Preserving the past or past preserving: sustaining the legacy of postmodern museum architecture

Paul J. Armstrong, Paul H. Kapp

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The publication of Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture in 1964 signaled the end of Modernism. The reality was that the modern movement had already jettisoned its ideological underpinnings and had become merely another ‘style.’ The avant garde architects in Europe and in North America were ready to move on and saw Postmodernism as a liberating antidote to the strictures of high Modernism. Historic architectural styles, which had been vilified as antiquated and out of step with modern culture, were revived, reinterpreted, and manipulated. However, Postmodernism, which had burned brightly during the 1970s and 1980s, was superseded by other architectural movements, namely, Deconstructivism, Pluralism, during the waning years of the 12th century. Even though new building forms and design theory changed during Postmodernism, building technology remained the same. Exterior walls continued to be built as skins, comprised of either glass, masonry, metal, or synthetic cladding, which were hung of steel or concrete framing. Rubberised membranes covered essentially flat roofs. Moisture infiltration was managed in ever complex composite wall assemblies. More important, environmental systems decoupled nature from interiors and were designed to manage ever demanding humidity control requirements. Through the development of new building technology, Modernism severed design style from traditional construction. In re-introducing historical forms back into architecture, Postmodernism complicated constructability. Moreover, Postmodernism and its successors rarely developed new technological ideas by introducing more intricate building forms, which were based on theoretical ideas rather than technical ones, while continuing to employ Modernism building technology into their buildings. This inherent paradox is the most consequential challenge in preserving Postmodernism. Today, approximately 40 years after its inception, we must consider if, in some cases. is it tenable to preserve Postmodern buildings? This paper reassesses three museums of the Postmodern era through the twin lenses of historic preservation and their legacy as cultural artifacts. It analyses how three iconic Postmodern museums, the Wexner Centre for the Arts in the USA, the Neue Staatsgalerie in Germany, and the Hedmark Museum in Norway, became cultural artifacts and how each of them present technical challenges for their future preservation. These museums represent late 20th century theoretical ideas, which were more a melding of pluralistic influences than design ideology, and the utilisation of Modernist technology. All of which present unique conditions for conservation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number12
JournalBuilt Heritage
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2022


  • Adaptation
  • Materials
  • Memory
  • Modern movement
  • Moisture
  • Museums
  • Postmodernism
  • Preservation
  • Technology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History
  • Conservation


Dive into the research topics of 'Preserving the past or past preserving: sustaining the legacy of postmodern museum architecture'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this