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550 Madison Avenue in New York City, initially known as the AT&T Building, one of the nation’s first postmodern skyscrapers.
Max Touhey | www.metouhey.com

Postmodern and late modern architecture: The ultimate guide

Great architecture that’s often under-appreciated, misunderstood, and unprotected

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550 Madison Avenue in New York City, initially known as the AT&T Building, one of the nation’s first postmodern skyscrapers.
| Max Touhey | www.metouhey.com

Modern architecture doesn’t typically age well, and that’s not a knock against material or craftsmanship. It’s more about how it fits into, or quickly exits, the cultural conversation. Shifting trends can push projects out of the limelight, and in the case of important buildings of the late 20th century, out of the eye of the public and preservationists.

Postmodernism and Late Modernist architecture, two key movements in design theory and practice that have often been misunderstood, under-appreciated, and unprotected by landmarking and preservationists, currently exist in this type of purgatory.

Postmodernism pushed back against the staid, “less is more” vision of modernism with a wholesale embrace of classicism and color, creating a generation of buildings with exuberant facades embedded with cultural references. Emerging in the 1960s and ’70s from the philosophical explorations and critiques of thinkers such as Robert Venturi, Denise Scott Brown, and Stanley Tigerman—then practiced most famously by architects like Michael Graves, Philip Johnson, and Charles Moore between 1980 and 1995—this style was loaded with references and knowing winks to the past, remixing architectural history and motifs in a way that paralleled that era’s pop culture.

This awkward middle age—too young to landmark, not yet old enough to have a cherished re-appraisal—also applies to buildings loosely terms Late Modernist. Generally designed between 1968 and 1980 (although there are plenty of exceptions), these buildings, which emerged after Modernist architecture dominated between the end of WWII and the late ’60s, can be harder to pin down stylistically. Curbed critic Alexandra Lange finds that they often “exhibit beefy bold shapes, wrapped in singular materials, sticking their sharp corners in our faces.” They’re “more refined than Brutalism, less picturesque than postmodernism,” and now approaching architectural middle age.

And of course, postmodernism has many detractors, those who would argue that the exuberant, eccentric, and over-the-top designs of this era represent “more is less.” But the strong feelings these buildings evoke is all the more reason for increased understanding, appreciation, and protection. As preservation groups such as Docomomo have noted, many of these buildings face varying degrees of risk for redevelopment or even demolition.

Here’s a primer of postmodern and late modern architecture around the country, running from east to west, covering both meaningful works and masterpieces, as well as those presently at risk.

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1. 550 Madison Ave (The AT&T Building)

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550 Madison Ave
New York, NY 10022

Originally known as the AT&T Building, this 1984 tower may be the prototypical postmodern skyscraper. Philip Johnson and then-partner John Burgee designed the 37-story tower with two particularly memorable features: a seven-story arched entryway and the “Chippendale” ornamental pediment on the apex, that recalled classic design flourishes. Clad partially in granite, it was a shocking rebuke to the glass-and-steel stereotype that dominated city skylines. Now landmarked, the building is currently the focus of a Snøhetta-led redesign effort that has been criticized for robbing the lobby of its iconic character.

Courtesty Landmarks Preservation Commission

2. Lipstick Building

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Lipstick Building
New York, NY 10022

Ringed with red granite and tubular steel, this telescoping 1986 tower, again by Philip Johnson and John Burgee, offers a distinctly playful shade of postmodern style. The unique cylindrical shape and triple-tier form results, in part, from zoning regulations that require setbacks to increase light at street level. Originally designed to be a standout on Third Avenue, it still strikes a unique silhouette.

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3. Ford Foundation

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Ford Foundation Building, 320 E 43rd St
New York, NY 10017

This Late Modern landmark of Midtown Manhattan, designed by Kevin Roche John Dinkeloo Associates and landscaped by Dan Kiley, created the gold standard for corporate architecture way back in 1967. The Ford Foundation’s home, updated in 2018, beckons visitors with its 160-foot-tall atrium, encased by walls of glass, granite, and Cor-Ten steel.

Simon Luethi/Ford Foundation

4. United Nation’s Plaza Hotel Interior

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One United Nations Plaza
New York, NY 10017

A reminder of reflective, glitzy 1970s style, these interiors by Kevin Roche John Dinkeloo and Associates “use mirror, pattern, and lighting to trick the eye into seeing palatial space, daylight, and high ceilings where there are actually none,” according to Curbed critic Alexandra Lange. A demolition scare led advocates like Lange to make a case for the building’s historical importance, and the spaces were landmarked in 2017.

Photo courtesy KRJDA

5. Citicorp Center (now Citigroup Center)

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601 Lexington Avenue
New York, NY 10022

It may have a monumental base on stilts, an imposing facade, and a signature 45-degree angled top that stands out in one of the world’s busiest skylines. But the 1977 Citicorp Center, a somewhat menacing metallic addition to the canon of Late Modernism, will always be most famous for skirting disaster. As recounted in a famous episode of 99 Percent Invisible, architect Hugh Stubbins and structural engineer William LeMessurier devised a unique support system for this skyscraper in part to work around a church on site that couldn’t be moved or knocked down. However, inaccurate structural calculations used in the design phase—discovered after-the-fact by an undergrad architecture student—had to be fixed after the building was completed.

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6. Vanna Venturi House

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Vanna Venturi House, Millman St
Philadelphia, PA 19118

Architect Robert Venturi designed this home in 1964 for his mother, and it’s filled with contradictions, including a functionless arch. It’s one of the earliest instances of pure PoMo, and one of the rare residential projects to win the 25-Year Award from the American Institute of Architects. Curbed architecture critic Alexandra Lange, who visited the home in 2016 after it had been added to the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places, wrote that it “is itself a gentle manifesto, the gable a blow against the aesthetic tyranny of the modernist flat roof; the square windows a blow against the aesthetic tyranny of transparent walls.” Supposedly, Venturi used to visit the house on a weekly basis, stopping to admire it, then blow it a kiss as he drove away.

Photos courtesy of Kurfiss Sotheby’s International Realty

7. Franklin Court

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322 Market St
Philadelphia, PA 19106

Another subtle but significant design by Robert Venturi and his longtime work-life partner Denise Scott Brown. This addition to Independence National Historic Park has become a Philadelphia favorite. Atop the site where Benjamin Franklin once ran his printing shop, Venturi, Brown, and then-colleague John Rauch erected two “ghost houses,” representing the dimensions of the Franklin residence and office. The white tubular-steel outlines, award-winning examples of playful placemaking that allow visitors to reconstruct the buildings in their imaginations, have become icons and object lessons for architecture students.

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8. St. Coletta of Greater Washington

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1901 Independence Ave SE
Washington, DC 20003

A later-breaking addition to the postmodern canon is a colorful campus for special needs students, designed by Michael Graves and completed in 2006. Graves’s focus on universal design (he took a similar to approach to creating home goods) and simple yet profound visual cues come to the fore at St. Coletta, which uses whimsical shapes and bold, identifiable buildings as a type of wayfinding device. The two-story schoolhouses provide safe, inviting spaces for living and learning.

Washington Post/Getty Images

9. PPG Place

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1 PPG Pl
Pittsburgh, PA 15272

Postmodernism designs usually draw from the classical era. Not so with this glittering, neo-Gothic corporate office completed in 1981, another Johnson-Burgee collaboration. Clad in nearly one million square feet of glass, this complex also served as an advertisement for the commissioning client, Pittsburgh Plate Glass. The 5.5-acre site offers an objewct lesson in the artistic potential of architectural glass: By focusing on its malleability and the sculptural nature of the material, instead of its translucency, PPG Place is a wholly different beast than traditional glass-and-steel towers.

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10. Walt Disney World Dolphin Resort

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1500 Epcot Resorts Blvd
Lake Buena Vista, FL 32830

A true example of Disney “entertainment architecture,” Michael Graves’s design for the 2,265-room resort, crowned with dolphin and swan statues and decorated in coral and aqua swirls, isn’t subtle. Chockablock with fountains and slathered in pastels, the playful building offers resort-goers an over-the-top fantasy. Graves supposedly based the dolphins, in part, on the work of Gian Lorenzo Bernini, but had to reverse the frowns typically found on the work of the Italian sculptor to fit in with the image and message Disney wanted to portray to its guests.

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11. Atlantis Brickell

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2025 Brickell Ave
Miami, FL 33129

In addition to pastels and synth jams, this sleek, Arquitectonica’s reflective condo building in Miami’s Brickell neighborhood stands as a potent symbol of the city’s ’80s style—a reputation cemented when the building made an appearance in the opening credits for Miami Vice. The 20-story rectangle features a signature cutout in the center which reveals a 37-foot tall “palm court” that contains a jacuzzi and red spiral staircase. The firm’s approach was once described as “beach-blanket-Bauhaus,” and, true to form, this arresting addition to Miami’s skyline was first sketched on the back of a napkin in a Cuban restaurant.

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12. Team Disney Building

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1375 East Buena Vista Drive
Orlando, FL 32830

An expansive commercial project dating to 1990 from the 2019 Pritzker Prize winner, Japanese architect Arata Isozaki. Isozaki envisioned this massive structure as an ocean liner: a low-slung, landscape-defining vessel for Disney’s white collar workforce. Isozaki initially wanted it sited closer to the ocean, not a highway, but then-Disney chairman Michael Eisner placated him by building a lake around the huge complex. The highlight of the design, the vast yellow cylindrical courtyard that stretches 120 feet into the air and contains 88 steps labeled with inspiring quotes, is topped with a working sundial and resembles a wristwatch from above—fitting for a structure meant to explore the idea of timelessness.

13. Celebration, Florida

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851 Celebration Ave Celebration Ave
Celebration, FL 34747

Disney’s famous experiment in New Urbanism is both a utopian experiment in suburban development and a showcase for a number of postmodern designers. Robert A.M. Stern helped create the master plan for Celebration, a Pleasantville-like city built on Central Florida swampland that opened in 1997 with a focus on Southern character, residential diversity, and tree-lined streets. Two of the buildings stand out: a Michael Graves-designed post office (pictured), and Philip Johnson’s Town Hall, a riff on Classical architecture styles that fits an egregious number of columns on the cluttered porch.

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14. Hyatt Regency Atlanta

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265 Peachtree St NE
Atlanta, GA 30303

Opened in 1967, the revolutionary Hyatt Regency Atlanta blew apart previous notions of boxy, rectilinear hotel design. The open, 22-story atrium was something very different indeed, and is in fact still attributable to architect John Portman today: a blend of Italian piazza, Neo-Futurist monumentality, and soaring balconies lined with ivy. Guests in the ’60s lined up by the hundreds just to ride the glorious glass elevators—at $35,000 per cab, the custom systems were, at the time, the most expensive in the world.

Michael Portman, 1989, courtesy The Portman Archives, LLC

15. Humana Tower

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500 W Main St
Louisville, KY 40202

Named one of the best buildings of the decade by Time magazine, Michael Graves’s 26-story skyscraper was a revelation when it opened in 1985. Filled with contextual references to neighboring buildings, the tower’s most distinct feature may be its materials, a wealth of cut stone and marble that come together to create an energetic exterior from the street level to the building’s crown.

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16. Fire Station Number 4

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4730 E 25th St
Columbus, IN 47203

This brick fire house was intended to be a functional and inexpensive space. Unlike many of their peers who competed for the commission from the Cummins Foundation in 1967, architects Denise Scott Brown and Robert Venturi delivered a design that actually met those criteria. Between the simple material—cinderblock, red and white unglazed brick, and glass—and straightforward layout, with the only protrusion being a tower used to dry hoses—they achieved an understated example of civic design. The tower exemplifies Venturi’s “billboard architecture” concept, offering a flash of excitement on an otherwise bland roadway.

Carol Highsmith via Library of Congress

17. The Pyramids

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Depauw Blvd
Indianapolis, IN 46268

After taking over the office of midcentury great Eero Saarinen following the Finnish-American architect’s untimely death, Kevin Roche and John Dinkeloo formed their own firm. They continued Saarinen’s legacy of corporate work, perhaps most strikingly with this set of blue-glass pyramids for a midwestern insurance company, completed in 1971. The monumentality of this design has been criticized as an overtly muscular vision of corporate power, but it also showed the duo pushing the possibilities of glass-clad buildings forward, and elevating an abstract language of commercial design.

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18. 60 East Lake Street Parking Garage

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60 E Lake St
Chicago, IL 60601

This Stanley Tigerman-designed parking garage in the business district of Chicago’s Loop has a facade that functions as a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it joke. Closer inspection reveals a garage doubling as a Rolls-Royce, from tire treads as entrance awnings and license plate signage all the way to a statue-as-hood ornament at the building’s apex. It’s the absolute opposite of modernism’s self-seriousness, and a building with some of the highest whimsy-per-story in Chicago. Tigerman, known for his sharp zingers and acerbic wit—died this week at age 88.

Eric Allix Rogers

19. Harold Washington Library

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Harold Washington Library, 400 S State St
Chicago, IL 60605

Chicago’s brawny main library is overrun with exterior symbolism, including a series of corn-stalk pendants, a fitting facade for such a literary location. The team of Hammond, Beeby & Babka designed the stately building with a tripartite structure, topped with a metal-and-glass cornice and statues of owls perched along the roofline. The imposing brick structure, the largest library building in the country when it opened in 1991, arrived with a sense of monumentality and age, managing to meld the stateliness of Beaux-Arts design with the utility of modern materials.

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20. James R. Thompson Center

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100 W Randolph St #4-300
Chicago, IL 60601

A towering pedestal of multicolored steel and tapered glass, the James R. Thompson Center takes up an entire downtown block, and could easily be mistaken for a retro-futuristic stadium from the 22nd century. The structure’s colossal atrium certainly doesn’t dispel that notion. Designed by Helmut Jahn, the ambitious structure, nicknamed “Starship Chicago,” was meant to embody a new vision for government offices and agencies when it opened in 1985. And while the building has its share of detractors—the former governor and namesake of the building called it “a scrap heap,” and current governor J.B. Pritzker’s plans to sell it are currently moving forward—it’s become a rallying cry for preservationists, and a symbol of the fragility of Chicago’s rich postmodern architectural heritage.

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21. Mitchell Park Horticultural Conservatory

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524 S Layton Blvd
Milwaukee, WI 53215

These glass-covered conoidal domes have served as Milwaukee’s own set of retro-futuristic greenhouses for decades, recreating both arid and tropical climes year-round for residents of the lakefront Midwestern city. While these giant bubbles, created by hometown architect Donald Grieb, may seem like they owe a great deal to Buckminster Fuller, they have a number of unique structural characteristics, including a cast-in-place concrete undercarriage. Gelb’s striking concept has become a massive maintenance headache, and was closed in 2016 for repairs. In 2018, it was named a National Treasure by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, which should hopefully help secure more resources for repair.

Library of Congress

22. Historic New Harmony Atheneum

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401 Arthur St
New Harmony, IN 47631

An open, immaculate welcome center designed for the historic utopian community of New Harmony, Indiana, this Richard Meier work reflects both optimistic impulses and Le Corbusier’s influence. Named after the iconic Greek temple dedicated to the goddess of wisdom, the building tells the story of the town, explaining its legacy of historic architecture while showcasing the community’s philosophy through its soaring, open interior.

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23. Piazza d'Italia

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377 Poydras St
New Orleans, LA 70130

Considered a seminal example of postmodern landscape design, this joyful, earnest celebration of Italian design was conceived of as a tribute that rises far above Disney-style kitsch. Architect Charles Moore was tasked with creating public space that touted the achievements of the large Italian-American community in New Orleans. The resulting set piece is filled with colonnades, a clock tower, a minimalist Roman temple, and a public fountain in the shape of the Italian peninsula. Conceived of as a redevelopment project for the city’s Warehouse district, the space initially fell into disrepair after it opened to the public in 1978, but has since been preserved, in a recent series of renovations that wrapped last year.

Kelsey Keith

24. Children's Museum of Houston

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1500 Binz St
Houston, TX 77004

Called “dazzling, exuberant and witty” by architecture critic Paul Goldberger, this riotously colorful and playful design by Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown is the Pixar film of children’s museums: fun enough for the kids, and sophisticated enough for the parents. Full of blocky elements wrapped in eye-catching yellows and salmon, the exterior features a covered walkway held aloft by fiberglass cutouts of children. Riffing on caryatids, figures in classical architecture that held structures aloft, these so-called “caryakids” give the impression of a building imagined not on the back of a napkin, but on a crayon-emblazoned piece of paper. It’s no stretch to see why Goldberger wrote, “Who could fail to smile at this building?”

Carol Highsmith/Library of Congress

25. Dallas City Hall

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1500 Marilla St
Dallas, TX 75201

Pei’s inverted pyramid, made with a special concrete mix meant to reflect the colors of the local landscape, slopes at a 34-degree angle, providing additional space for office for public workers on the top floors and a civic porch that offers shelter and shade to visitors during the day. Pei’s design for this civic enter so unnerved then-Mayor Erik Jonsson, who felt the gravity-defying form would cause people to assume it would fall down, that a series of oval columns were added for reassurance (the purely cosmetic additions still don’t bear any of the weight of the upper floors). Pei’s overall site design, which includes a seven-acre plaza with a Henry Moore sculpture and large reflecting pool, conveys strength, serenity, and the pride of the citizens of Dallas, and to some, a bold look at the future (hence its cameo in Robocop).

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26. Moore/Andersson Compound

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2102 Quarry Rd
Austin, TX 78703

A series of small, interconnected dwellings built by architect Charles Moore and Arthur Andersson beginning in 1984, this village-like compound in the Texas Hill Country is considered an exemplary postmodern residence. Referencing elements of both Spanish courtyards and backyard shacks, the unique residence was awarded the 25 Year Award from the Texas Society of Architects, a rare honor that awards a projects legacy and longevity. It is still home to the Charles Moore Foundation, which hosts visiting scholars and architects, and houses Moore’s library, part of the architect’s archives now owned by the University of Texas.

27. Denver Art Museum, North Building

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100 W 14th Ave Pkwy
Denver, CO 80204

A mysterious, Late Modernist fortress, this seven-story addition to the Denver Art Museum is the only building in the United States designed by Italian architect Gio Ponti. Castle-like and clad in glass tiles, the 24-sided slate gray structure is enigmatic, befitting a space of creative expression and contemplation. The architect said of his design, “Art is a treasure, and these thin but jealous walls defend it.” Last January, the museum broke ground on a $150 million renovation of the campus, timed to finish in 2021, the 50th anniversary of Ponti’s design.

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28. Denver Public Library

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10 W 14th Ave Pkwy
Denver, CO 80204

Designed by Michael Graves to dispel the notion of libraries as drab or serious, this dynamic public space opened downtown in 1995. Graves designed a series of new spaces, including the checkered children’s library, around an existing older building, so library service was never interrupted during construction. The eclectic massing and shapes recall an inviting collection of eclectic book spines on a shelf, but all were conceived as references to other nearby buildings or Denver history: one of the large curved reading rooms features exposed-wood beams that riff on the shape of an oil derrick.

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29. National Center for Atmospheric Research

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1850 Table Mesa Dr
Boulder, CO 80305

Who says scientific buildings just have to be functional? Well, likely those working inside, but that didn’t stop architect I.M. Pei from designing this artful, site-specific masterpiece in Colorado, which opened in 1961. While still meeting budget and layout constraints required for such important research, Pei designed a series of towers inspired by Anasazi cliff dwellings. The maze-like layout and addition of crow’s nests encouraged interaction among staff while also allowing them to step away from the lab and appreciate the magnificent surroundings.

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30. The Westin Bonaventure Hotel & Suites, Los Angeles

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404 S Figueroa St
Los Angeles, CA 90071

When this John Portman-designed cylindrical hotel opened in LA in 1976, seemingly transported from a city of the future, it was an immediate attention-getter. The Brutalist base, signature Portman elevator-and-atrium combo, and rotating rooftop restaurant made this a visual standout that would soon have a career in film and movies befitting its Tinseltown locale. Like the best of Portman’s work, the bold exterior draws passersby into the hermetically sealed, utopian vision inside, more than 40 years old but still looking like the future.

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31. The Museum of Contemporary Art

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250 S Grand Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90012

One of the best-known buildings by Arata Isozaki, this fortress of red sandstone in downtown Los Angeles showcases his elegant take on the forms of postmodernism, and may have helped spark a wave of museums and cultural institutions in this part of Los Angeles. As Curbed’s Alissa Walker explains, since it was built in 1987, MOCA is not included in Survey LA, the citywide initiative to locate and protect historic or significant landmarks built before 1980.

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32. Roy E. Disney Disney Animation Building

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2100 W Riverside Dr
Burbank, CA 91506

While hundreds of directors, animators, and talented actors helped create Disney’s fictional world, architect Robert A.M. Stern may be one of the Big Mouse’s most prolific public image shapers. In addition to Celebration (see above) and a number of Disney resorts, he also created the company’s animation division headquarters, which opened in 1994. The cavernous building features a “main street” that connects its various offices, as well as a towering conical form above the main entryway, recalling Mickey Mouse’s hat in “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.” Filled with custom signage that recalls the wayfinding found at the original 1930s-era studio where Disney animation began, Stern’s design offers a contemporary riff on the studio’s early days.

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33. Pacific Design Center

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8687 Melrose Ave
West Hollywood, CA 90069

This trio of striking, colorful glass towers, set along Santa Monica Boulevard, had been a dream of the Argentinian-born architect Cesar Pelli, who spent decades pushing to realize his initial vision. The trio of abstract structures, designed to look like oversized fragments fallen to Earth, started to take shape in 1975 with the Blue Whale, a 750,000-square-foot building on the 14-acre site that looks a bit like a piece of extruded metal. The Green Building arrived in 1988, and the Red Building, comprising two curved towers, completed the site in 2013. Part of the reason the Red Building took so long to finish was that glass technology needed to advance and find a safe method of recreating that striking color (previously, a toxic dye would have been required to create such a rich shade of red).

Pacific Design Center Architectural Resources Group, 2013.

34. Horton Plaza Mall

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324 Horton Ave
San Diego, CA 92101

One of the many mall-based masterworks of Southern California architect and designer Jon Jerde, who arguably played a key role in shaping how we shop today, Horton Plaza Mall stands as a key postmodern public space and an anchor that helped reignite San Diego’s Gaslamp Quarter. Jerde labeled the project “experience architecture,” and the combination of mismatched levels, bold graphics (via Deborah Sussman and Paul Prejza), and untraditional layout live up to the term. Nearly vacant of any retail tenants in recent years, the mall was just approved for demolition in late May and may be turned into a tech campus. Down the coast, Jerde’s Del Mar Plaza, another postmodern landscape, transposes the visual elements of a Tuscan piazza onto coastal California via stonework, trellised archways, and colorful tiles.

Postmodern-styled outdoor mall plaza with black and white striped detail and a raised platform
San Diego’s Horton Plaza, as seen in 2019.
Courtesy of Esoteric Survey

35. Binoculars Building

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340 Main St
Venice, CA 90291

This Venice Beach landmark, originally built for advertising firm Chiat/Day and now home to Google, features a Frank Gehry-designed main structure, highlighted by a twisting web of columns. But the highlight, of course, is the large sculpture by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen, which frames the entrance to an underground parking structure. The eyepieces on top even contain two small meeting rooms.

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36. San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

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151 3rd St
San Francisco, CA 94103

While the new Snøhetta-designed expansion of SFMOMA has been in the spotlight recently, the attention has only highlighted the beauty of Mario Botta’s design for the original building. A wedding cake-like stack of brick volumes centered around a black-and-white oculus, the museum initially received unfavorable reviews for its fortress-like exterior. Over time, the work of the Swiss-Italian architect has become more beloved, as development of the nearby neighborhood has turned his design into something of a neighborhood fixture.

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37. Portland Building

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1120 SW 5th Ave
Portland, OR 97204

Considered the first major work of postmodernism when it was completed in 1982 (not to be confused with earlier, example-setting buildings like the Vanna Venturi house), the Portland Municipal Services Building exemplified the style’s playful re-interpretations of classical design elements. Architect Michael Graves saw the project as a ”symbolic gesture” to reclaim design from Modernism’s staid, boxy, glass-and-steel grip. Wrapped in several colors and featuring bold design flourishes—including keystones, pilasters and belvederes—the 15-story building made a case for creativity in architecture. The debate still rages on: Is such a design choice engaging recontextualization, or whimsy light on symbolism? Currently, the building is in the process of a contentious $195 million “reskinning,” which city officials say will remove, strengthen, and replace the facade; preservationists feel many of the materials used in the replacement will compromise the form and facade of the building.

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1. 550 Madison Ave (The AT&T Building)

550 Madison Ave, New York, NY 10022
Courtesty Landmarks Preservation Commission

Originally known as the AT&T Building, this 1984 tower may be the prototypical postmodern skyscraper. Philip Johnson and then-partner John Burgee designed the 37-story tower with two particularly memorable features: a seven-story arched entryway and the “Chippendale” ornamental pediment on the apex, that recalled classic design flourishes. Clad partially in granite, it was a shocking rebuke to the glass-and-steel stereotype that dominated city skylines. Now landmarked, the building is currently the focus of a Snøhetta-led redesign effort that has been criticized for robbing the lobby of its iconic character.

550 Madison Ave
New York, NY 10022

2. Lipstick Building

Lipstick Building, New York, NY 10022
Shutterstock

Ringed with red granite and tubular steel, this telescoping 1986 tower, again by Philip Johnson and John Burgee, offers a distinctly playful shade of postmodern style. The unique cylindrical shape and triple-tier form results, in part, from zoning regulations that require setbacks to increase light at street level. Originally designed to be a standout on Third Avenue, it still strikes a unique silhouette.

Lipstick Building
New York, NY 10022

3. Ford Foundation

Ford Foundation Building, 320 E 43rd St, New York, NY 10017
Simon Luethi/Ford Foundation

This Late Modern landmark of Midtown Manhattan, designed by Kevin Roche John Dinkeloo Associates and landscaped by Dan Kiley, created the gold standard for corporate architecture way back in 1967. The Ford Foundation’s home, updated in 2018, beckons visitors with its 160-foot-tall atrium, encased by walls of glass, granite, and Cor-Ten steel.

Ford Foundation Building, 320 E 43rd St
New York, NY 10017

4. United Nation’s Plaza Hotel Interior

One United Nations Plaza, New York, NY 10017
Photo courtesy KRJDA

A reminder of reflective, glitzy 1970s style, these interiors by Kevin Roche John Dinkeloo and Associates “use mirror, pattern, and lighting to trick the eye into seeing palatial space, daylight, and high ceilings where there are actually none,” according to Curbed critic Alexandra Lange. A demolition scare led advocates like Lange to make a case for the building’s historical importance, and the spaces were landmarked in 2017.

One United Nations Plaza
New York, NY 10017

5. Citicorp Center (now Citigroup Center)

601 Lexington Avenue, New York, NY 10022
Shutterstock

It may have a monumental base on stilts, an imposing facade, and a signature 45-degree angled top that stands out in one of the world’s busiest skylines. But the 1977 Citicorp Center, a somewhat menacing metallic addition to the canon of Late Modernism, will always be most famous for skirting disaster. As recounted in a famous episode of 99 Percent Invisible, architect Hugh Stubbins and structural engineer William LeMessurier devised a unique support system for this skyscraper in part to work around a church on site that couldn’t be moved or knocked down. However, inaccurate structural calculations used in the design phase—discovered after-the-fact by an undergrad architecture student—had to be fixed after the building was completed.

601 Lexington Avenue
New York, NY 10022

6. Vanna Venturi House

Vanna Venturi House, Millman St, Philadelphia, PA 19118
Photos courtesy of Kurfiss Sotheby’s International Realty

Architect Robert Venturi designed this home in 1964 for his mother, and it’s filled with contradictions, including a functionless arch. It’s one of the earliest instances of pure PoMo, and one of the rare residential projects to win the 25-Year Award from the American Institute of Architects. Curbed architecture critic Alexandra Lange, who visited the home in 2016 after it had been added to the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places, wrote that it “is itself a gentle manifesto, the gable a blow against the aesthetic tyranny of the modernist flat roof; the square windows a blow against the aesthetic tyranny of transparent walls.” Supposedly, Venturi used to visit the house on a weekly basis, stopping to admire it, then blow it a kiss as he drove away.

Vanna Venturi House, Millman St
Philadelphia, PA 19118

7. Franklin Court

322 Market St, Philadelphia, PA 19106
Shutterstock

Another subtle but significant design by Robert Venturi and his longtime work-life partner Denise Scott Brown. This addition to Independence National Historic Park has become a Philadelphia favorite. Atop the site where Benjamin Franklin once ran his printing shop, Venturi, Brown, and then-colleague John Rauch erected two “ghost houses,” representing the dimensions of the Franklin residence and office. The white tubular-steel outlines, award-winning examples of playful placemaking that allow visitors to reconstruct the buildings in their imaginations, have become icons and object lessons for architecture students.

322 Market St
Philadelphia, PA 19106

8. St. Coletta of Greater Washington

1901 Independence Ave SE, Washington, DC 20003
Washington Post/Getty Images

A later-breaking addition to the postmodern canon is a colorful campus for special needs students, designed by Michael Graves and completed in 2006. Graves’s focus on universal design (he took a similar to approach to creating home goods) and simple yet profound visual cues come to the fore at St. Coletta, which uses whimsical shapes and bold, identifiable buildings as a type of wayfinding device. The two-story schoolhouses provide safe, inviting spaces for living and learning.

1901 Independence Ave SE
Washington, DC 20003

9. PPG Place

1 PPG Pl, Pittsburgh, PA 15272
Shutterstock

Postmodernism designs usually draw from the classical era. Not so with this glittering, neo-Gothic corporate office completed in 1981, another Johnson-Burgee collaboration. Clad in nearly one million square feet of glass, this complex also served as an advertisement for the commissioning client, Pittsburgh Plate Glass. The 5.5-acre site offers an objewct lesson in the artistic potential of architectural glass: By focusing on its malleability and the sculptural nature of the material, instead of its translucency, PPG Place is a wholly different beast than traditional glass-and-steel towers.

1 PPG Pl
Pittsburgh, PA 15272
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