Léa-Catherine Szacka

1980 in Parallax: When Post-Modernisms Met in Venice


In 1980 the first ever Venice Architecture Biennale entitled ‘The Presence of the Past’ famously announced Post-Modernism as the international mainstream of architecture. It proposed a new canon that was to be more inclusive and polyphonic, and sought to embrace a diversity of narratives, a variety of styles, contradictions and irony. Yet despite these ideals, none of the case studies and architects presented at the Biennale went beyond the European and North-American context. Looking back – once again – in order to look forward, this series of essays addressing the question ‘Whose Post-Modernism?’ reconsiders the Post-Modern canon from the critical distance of 43 years to reinvigorate the pluralism suggested by the Biennale and Charles. It invites multiple voices to collectively remap the year 1980 from various geographical and cultural perspectives beyond the West, while reflecting on its legacies today. Ninth in the series, Léa-Catherine Szacka's essay addresses the place of 'The Presence of the Past' within the wider history of the development of Post-Modernism in architecture.

In November 1980, a few weeks after the closing of the first Venice Architecture Biennale exhibition, titled The Presence of the Past, Charles Jencks wrote a letter to his friend, the architect Peter Eisenman. A two-page missive, the letter started as follows:

I am sorry I couldn’t attend your symposium on the Venice Biennale, and the post-mortem on Post-Modernism – doubly sorry because there should have been a symposium at the time of the show in Venice (if PM means anything it means the public and political nature of architecture) and I would like to discuss the muddiness which surrounds the exhibit. These brief remarks are opinions, not arguments, concerning this mud, and the garlic and sapphires, which are perhaps embedded within.1

Ultimately, what this contribution argues is that the exhibition was a moment of institutionalisation that propelled greater divergences amongst both its supporters and detractors. Despite Post-Modernism’s apparent call for diversity, inclusivity and polyphony, this ideologic representation of a shifting world was poignantly absent from the exhibition, whose core section, the now notorious Strada Novissima, was almost exclusively populated by contributions from white males – something that would be impossible in today’s context. Indeed, if there was a great variety of languages and definitions of Post-Modernism on the Strada, the selection of participants remained very homogeneous as it was mainly constituted of European and North American architects, making any Post-Modern claim of pluralism tokenistic.

The First International Architecture Exhibition of the Venice Biennale, The Presence of the Past, was meant to celebrate Post-Modernism – ‘the end of prohibitionism’ for its curator, Paolo Portoghesi, or the ‘triumph of communication’ for Jencks. Yet, far from clarifying the growing discourse on the movement, it had instead marked nothing but the beginning of the end as it crystallised Post-Modernism as, predominantly, a style of historicist eclecticism. If 1984 is sometimes identified as a benchmark year for North American Post-Modernism on the international scene – corresponding both to the English translation of Jean-François Lyotard’s The Postmodern Condition and the completion of Philip Johnson’s AT&T tower in New York – 1980 was no doubt the decisive moment.2 Both the end of the beginning and the beginning of the end, the 1980 biennale marked a shift within architecture culture and, more precisely, in the perception, diffusion and comprehension of the term ‘Post-Modernism’. What was therefore the definition of Post-Modernism vehiculated by the show and how did that affect later perceptions of architecture?

Practically every text on Post-Modernism starts by raising the difficult question of the exact meaning of the word.3 The confusion around the term, which signifies many things at once, has always existed and still remains today.4 The only certainty, perhaps, is that, in the words of Perry Anderson, ‘“postmodernism” as a term and idea supposes the currency of “modernism”.’5 Post-Modernism also marks a break from Modernism, and therefore, as accurately put by Andreas Huyssen, ‘remains inscribed into the very word with which we describe our distance from modernism.’6 But the question remains: how to read this break – whether economically (as the end of a belief in indefinite growth), philosophically (as a new condition of knowledge and a new sensibility), linguistically (as a renewed need to communicate) or socially (as a materialisation of an increased social pluralism and diversity) – and propose something that went beyond Modernism? The issue surrounding the definition of Post-Modernism came partly from the fact that the term ‘has arisen not only from a variety of different and sometimes conflicting criticisms of the modern cultures or modern industrial societies of the twentieth century, but from a variety of different ideals and programmes for both the present and the future.’7 To this we might also add the fact that concepts such as ‘modern’, ‘modernism’, ‘modernisation’ and ‘modernity’ relate to very different things.8 After 1980, as Post-Modernism turned into a much debated topic and different disciplines sought to make the term their own, it became increasingly difficult ‘to specify exactly what it is that “postmodernism” was supposed to refer to.’9

Though it was to largely play out later in the media, the ‘intellectual polemic’ surrounding the 1980 biennale began in the pages of the official exhibition catalogue, published both in Italian and English, followed the year after by a slightly modified French version.10 What is more, a series of other publications, indirectly related to the exhibition – Portoghesi’s book Dopo l’architettura moderna, 11published in 1980 too; special issues of Architectural Design, Controspazio and Archetype12 – also contributed to the overall discourse surrounding the exhibition.

As a discursive platform, both expanding and diversifying the message of the exhibition, the catalogue of the 1980 biennale presents itself with an unusual scope: it suggests a flattening of content, both amongst the exhibition organisers and the exhibitors, while laying out the different positions and the debate inscribed within the exhibition. After a very brief note by Venice Biennale president Giuseppe Galasso, the book opens with a series of essays, all presented on an equal basis, by Portoghesi and the three other members of the advisory commission: Vincent Scully – an American Art Historian, Sterling Professor at Yale University known for his close relationship with Robert Venturi – Christian Norberg-Schulz – a Norwegian architect, author, historian, theorist and educator influenced by Heideggerian phenomenological thinking – and Charles Jencks. Rather than forming a coherent whole, these essays propose multiple definitions of Post-Modernism that, at times, contradict or openly criticise each other. Following the essays appears the set of rules and drawings distributed to the Strada Novissima participants as well as the initial drawings for each of the 20 facades of the street. This is followed by three texts, on architects Ignazio Gardella, Philip Johnson and Mario Ridolfi, which correspond to the three homage exhibitions. The catalogue closes with a section dedicated to the ‘participants’, in which each exhibitor, both to the Strada and the mezzanine, is given a few pages with, surprisingly, no real distinction between the two hierarchically differentiated groups.

The decision to involve a group of critics was meant to guarantee that the choice of exhibitors would include ‘a range of different and at times divergent interpretations.’ 13From straight revivalism or historicism to more subtle commentary on preservation, and from blunt irony to formal abstractions, trompe l’œil or geometrical exercises, the Strada Novissima represented a variety of languages that were emerging mainly as responses to the orthodoxy of the Modern Movement. Yet, no representations from Africa, South America or the Middle East region were part of the official selection of 20 architects, and only one figure from Asia, the Japanese architect Arata Isozaki, contributed to the Strada.

This is despite endless lists of names – often classified by the architects’ countries of origin –  existing in Charles Jencks’ archive. The lists mainly include the names of Europeans and North Americans, but also mention, amongst others, a few practitioners from the Nordic region (Jørn Utzon, Ralph Erskine and Reima Pietilä); no less than fourteen from Japan (including Osamu Ishiyama, Kazuhiro Ishii, Hiroshi Hara, Kisho Kurokawa, Kiyonori Kikutake and Minoru Takeyama); and lists of figures from other geographical areas such as Latin America (with a focus on Argentina, Brazil, Venezuela and Mexico), Africa and socialist countries such as the Soviet Union and Poland. As Portoghesi recalled:

Even the first project for the central exhibition included names which are missing from the final cast, cancelled after ample discussion by the consulting committee, whose results were rigorously respected by the director. […] I feel it my duty to mention that in the initial proposal, the following were included in the twenty names selected for the street project: Roberto Gabetti and Aimaro d’Isola, Ricardo Porro, Hassan Fathy14

The inclusion of two young Italians associated with the Neo-liberty movement, a Cuban architect exiled in France and an important figure in Egyptian architecture would have no doubt further diversified the aesthetic and the Post-Modern message vesiculated by the Strada Novissima.

The different interpretations of what constituted the main message of the Strada Novissima also materialised in the exhibition catalogue. Unlike other catalogues that take on a form approaching that of a manifesto – presenting a univocal idea and a set of dogmatic rules to be followed – this publication echoed the plurality of its show and intentionally proposed many different visions of Post-Modernism – ‘a phenomenon coming into being,’15 to quote Portoghesi. A closer look at the catalogue’s main essays might help elucidate the discrepancies between the organisers’ individual positions. Documents in the biennale archive suggest that the publication’s diversity was planned, and notes from the second meeting of the advisory commission specify that it should be seen as a manual for the history of contemporary architecture dedicated to the representation not so much of specific Post-Modern movements but rather different positions of architecture after the Modern Movement.16

Portoghesi’s essay, ‘The End of Prohibitionism’, called for ‘the return of architecture to the womb of history'.17 The short text reasserted the architect’s intentions in organising the show: ‘We preferred to choose a theme, and hence a “movement”,’18 not to propose another orthodoxy or an organised tendency, he says, but rather to provide a laboratory and ‘take hold of a phenomenon which has its symptoms in the fifties,’19 as well as to build outside of the dogmas of the Modern Movement with an approach that was ‘much more imaginative, creative and free.’20 In 1974, Portoghesi had published Le inibizioni dell’architettura moderna, a book in which he began his critical reassessment of the Modern Movement focusing on the necessity of a ‘system of place’. Without yet speaking of a new architecture or of a style, he elaborates here on the possibility of linking history and design or, in other words, using history in contemporary projects, which found its parallel in the architect’s built work – Casa Baldi (1959) and Casa Papanice (1966) in Rome, for example. If Portoghesi, like Ernesto Nathan Rogers before him, acknowledged the importance of the ‘communicability’ of architecture, this communication was, much more than in Jencks’ view, linked to tradition and the recuperation of history. Portoghesi’s contribution to the catalogue was illustrated not by early examples of Post-Modern architecture but by projects by Ernesto Basile, Roberto Gabetti and Aimaro Oreglia d’Isola, Louis Kahn, Ignazio Gardella and Mario Ridolfi. ‘Our vision depended mainly on the architecture of the 50s, Rogers, Gardella, [Franco] Albini, Ridolfi. The idea was to use the tension towards change in order to criticise modernity from within, not from without,’21 he writes. 

The biennale was an occasion to provide architects with the opportunity to ‘play’ with history or historical forms, not as a golden age to be recuperated but rather as elements that could help practitioners return to ‘the whole system of architecture with its finitude but inexhaustible sum of experiences connected or connectable by a society which has refused a monocentric culture, a main tradition with no competition.’22

For Portoghesi, architecture, and especially a facade (literally the ‘face’ of a building), could communicate their function and history to its users, and the best way to do so was by copying or emulating historical forms without restriction of time or place.

The architect also gave credence to the extreme plurality of the exhibition. Though in paying tribute to J Lyotard he recognised the existence of a ‘post-modern condition’ ‘created by the rapid structural change of our civilization,’23 he did not wish to associate the word with the work on display: ‘I was more thinking of a “presence of the past” as something that consisted in nourishment and an act of making choices with the knowledge of the errors of the past and trying to avoid them.’24

The second essay in the catalogue, Vincent Scully’s ‘How Things Got to Be the Way They Are Now’, was a report more than a prescription, offering an overview of the changes that had occurred between 1965 and 1980 and insisting on the failure of the Modern Movement and especially the International Style and its later association with objectives and methods of capitalism. Illustrated with several of Louis Kahn’s buildings – four of the nine images accompanying the essay – the text proposed a Post-Modern filiation from the American master up to Robert Venturi. For Scully, the Venice exhibition offered a proposition, for it ‘set the stage for a more varied, resonant and effective architecture.’ Writing from an American perspective, Scully does not insist on history but rather on the symbolic aspect of architecture and ‘the respect for traditional and vernacular values.’25

In opening his contribution, ‘Towards an Authentic Architecture’, Christian Norberg-Schulz writes: ‘The many tendencies and currents which make up “post-modern” architecture have one thing in common: the demand for meaning.’26 While deploring modern architecture’s loss of the notion of place, Norberg-Schulz, in a way contradicting Portoghesi, claimed: ‘Modern architecture is alive.’27 Referring to his mentor, the Swiss architectural historian Sigfried Giedion – who authored Space, Time and Architecture: The Growth of a New Tradition (1941), one of the most popular books on the development and success of modern architecture – Norberg-Schulz argues that it is precisely this progressive lack of concern with the problem of meaning that had rendered modern architecture criticisable. Therefore, Norberg-Schulz proposes architectural phenomenology as a way to ‘recast history as the experimental content of modern architecture.’28 Explaining that modern architecture’s ‘basic aim has always been to heal the split of thought and feeling, which implies the creation of places which allow for human orientation and identification,’29 Norberg-Schulz introduces his concept of the genius loci, the ‘dimension where life “takes place”.’30 Showing a continuity with rather than a break from modern architecture, his text marked a relative distance from the ideas of his friend Portoghesi.

The final essay to appear was theorist Charles Jencks’ ‘Towards Radical Eclecticism’, in which the author promoted an architecture that ‘seeks to enhance a plural society in all its richness and diversity and one that looks for a deeper justification for its use of various languages of architecture that existed in the past.31 The theorist called for the use of a universal metaphorical imaginary and Post-Modern space, that is to say, a space that is ‘fragmented, rich with symbols, ambiguous, layered with cut-out screens and ordered for an experience of continuous surprise’.32 Jencks was in favour of great variety, and of incorporating more and more styles from the past in order to reach an eclecticism that was indeed radical. This eclecticism, he claimed, comes from a pluralist society. For Jencks, Post-Modern architecture is ‘double-coded’; it mixes the language of late-modern architecture with vernacular, historical or commercial ones, and all this to provoke irony. 33Jencks insists in his text on architecture being a response to social, political and metaphysical problems rather than to pure formal or technical ones: what dictates the new multiplicity is ‘the variety of cultural experience, the plurality of psychic, social and metaphysical states possible to people.’34 His text was also richly illustrated and was the only essay to present a generous selection of work by contemporary architects present in the exhibition: Charles Moore’s Piazza d’Italia, Robert A.M. Stern’s Lang House, Ricardo Bofill’s Arcades du Lac, Hans Hollein’s travel agency in Vienna, Léon Krier’s Roma Interrotta project and Aldo Rossi’s Modena cemetery – reflecting once more the eclectic plurality of the show within the pages of the catalogue.

Looking at each of the four critical essays reveals the tensions and divergences of opinion between the organisers. Together these texts constitute a discourse, a form of internal debate rather than a manifesto. The choice of participants from the Strada Novissima and the internal disagreements in making that choice were exposed in the pages of the catalogue. Portoghesi wrote: ‘I feel it my duty to mention that in the initial proposal, the following were included in the twenty names selected for the street project: Roberto Gabetti and Aimaro Isola, Ricardo Porro, Hassan Fathy, and in that of the exhibitors, Pietro Derossi, Umberto Siola, Nicola Pagliara.’35 Scully, practically replicating Portoghesi, wrote: ‘Perhaps many other important architects should have been included in it, but were excluded because their work did not seem especially relevant for the chosen theme. One thinks in Europe of any number of people from Böhm to Lasdun, in America of Roche Dikeloo [sic], Richard Meier, Eisenman and many others. Among them the absence of Jaquelin Robertson is especially regrettable.’36 Also surprising were the direct attacks by members of the organisation committee on each other. While Scully praised the work of Rossi and Venturi, he compares it with ‘a good deal else that is going on at the moment, from the Gaudi-like choreographies of Bofill and Portoghesi in Europe to the whole extraordinary scramble of activity in the United States.’37 Norberg-Schulz, for his part, outspokenly attacked Jencks’ approach: ‘In our opinion semiology reduces the problem of meaning to one of its more superficial aspects. If the meaning of a thing (building) consists in its relationship to other things, this relationship evidently comprises much more than similar “looks”.’38

In 1984, Andreas Huyssen wrote in his essay ‘Mapping the Postmodern’: ‘While the recent media hype about postmodernism in architecture and the arts has propelled the phenomenon into the limelight, it has also tended to obscure its long and complex history.’ 39 Huyssen’s statement provides a good overview of the impact of the 1980 biennale with regards to Post-Modernism’s definition and ultimately its fate. Though, as desired by its organisers, the exhibition gave visibility to a new architecture developing away from the orthodoxy of the Modern Movement, it did not clarify or propose any fixed definition of ‘Post-Modernism’. Quite to the contrary, it made evident, beyond the space of the show, and within the pages of the catalogue, the discrepancies that were inherent to a movement grounded in the negation of Modernist architecture rather than on truly shared ideologies of agendas.

Portoghesi’s aforementioned decision to invite Jencks to the biennale was pragmatic: he was aiming to use the impetus of Jencks’ success in order to make the exhibition truly international, while moving away from modern orthodoxy and orienting the movement towards a re-reading of history.40 In much the same way, inviting Robert A. M. Stern was a way of ensuring control of the American scene, while Scully was instrumental in guaranteeing the presence of Venturi. Jencks, on the other hand, was interested in language and communication, fostering double-coding and irony. Looking back, Portoghesi fiercely condemned Jencks’ view on architecture: ‘I naturally have always had an understanding which differed from that of Jencks’s. In my opinion, this absolute freedom from the rules will always be a calamity for architects.’ 41On the other hand, Jencks in retrospect deplored the effect of the exhibition on the later perception of Post-Modernism: ‘The result was that Stern and Portoghesi and a few Italians bent the exhibition away from Post-Modernism towards a kind of historicism and revivalism.’42

The problem surrounding the definition of ‘Post-Modernism’ may have been the result of architects’ obsession in the late 1970s with searching for a theory that was more than a simple repudiation of their modern elders.43 Yet by 1980 the question was far from resolved, and the architects who had attached themselves to a post-modern tendency had become more preoccupied by stylistic matters than with any social concerns. A series of circumstances prompted the exhibition to stay in people’s memory and may be said to have contributed to fixing a certain idea of Post-Modernism, one more inclined towards historicism. Many people saw this event as a manifesto for the return of history, and accordingly assumed that it was the answer to the question, ‘What is Post-Modern architecture?’ In contrast to previous architecture exhibitions of the modern era, the 1980 biennale did not present a coherent body of work but was rather a supermarket of styles, going from literal historical references to an ironical wink to the past, Neo-Rationalism or Minimalism. Yet a return to history was only one of many concepts promoted by this exhibition – the return of the notion of ‘place’, the supremacy of the image, or the need for communication in architecture being the other three most explicit ones.

Two years after The Presence of the Past, Portoghesi curated the second International Architecture Exhibition of the Venice Biennale: Architecture in Islamic Countries. As it is now well known, the decision to focus an entire biennale on this remote region of the world was partly (if not mainly) motivated by political reasons – at the time, Portoghesi was working on one of the most important projects of his career, the building of the Mosque of Rome (1975–95).44 Venice, an important city strategically located at the crossroads of many cultures and one that had long been a hinge between Eastern and Western cultures, here became the common ground for revising past cultural encounters through an exhibition that explored contemporary architectural production while retaining a historical perspective. In a recent publication dedicated to this forgotten biennale, Helen Thomas writes: ‘Looking south from Rome, however, or east, around the edges of the Mediterranean and beyond, they encountered myriad other sources of form, knowledge and construction techniques describing alternative boundaries and purposes for the term “architecture”. Then, as now, the reaction to the challenge (or threat) to the immutability of European classicism was complex.’45  In retrospect however, we can perhaps see how Architecture in Islamic Countries might have influenced Portoghesi’s understanding of Post-Modernism.

Looking back at The Presence of the Past from today’s perspective, what is striking is that while the polemic surrounding it at the time was so virulent, ‘the muddiness which surrounds the exhibit’, as mentioned by Jencks in his letter to Einsenman, did not reflect diversity as we intend it today. If Portoghesi was looking East for inspiration, the inclusion of more vernacular influences from Asia, Africa and South and Latin America as well as a more gender-balanced street would raise no question today.

  1. Charles Jencks, letter to Peter Eisenman (London, 15 November 1980). Archive of Charles Jencks.

  2. ‘Postmodern architecture is generally agreed to have emerged during the mid-1960s, in Europe and in the United States. It did so to the accompaniment of book-length manifestos that articulated its basic problematic and, later, a number of exhibitions that attempted to measure its scope. Its benchmark year was arguably 1984, by which time a number of influential cultural theorists had adduced architectural examples to define the postmodern predicament more generally.’ Reinhold Martin, Utopia’s Ghost: Architecture and Postmodernism, Again (Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press, 2010), xii.

  3. For example, in 1983 Hal Foster asked whether Post-Modernism was ‘a concept or a practice, a matter of local style or a whole new period or economic phase?’ Hal Foster, introduction to The Anti-Aesthetic: Essays on Postmodern Culture (Port Townsend, WA: Bay Press, 1989), ix. In 1984, Heinrich Klotz talked about a smooth transition from modern to Post-Modern and of the looseness of Post-Modernism’s definition, a concept, he says, ‘that covers everything over a historical process where the most characteristic trait is that it is spread out in many directions and is determined by the most divergent tendencies’. Heinrich Klotz, The History of Postmodern Architecture, trans. Radka Donnell (Cambridge, MA, and London: MIT Press, 1988), 128. In 1988 Linda Hutcheon wrote that ‘of all the terms bandied about in both current cultural theory and contemporary writing on the arts, postmodernism must be the most over- and under-defined.’ Linda Hutcheon, ‘Theorizing the Postmodern Towards a Poetics’, in The Post-Modern Reader, ed. Charles Jencks (London: Academy Editions, 1992), 76. And in 1996, Diane Ghirardo, like Klotz before her, emphasised the multiplicity of the term: ‘Postmodernism is a diverse, unstable concept that has denoted particular aesthetic approaches in literary criticism, art, film, theatre, and architecture, not to mention in fashion and armed battle. Diane Ghirardo, Architecture After Modernism (London: Thames & Hudson, 1996), 7.

  4. In the 2000s, Colin Brent Epp showed how the term was produced and tried to identify what it responded to and how it was used. What the author here calls ‘the fantasy of postmodernism’ is the fact that it ‘has so many meanings that the term itself is meaningless’. Colin Brent Epp, ‘The Education of Rosalind Krauss, Peter Eisenman, and Other Americans: Why the Fantasy of Postmodernism Still Remains’, PhD diss. (University of British Columbia, 2007), 11. More recently, Jane Pavitt and Glenn Adamson insisted on the still undefined boundaries of the term Post-Modernism: ‘Academics and journalists argued vociferously over its meaning. But what did this all add up to?’ Jane Pavitt and Glenn Adamson, Postmodernism: Style and Subversion, 1970–1990 (London: V&A, 2011), 13. For his part, Reinhold Martin proposes that Post-Modernism would have been nothing but a ‘detour in modernity’s path’ for which architecture would have acted ‘as an avatar’. Martin, Utopia’s Ghost, xii.

  5. Perry Anderson, The Origins of Postmodernity (New York: Verso, 1998), 3.

  6. Andreas Huyssen, ‘Mapping the Postmodern’, in ‘Modernity and Postmodernity’, New German Critique, 33 (Autumn 1984), 10.

  7. Margaret A. Rose, The Post-Modern and the Post-Industrial: A Critical Analysis (Cambridge, et al.: Cambridge University Press, 1991), xi.

  8. For example, Margaret A. Rose explains that the term ‘post-modern’ has been used ‘on the basis of several different understandings of both the concept of the modern and the meaning of the prefix post.’ She continues: ‘Not only has the term “post-modern” been used with reference to a variety of different concepts of the modern epoch (the dating of which has been stretched to cover periods from the Renaissance to the contemporary times, despite the fact that the word “modern” is derived from one for “now” or “today”), but it has also been used on the basis of a variety of understandings of the meaning of modernism in the arts or architecture, modernisation (the economic and technological developments of the last century of industrialist and capital-based expansion which have been seen to be characteristic of “modern” societies) and modernity, which has been defined as the sum total of “modernism”, the “modern” and “modernisation”.’ Ibid., 1.

  9. Ibid., 3.

  10. The 1980 Venice Architecture Biennale exhibition catalogue actually exists in five different versions. In 1980, it was published in English and Italian by Electa – Edizioni La Biennale di Venezia, yet with two very different covers. The blue-and-white cover of the English version, entitled The Presence of the Past: First International Exhibition of Architecture, shows a section of Palladio’s Teatro Olimpico. The (hard) cover of the Italian version, entitled La presenza del passato: Prima mostra internazionale di architettura, features a drawing of a view of the Grand Canal with a gondola in the foreground and, in the background, facades of what appear to be hybrids of Venetian palaces and North American skyscrapers (or Venetian palaces turned into skyscrapers). Another version of the catalogue was published in English in 1980 by Rizzoli International. It had a different title, Architecture 1980: The Presence of the Past/Venice Biennale, and the beige cover features a drawing of the interior of Hans Hollein’s 1976–8 project for an Austrian travel agency. In 1981, Academy Editions, in London,  published another version of the Rizzoli catalogue (with the same cover). Finally, a French version of the catalogue (translated by Laura Revelli Beaumont and Julia Ceccaldi) was published by Equerre, when the exhibition was presented at the Chapelle de la Salpêtrière in Paris in the autumn of 1981.. If the contents of the English and Italian versions of the catalogue were pure translation, in the case of the French version the contents were slightly modified to match the Salpêtrière exhibition and it also included an essay on the history of the Salpêtrière and a text by Heinrich Klotz.

  11. Portoghesi’s Dopo l’architettura moderna (1980), in which he analyses the architectural culture of his time, was published in Italian just a few months before the biennale [OK?] catalogue and, between 1981 and 82, was published in five languages: After Modern Architecture (New York: Rizzoli international, 1981); Au-delà de l’architecture moderne (Paris: Equerre, 1981, published concurrently and by the same editor as the French version of the exhibition catalogue); Depois da arquitetura moderna (Lisbon: Edições 70, 1982); Después de la arquitectura moderna (Barcelona: Gustavo Gili, 1981) and Ausklang du Modernen Architektur (Zurich: Verlag für Architektur Artemis, 1982).

  12. Charles Jencks ,‘AD Profile 39: Free-Style Classicism’, ed. Charles Jencks, Architectural Design, 52/1–2 (1982); Controspazio, 12 1/6 (1980); and Archetype: A Magazine of Architecture and Other Arts, 1 (Spring 1982).

  13. Paolo Portoghesi, ‘The End of Prohibitionism’ in The Presence of the Past: First International Exhibition of Architecture (Milan: Electa/Venice: Edizioni la Biennale di Venezial, 1980), 9.

  14. Portoghesi, ‘End of Prohibitionism’, p. 9.

  15. Ibid.

  16. ‘Il catalogo, che dovrebbe divenire un manuale sulla storia dell’architettura contemporanea, tentando di rappresentare non specifici movimenti postmodernisti, ma differenti posizioni dell’architettura dopo il movimento moderno, anche per non coprire un campo troppo specifico, e limitare quindi la partecipazione.’ ('The catalogue, which should become a manual on the history of contemporary architecture, attempts to represent not specific postmodernist movements, but different positions of architecture after the modern movement, also so as not to cover too specific a field, and therefore limit participation.') Notes from the second meeting of the advisory commission for the architectural sector, 23–24 November 1979. ASAC-FS, envelope 630 (provisional).

  17. Paolo Portoghesi, ‘The End of Prohibitionism’, 9.

  18. Ibid.

  19. Paolo Portoghesi quoted in Eva Branscome and Léa-Catherine Szacka, ‘Architectural Postmodernism and Its Midwives: In Conversation with Charles Jencks and Paolo Portoghesi’, Arch +, 216 (issue ‘The Klotz Tapes: The Making of Postmodernism’, eds. Oliver Elser, Nikolaus Kuhnert and Anh-Linh Ngo, 2014), 25.

  20. Ibid.

  21. Paolo Portoghesi, interview with the author (Calcata, Italy, 22 December 2010). This interview was conducted in Italian.

  22. Paolo Portoghesi, ‘The End of Prohibitionism’, 11.

  23. Ibid., 9.

  24. Paolo Portoghesi, interview with the author (Calcata, Italy, 27 March 2008). This interview was conducted in Italian.

  25. Vincent Scully, ‘How Things Got to Be the Way They Are Now’ in The Presence of the Past: First International Exhibition of Architecture (Milan: Electa/Venice: Edizioni la Biennale di Venezial, 1980), 17.

  26. Christian Norberg-Schulz, ‘Towards an Authentic Architecture’ (1980)  29.

  27. Ibid.

  28. Jorge Otero-Pailos, Architecture’s Historical Turn: Phenomenology and the Rise of Postmodernism (Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press, 2010), xi.

  29. Ibid.

  30. Ibid., 27.

  31. Charles Jencks, ‘Towards Radical Eclecticism’ (1980), in The Presence of the Past: First International Exhibition of Architecture (Milan: Electa/Venice: Edizioni la Biennale di Venezial, 1980), 30.

  32. The Anglo-American critic’s definition of Post-Modernism had the particularity of being inspired by literary techniques and semiotics. In his view – a very American vision of the subject – Post-Modernism was not merely a reaction against modern architecture but a ‘double-coding’, that is to say at once traditional and Modernist, hybrid, symbolic (using language and metaphors) and related to the urban fabric. Jencks had made clear in his book that Post-Modernism was about the return to language and communication. And as further emphasis he put Minoru Takeyama’s Ni-Ban-Kahn building (Tokyo, 1970) on the cover to show the typical pop mixed codes of Post-Modernism.

  33. Charles Jencks, ‘Towards Radical Eclecticism’,  37.

  34. Ibid. p. 31.

  35. Paolo Portoghesi, ‘The End of Prohibitionism’, 12.

  36. Scully (1980), 15.

  37. Ibid., 18.

  38. Norberg-Schulz (1980), 24–5.

  39. Huyssen (1984), 8.

  40. Although Portoghesi’s texts on Borromini were translated into English as early as 1968, before 1980 his fame as an architect, critic and curator had remained more or less confined to Italy. It thus may be argued that for Portoghesi the biennale was a launching platform for an international career: a way to extend his influence and reach a broad, international audience.

  41. Portoghesi, interview (27 March 2008).

  42. Charles Jencks, interview with the author and Eva Branscome (London, 19 February 2009).

  43. For more insight on the theoretical debate around architecture in the 1970s, see Ghirardo, (1996); and Louis Martin, ‘The Search for a Theory in Architecture: Anglo-American Debates, 1957–1976’, PhD diss. (Princeton University, 2002).

  44. See Silvia Micheli and Léa-Catherine Szacka, Paolo Portoghesi: Architecture Between History, Politics and Media (London: Bloomsbury, 2023).

  45. Helen Thomas (ed.), Architecture in Islamic Countries: Selections from the Catalogue for the Second International Exhibition of Architecture Venice 1982/83 (Zurich: gta Verlag, 2022), p. 11.

Léa-Catherine Szacka
1980 in Parallax: When Post-Modernisms Met in Venice
1980 in Parallax, Venice Architectural Biennale 1980