Chapter 04: Deconstructivism


This is an architecture of disruption, dislocation, deflection, deviation and distortion, rather than of demolition, dismantling, decay, decomposition, or disintegration. It displays the structure instead of destroying it.

Mark Wigley

Mark Wigley, Deconstructivist Architecture, in Andreas Papadakis (ed), Deconstruction; Omnibus Volume, op. cit., p.133

…one of the exhibition’s assumptions, according to Mark Wigley’s catalogue text, was that certain formal characteristics passed as Deconstructivist, while others did not. For example, fragmented and dematerialized elements in buildings were not legitimate…whereas rotated axes, disrupted grids, slanted walls, and anything directly traceable back to Constructivism qualified.

…In its final shape, the show became what Philip Johnson so aptly described in the press as ‘an exhibition of architects whose work uses forms that look like Constructivist drawings’.

James Wines

James Wines, The Slippery Floor, op. cit., p.137

Coop Himmelblau, Falkestraße Roof Conversion

Zaha Hadid, Monsoon Restaurant

Whereas Deconstruction in architecture relates to the linguistic deconstructions of Derrida, Mark Wigley views the same architecture as being a throwback to the work of the Russian Constructivists of the 1920’s, hence Deconstructivism.

An impurity, or deviation, from the structural order is regarded as opposing or rather, threatening, the former values of harmony, unity and stability. This deviation is therefore insulated, isolated, from the structure, and can thus be regarded as ornament. The qualities of harmony, unity and stability arise from the geometry of purity, and formal composition. The combining of such pure geometrical forms follow compositional rules which do not allow one form to conflict with another. The overall harmony is maintained. But with Deconstructivism, form is no longer pure. It has become contaminated by some sort of ‘alien’.

The alien is an outgrowth of the very form that it violates; the form distorts yet does not destroy itself.

Mark Wigley, Deconstructivist Architecture, op.cit., p.133

Deconstruction is not the taking apart of constructions. The nature of the word suggests a reversal of construction. Thus architecture which appears to take apart a structure, by simply breaking an object, has been called Deconstructive. Deconstruction is not demolition, or dissimulation, which suggests a total breakdown. The flaws, or ‘contamination’, do not lead to the collapse of the structure. Deconstruction, according to Wigley, is a challenging of the values of harmony, unity and stability. It proposes a new view of structure; that the flaws are intrinsic to the structure, and thus cannot be removed. The flaws are structural. A Deconstructive architect is therefore ‘not one who dismantles buildings, but one who locates the inherent dilemmas within buildings – the structural flaws.’ ibid.

Geoffrey Broadbent makes the suggestion that Wigley is ‘equating architectural form with structure, and that as far as ‘deconstruction’ is concerned, it seems useful to separate the two.’ Geoffrey Broadbent, Deconstruction in Action, in Jorge Glusberg (ed), Deconstruction; A Student Guide, op. cit., p.80

Wigley has the view that all architects aspire to simple, geometric forms. However, these forms may be constructed very simply, without a distortion of the structure, with no contamination by Wigley’s alien.

Broadbent continues to expound upon which buildings are Deconstructivist, using the defining rules of Wigley. He names the ‘standards’, Tschumi, Eisenman, Hadid, Gehry and Coop Himmelblau, as one would expect. But then he takes Wigley to the extreme, by including Rogers, Foster, Grimshaw, Hertzberger, amongst others.

What can one conclude from all this? Surely that Deconstruction is nothing more than superficiality; that it seems almost any building by any architect can be included under Wigley’s rules, as long as it displays something as simple as a slightly tainted form, rather than a form wholly contaminated, as Wigley would suggest.

Does this ‘contamination’ uphold the values of the Russian Constructivists, as Wigley would have us believe? Wigley believes Deconstruction to be a contamination of form. Russian Constructivism is based on the three elements of space, time and distance. Constructivism was a premonition of the changes that were to occur in the fields of information and communication.

‘The new physics [of Quantum Theory] necessitated profound changes in concepts of space, time, matter, object, and cause and effect.’

Catherine Cooke, Russian Precursors, in Andreas Papadakis (ed), Deconstruction; Omnibus Volume, op. cit., p.13

Both distance and space became a function of time. Rapid growth in the means of communication and mechanical transport meant an increase of disurbanization. Also, the unit of habitation, the dwelling, became increasingly shaped by the nature and forms of communal production and transport.

‘Disurbanization is the process of centrifugal force and repulsion. It is based on just such a centrifugal tendency in technology…which reverses all the former assumptions. Proximity is henceforth a function of distance, and community a function of separateness.’

Catherine Cooke, op. cit., p.17

The Constructivists sought answers, in response to these changing conceptions of the city, resulting in ideals not dissimilar to the Global Village of Marshall McLuhan. see Marshall McLuhan, War and Peace in the Global Village, 1968. Here was already an understanding of the essence of the Second Machine Age as a spatial system.

Suprematism, on the other hand, possessed a vocabulary of purely spatial concepts, producing a space of ‘collisions and events rather than of objects with precise measure.’ Catherine Cooke, op. cit., p.18 A synthesis of the two aesthetic languages of Constructivism and Suprematism was displayed by the work of Leonidov, El Lissitsky and Chernikhov.

Catherine Cooke defines Deconstructionist architecture as:

“the cognitive and experiential conflict between ‘building’ as a physical entity, and ‘time’ as a demolisher of entity, ‘memory’ being a part of the broad category of time.”


This definition has parallels with the synthesized Constructivism / Suprematism, where the elements of space, distance and time met space, perception, meaning and time.

Wigley sees precedents for the work of his Deconstructivists in the sketches and drawings of the Russian Constructivists. Such sketches Wigley suggests ‘posed a threat to tradition’, in that the Constructivists took pure geometric forms and used them to produce ‘impure’, distorted, tortured and clashing compositions. Wigley also includes work by such Suprematists as Malevich, by whom Zaha Hadid has been influenced, so his precedents are very much a hybrid of Constructivism and Suprematism. However, this strain of Suprematism goes unmentioned by Wigley’s term ‘Deconstructivist’. The consequence of this is that the convenience of Wigley’s term, in suggesting both Constructivism and (physical) deconstruction, is misguided.

Wigley also distrusts the application of Derrida’s form of Deconstruction to architecture, which seems to him no more than:

…provocative architectural design which appears to take structure apart – whether it be the simple breaking of an object or (its) complex dissimulation into a collage of traces.

Philip Johnson and Mark Wigley, Deconstructivist Architecture, exhib. cat., The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1988, p.11

Paradoxically, Wigley had previously (1987) argued that models for such architectural distortions were to be found in the work of Derrida, who:

deconstructs aesthetics by demonstrating that the constructional possibility of form is precisely its violation by a subversive alien, foreign body that already inhabits the interior and cannot be expelled without destroying its host.

quoted in Geoffrey Broadbent, The Architecture of Deconstruction, in Jorge Glusberg (ed), Deconstruction; A Student Guide, op. cit., p.23


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