Analysis: Architecture – In The Age of Globalization, by Hans Ibelings

Nicholas Socrates 2008

Analysis: Architecture – In The Age of Globalization, by Hans Ibelings


Hans Ibelings is a Dutch art historian and independent architecture critic, exhibition maker and writer of numerous works including:

Supermodernism: Architecture in the Age of Globalization (1998 / 2003)

Twentieth Century Architecture in the Netherlands

Amercians: Dutch architecture in the Netherlands

Twentieth Century Urban Planning in the Netherlands

The Artificial Landscape: Contemporary Architecture, Urban Design and Landscape Architecture in the Netherlands

Un-modern Architecture: Contemporary Traditionalism in the Netherlands.

He was a professor at the Polytechnic school of Eindhoven (2003 – 2004), and a member of the scientific committee of the ‘Ciudaded, Esquinas’ exhibition in Barcelona.

Hans Ibelings , is also the editor of the international architecture magazine ‘A10 New European Architecture (since 2004).


Postmodernism literally means ‘after the modernist movement’.

The movement of modernism and the following reaction of postmodernism are defined by a set of perspectives. It is used in critical theory to refer to a point of departure for works of literature, drama, architecture, cinema and design, as well as in marketing and business and the interpretation of history, law and culture in the late 20th century.

Postmodernism is an aesthetic, literary, political or social philosophy, which was the basis of the attempt to describe a condition, or a state of being, or something concerned with changes to institutions and conditions.

The major influence in this architectural theory was the difference between the degree of the construction: its theory in relation to its practice – it is easy to agree with the theory of postmodernism (its idea), but when its actual building is built, some people critize it for being un-human, with no charcter…techno-cratic.

Postmodernism in Architecture is any of various movements in reaction to modernism that are typically characterized by a return to traditional materials and forms, which is marked by the re-emergence of surface ornament, reference to surrounding buildings in urban architecture, historical reference in decorative forms, and non-orthogonal angles. It may be a response to the modernist architectural movement known as the International Style


Modernism, in its broadest definition, is modern thought, character, or practice. More specifically, the term describes both a set of cultural tendencies and an array of associated cultural movements, originally arising from wide-scale and far-reaching changes to Western society in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. The term encompasses the activities and output of those who felt the “traditional” forms of art, architecture, literature, religious faith, social organization and daily life were becoming outdated in the new economic, social and political conditions of an emerging fully industrialized world.

often led to experiments with form, and work that draws attention to the processes and materials used (and to the further tendency of abstraction).

To, “Make it new!”. However, the break from the past was not a clean break.

Modernism: It is in its broadest cultural sense the assessment of the past as different to the modern age, the recognition that the world was becoming more complex, and that the old “final authorities” (God, government, science, and reason) were subject to intense critical scrutiny.

Modernity affirms the power of human beings to create, improve, and reshape their environment, with the aid of practical experimentation, scientific knowledge and/ or technology.

This movement encompassed the notion that architectural solutions can be international, such as: ‘The Matching House’ idea – that each space in each house has a special function which optimize its space. The critezen was strong. Some parts of this idea are very important, like the significance of the international architect, but in general this idea was very distant to the people, this is globalization too: one international architecture.

In my opinion this is not nesseccary, and it is more important to have particular archictectures  for each country, relating to their context: their history, culture, economy and enviroment.

Modernism encouraged the re-examination of every aspect of existence, from commerce to philosophy, with the goal of finding that which was ‘holding back’ progress, and replacing it with new ways of reaching the same end.

These diverse aesthetic expressions are also a reflection of individual architects and industrial designers’ personal expression, based on designers’ tendency to experiment with form, materials, and ornament to create new aesthetic styles and aesthetic vocabulary

Three different principles are identified: the expression of volume rather than mass, balance rather than preconceived symmetry and the expulsion of the applied ornament.

By the 1920s the most important figures in modernist architecture had established their reputations. The big three names are commonly recognized as Le Corbusier in France, and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Walter Gropius in Germany. The common characteristics of this Modernism/ International style include: a radical simplification of form, a rejection of ornament, and adoption of glass, steel and concrete as preferred materials. Further, the transparency of buildings, construction (called the honest expression of structure), and acceptance of industrialized mass-production techniques contributed to the international style’s design philosophy. Finally, the machine aesthetic, and logical design decisions leading to support building function were used by the International architect to create buildings reaching beyond historicism.


The philosopher, Jacques Derrida is the father of the idea known as ‘deconstructivism’.

This thought was applied to architecture, and in 1988 MoMA (the Museum of Modern Art in New York held the Deconstructivist Architecture exhibition, organized by Philip Johnson and Mark Wigley) promoting this new movement as very important and significant, which propelled this school of architecture into the mainstream contemporary design circuit.

Deconstructivism in architecture, also called deconstruction, is a development of postmodern architecture that began in the late 1980s. It is characterized by ideas of fragmentation, an interest in manipulating ideas of a structure’s surface or skin, non-rectilinear shapes which serve to distort and dislocate some of the elements of architecture, such as structure and envelope. The finished visual appearance of buildings that exhibit the many deconstructivist “styles” is characterised by a stimulating unpredictability and a controlled chaos.


Today globalization plays an important role in public opinion.

It is precisely because so many phenomena are associated with globalization that its capacity to explain specific conditions is so limited and tricky to English.

After postmodernism and its deconstructivist off-shoot , a new architecture now seems to be emerging, an architecture for which such postmodernist notions as place, context, and identity have largely lost their meaning.

A new trend towards abstract, neutral architecture, which in various respects can be seen as the last word of modern architecture of the postwar International Style.

My personal opinion is that when philosophical movements and schools of thought are applied to architectural design it is fundamentally absurd and ridiculous. Architecture should be architecture: no explanations about poetry and philosophy needed – architecture is architecture.

Its relationship with the people, the environment and the economy are the practical issues which are important, and should take precedence.


Today we lived fascinated by the image of the great city;

its technological glorification.

Fascination of architecture, is a modern passion.

In the modern world local & global tensions infuse all places.

Globalization is taking place in virtually every field – exerting all kinds of direct and indirect influences on contemporary thinking.

Globalisation is very complex;

Not just the expansion of Western capital and its simultaneous spread of products, culture and style, but Free trade, instant communication & pre-9/11 open travel;

The growth of cross-cultural contacts; stores of new categories of consciousness and identities embodying cultural diffusions.

Seeking to increase one’s standard of living and enjoy foreign products and ideas, adopting new technology and practices, participating in a “world culture”.

The cosmopolitan, with an enthusiasm for urban expansion,

seeks spectacles of experience that lure an on the move elite (and the labour to serve them) from one world-city to the next.

Globalization in its literal sense is the process of making, transformation of some things or phenomena into global ones.

As a process by which the people of the world are unified into a single society and function together. This process is a combination of economic, technological, socio-cultural and political forces.

Globalization is often used to refer to economic globalization, that is, integration of national economies into the international economy through trade, foreign direct investment, capital flows, migration, and the spread of technology.

Thomas L. Friedman “examines the impact of the ‘flattening’ of the globe”, and argues that globalized trade, outsourcing, supply-chaining, and political forces have changed the world permanently, for both better and worse. He also argues that the pace of globalization is quickening and will continue to have a growing impact on business organization and practice.

Herman E. Daly argues that sometimes the terms internationalization and globalization are used interchangeably but there is a slight formal difference. The term “internationalization” refers to the importance of international trade, relations, treaties etc. International means between or among nations. “Globalization” means the removal of national boundaries for economic purposes; international trade becomes inter-regional trade.

Supermodernism is post-postmodernism, a high tech-inspired aesthetic movement that reacts against the heavy-handed, ’80s-era promotion and deconstruction.

Auge, in 1995, portrays the increasingly fleeting and fragmented nature of ‘supermodernity’ as a disappearance of place, suggesting that non-places are the real measure of our time.

These include spaces of transit and temporal occupation as well as the informational spaces of telepresence; increased mobility and telecommunications and the rise of new media being ascribed to globalisation, are altering our experience of time and space.

the virtual space through telephone, television and computer have transformed the experience of place. The layerings of virtual and ‘real’ are not seamless.

International interrelatedness and the emergence of cyberspace have changed our perception of cities. With increasing mobility space is being reduced to a transit zone, in-between spaces.

Auge’s non-places are identified as the placelessness of the modern urban landscape.

The experience of the meaningless of the built environment is mainly related to the difference between place and space

While such sites and their placeless experiences proliferate, they surely cannot be defined as outside social relations, history or identity.

Augé’s remarkable observation was that, in the contemporary world, place is giving way to “non-place.”

Places are made up out of social interactions between people, accumulating in memory to form historical meaning.

Contemporary life, however, is a relentless procession through spaces of transit. Airport lounges and freeways, high speed trains are non-places, but so are less obvious spaces: street corner ATMs, the tube, computer workstations, and supermarkets in these spaces the global meets the local in travel and transit.

In these spaces shared experiences between humans rarely develop.

Non-places, Augé concluded, remain empty, meaningless environments that we pass through during our solitary lives.

Airports, themed amusement parks, planned communities and shopping centres are utterly cut off from their surroundings.

Hans Ibelings accepts the spatial foreclosure of these new developments. He simply wishes they were better, and by better, he means less preoccupied with representation and symbolism.

The non-attachment phenomenon is regarded as one of three forms of abundance characterising the supermodern condition;

abundance of space, of signs, and of individualisation.

The latter affects the use of public and semi-public space.

Therefore non places are those places to which nobody feels any special attachment, and which are particularly common in the sphere of mobility and consumption.

Public spaces have changed from a meeting place into a highly regulated domain with surveillance, rather than social control mechanisms, but by a third party.

For Ibelings, this is simply a fact of globalization.

“The ideal of boundless and undefined space is predominating an age of information and technology, a kind of supermodernity” – (Ibelings 1998).

These non-places, are typical expression of ‘In the age of globalisation’, and with the collapse of time and space, everything can happen anywhere and everywhere, thus undermining the postmodern dogma that architecture must have a unique, authentic relationship with its context, of identity and meaning.

Hans Ibelings has cited an example for the future of the city in the Western World; as an endlessly urbanised area with no coherent form, no hierarchical structure, no centre and no unity;

Hans Ibelings, writes that modern architecture has lost all contact with context; ‘an architecture in which superficiality and neutrality have acquired a special significance’.

Metropolis cities, such as Tokyo, Singapore, Hong Kong, Shanghai & Generic city, have architecture characterised by an absence of distinguishing marks, by neutrality, particularly in relation to its context.

“Here we are in Robert Venturi’s [post]modern city, not just Las Vegas but any [post]modern city, a media-scape of office buildings and stores transformed by their corporate identities into the new language of consciousness: the sign moulded in glass and light, splashed over with the insignia or characters of logos . . . Buildings are no longer mass and weight, stone and iron, but an array of sentences spelling out the consciousness of a city, what a city means when we enter it and use its services, consume its goods. The city’s language of buildings and streets of glass and light, is a declaration of ideals . . . which the city achieves by transforming things into words, objects into signs, the dark of nature into neon abstraction and codes. . . the media-scape devours the literal materiality around it.” (Christensen 1993, p.9-10)

Supermodernism adopts the philosophy of computer product design. Structures appear portable and therefore disconnected from their surroundings. As with computers, all the detail is on the inside, while exteriors are neutral and unassuming.

‘Today’s minimalism, incidentally, is purer than ever before, thanks to improvements in technology and materials.’ Hans Ibelings

Globalized commercial architecture has developed a symbiotic relationship with a new breed of global star architects.

As cities, more than nations, now compete to attract global investment and global tourism, they seek brand differentiation and symbolic modernity.

The commissioning of public buildings by star architects is now an established marketing technique.

The buildings must be extra-ordinary and designed by one of a small band of international global architects.

A new architecture is emerging; large-scale and stylistic forms of building; monumental-conceptual architecture – signature buildings, many of them gestural, on a vast architectural scale.

This rise of a “Supermodernist” architecture is epitomized by the work of star architects such as;

Frank Gehry, Daniel Libeskind, Jean Nouvel, Rem Koolhaas, Norman Foster, Santiago Calatrava and Renzo Piano.

These architects deployed sensation through a play of surface and materials to sway the viewer.

There is a personalized autobiographical dimension in the work of star architects, reinforced by the media.

Ibelings even compares architects to rock stars:

The personal status of these architects is now so great and the demand for their presence is so high – from students, the lecture circuit and competitions as well as the cities themselves.

Their work is strongly conceptual and cannot rely on any detailed study of fine grain or culture of the locality.

Star architects are continually ‘on tour’: for competitions, juries, teaching posts, master-classes, interviews, conferences and lectures and the odd construction meeting.

Just like pop stars, these star architects have all developed a clear media strategy.

They have become increasingly preoccupied with merchandising.

The competitive marketing of these buildings by cities has set up an upward demand spiral.

Out of the work of the star architects, design types and styles emerge and become identified with successful cities, even before they are built.

As star architects are, by definition, limited in number, demand for symbolic and extraordinary buildings far outstrips the capacity of the star group to provide their own designs.

The conceptual nature of these star products allows global commercial firms (often, the executive architects for the star architects) to clone the trademark design characteristics of the star product.

The reproduction of the spiral or twisted forms, globular glass, planar intersection and so on, is facilitated by the use of the same sophisticated computer graphics employed by the offices of the star architects to develop and present their concepts.

This trickle-down effect and the high status of star architects within the architectural profession has influenced architecture more generally than the global origins of the star product.

This new architecture has been coined ‘Supermodern’ by the Dutch critic Hans Ibelings;

‘For this architecture the surroundings constitute neither legitimation nor inspiration for these are derived from what goes on inside the building, from the programme. This autonomy is in many cases reinforced by the fact that the building has an inscrutable exterior that betrays nothing of what happens inside … In many instances these buildings look as if they might house just about anything: an office or a school, a bank or a research centre, a hotel or apartments, a shopping mall or an airport terminal.

Architecture and its rated star system have ascended, over the more traditional visual arts, as hallmarks of global capitalism.

Architecture and design have attained a privileged status in contemporary culture.

Supermodernism was, Ibelings insisted, expressionless and neutral, generally taking orthogonal form (the Box), but quite possibly also resembling sculptural objects (the Blob).

‘Organic’ architecture represents the dislocation of ‘nature’ into a hyper-real transcendence of pure technology.

‘Nature’ now becomes ‘contemporary’.

The nature and organic design value is based on the idea that nature (all sorts of living organisms, numerical laws, sacred geometry, etc) can provide inspiration, functional clues and aesthetic forms that architects and industrial designers should use as a basis for designs.

‘Bilbaoism’, in its pursuit of the artificial representation of the ‘organic’ as something that is identifiable – and desirable –

as pure surface representation.

It is the architectural equivalent to Genetic Modification.

The city of Bilbao has Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim, the definitive iconic building. This building has restored the fabric of Bilbaos historic centre.

‘Bilbaoism’ give forces to (the contemporary) world of replicated versions of techno-organics;

Nature gets remade by technology into the representation of the essentialist forms of ‘nature’

Organic designs tend to be characterised by free-flowing curves, asymmetrical lines and expressive forms.

The high technological development in glass and steel and other material over the last ten years is an important factor for this surge of modern architecture.

Integrating the latest construction technology in architecture has become an accepted trend, underlying a truly modernist belief in progress and reason.

These latest technological developments make it possible to

design and build buildings which the modernists had

envisioned and dreamed about in the early phase of

modernism, but did not have the technology to actually

build buildings which could be so sleek and almost translucent.

Mies van der Rohe’s vision of glass tower high rise buildings, conceived in the early part of the century, for the Friedrichstrasse in Berlin, which could only be realized 70 years later.  Also buildings as the ‘Bibliotheque Nationale’ in Paris by Dominique Perrault, the ‘Fondation Cartier’ by Jean Nouvel or the Louvre pyramid by the Amercian architect Pei – are a few examples.

Only at this point in history modernism in its pure form and

dissolution of materiality can be fully realized.

Hans Ibelings labels these contemporary works of minimal form, minimal material, and minimal character as “Supermodern.”

He describes their disabling abstractions and transparencies in profound & critical terms:

“Today’s [architectural] minimalism, incidentally, is purer than ever before, thanks to improvements in technology and materials. This purity is found both in the extraordinary aesthetic architecture of the likes of Tadao Ando, Wiel Arets, and John Pawson, and in the ‘almost nothing’ of today’s average glass box, the shape of which is also more abstract than ever before […] This simplicity is not primarily a reaction to the aesthetic of visual excess, although that aspect certainly plays a role. In essence, the new abstraction is an expression of a fundamentally different attitude to architecture, which it sees less and less as significant and filled with symbolic meaning, and more and more as a neutral object.”

Minimalism is the design of simple forms, in aesthetics without considerable ornaments, simple geometry, smooth surfaces etc.

Apparently the more cultivated a person becomes, the more decoration disappears.

Simple forms will free people from the everyday clutter, thus contributing to tranquillity and restfulness.

The banishing of unnecessary ornament was articulated as a sign of hope, freedom and authenticity.

Local distinctiveness is often not a desirable characteristic.

The intention is that the building should be an iconic global product.

John Chase states in contemporary architecture: ‘Icy images of monuments, strictly by architects of global stature, float in a sea of seductively neat observations celebrating the promise of a homogeneous worldview.’

Postmodernist buildings—and some design products— are designed in accordance with the particular characteristics of a specific place, achieving visual harmony between a building and its surroundings, as well as achieving continuity in a given area.

Striving to create a connection between past and present forms.

Postmodern practitioners always tried to find some way of expressing the building’s purpose, either by following the conventions of building typology or by adding symbolic pointers;

Preserving and creating regional and national identity

Supermodernism would argue that even if this intention is present it will not necessarily be apparent to the users.

Hans Ibelings, focuses on ‘the undefined, the implicit, qualities that…find powerful expression in a new spatial sensibility.”

All design involves preconceptions about the nature of the community in a broader sense, whether they are conscious or not.

Experiential richness cannot be created by accident, or without a basic understanding of the sensibilities of those who will be using the space.

The development of the aesthetic reality, which characterises contemporary architecture and industrial design, by means of

individual self-expression or one’s inner spiritual self and creative imagination, inner resources and intuition are utilized  as the base used when designing.

This philosophy is closely linked to a number of artistic values found in movements like Expressionism and the Avant-garde art movement. This design value is closely related to abstract forms and expression, personal creative liberty, elitism and being ahead of the rest of society.

Expressionistic form, which can be found, to some extent in the “air” of a given time and each generation, should generate an aesthetic style that expresses the uniqueness related to that time.

Every age has a certain spirit or set of shared attitudes that should be utilised when designing. The Spirit of the Times denotes the intellectual and cultural climate of a particular era, which can be linked to an experience of a certain worldview, sense of taste, collective consciousness and other-than-conscious greater awareness.

The 20th century has been marked by the re-emergence of environmental values within Western societies.

Environmental problems and challenges found in the 19th and 20th centuries led to a development where environmental values became important in some sections of Western societies. These values can also be found among individual architects and industrial designers.

Environmental technology, along with new environmental values have affected development in cities across the world. Many cities have started to formulate and introduce; eco-regulations concerning renewable resources, energy consumption, sick buildings, smart buildings, recycled materials, and sustainability.

50% of all energy consumption in Europe and 60% in the US is building-related.

The future of architectural will be tested in this latest and most urgent global crisis; the survival of the ecology of the planet, such that it will continue to support our global civilisation.

This is the supreme challenge for globalization: the cause, the effect and the resolution are and will be global and local.

It will affect all aspects of social, political and economic life and it will have a profound impact on architecture.


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