 2012
(5 April - 9 July).
111 In addition, involving original research and being historical studies, these exhibitions have
been possible due to better access to archives that opened for Western scholars after
Gorbachev’s Perestroika in 1986. See Cohen, Jean-Louis, ‘Uneasy Crossings. The
Architecture of the Russian Avant-garde between East and West,’ in Building the Revolution,
112 Duncan, Carol, The Aesthetics of Power: Essays in the Critical History of Art (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 1993).
113 These are the three dimensions of the profession that Larson employs: the cognitive, the
normative and the evaluative. All three compose what she calls the profession’s ideal-type.
Larson, Magali S., The Rise of Professionalism: A Sociological Analysis (Berkeley; London:
University of California Press, 1977), p.x.
For the second volume of the re-bus Special Issue “Cultural Production in the 20th and 21st
Centuries: Art Collectives, Institutions, Culture Industry” the editorial team has put together
three articles that highlight the contested spaces in which the relationship between institutions
and their history develop. Thus, the historiographical revision of the term ‘avant-garde’ as
applied to architectural currents since the 1960s provides great insight into how exactly
definitions are wielded by intellectuals and members of the public sphere in order to
characterize and shape the discipline’s common sense, extending into wider use (L. Stergiou).
This essentially discursive practice faces deep conflicts when it comes down to historicity,
inasmuch as the definitions that have become hegemonic are opened up by the particularities
of contexts. This is the case of avant-garde cinema in the New York of the 1960s, in the sense
that the concept of the ‘amateur’ used by certain artists associated with the Charles Theatre
generated an ‘in-between’ space that resisted both the ‘common sense’ of avant-gardism and
commercial productions (B. Hummel). These spaces in which the traditionally ‘hard’
definitions of institutions become fluid are well exemplified in curatorial approaches that give
primacy not to rational (or historical) presuppositions but affective ones, such as Brazil’s
Instituto Cultural Inhotim, where affect becomes the means to structure an experience of an
otherwise inarticulate space (A. Heeren).
Ana Varas Ibarra & David Murrieta Flores
re-bus Issue 8 Co-editors
With special thanks to Christopher Collier