High-tech architecture

High-tech architecture, or Late Modernism, is an architectural style that emerged in the 1970s, incorporating elements of high-tech industry and technology into building design. High-tech architecture appeared as a revamped modernism, an extension of those previous ideas aided by even more advances in technological achievements. This category serves as a bridge between modernism and post-modernism, however there remain gray areas as to where one category ends and the other begins. In the 1980s, high-tech architecture became more difficult to distinguish from post-modern architecture. Many of its themes and ideas were absorbed into the language of the post-modern architectural schools.



Buildings in this architectural style were constructed mainly in Europe and North America. After the destruction of many historic buildings in Europe during World War II, repairing them was a difficult matter. Architects had to decide between replicating the historic elements or replacing it with new modern materials and aesthetics.

The scientific and technological advances had a big impact on societies in the 1970s. The Space Race climaxed in 1969 with Neil Armstrong’s landing on the moon, and came along with excessive military developments. These advances set people’s minds thinking that much more can be achieved with advancing technology. Technological instruments became a common sight for people at the time because of the use of ramps, video screens, headphones, and bare scaffolds. These high-tech constructions became more visible everyday to the average person.


The style got its name from the book "High Tech: The Industrial Style and Source Book for The Home", written by design journalists Joan Kron and Suzanne Slesin and published in November 1978 by Clarkson N. Potter, New York. The book, illustrated with hundreds of photos, showed how designers, architects, and home owners were appropriating classic industrial objects—library shelving, chemical glass, metal deck plate, restaurant supply, factory and airport runway light fixtures, movers' quilts, industrial carpeting etc.—found in industrial catalogues and putting these to use in residential settings. The foreword to the book by architect Emilio Ambasz, former curator of design at the Museum of Modern Art, put the trend in historical context.

As a result of the publicity and popularity of the book, the decorating style became known as "High-Tech", and accelerated the entry of the still-obscure term "high-tech" into everyday language. In 1979, the term high-tech appeared for the first time in a "New Yorker" magazine cartoon showing a woman berating her husband for not being high-tech enough: "You're middle-, middle-, middle-tech." After "Esquire" excerpted Kron and Slesin's book in six installments, mainstream retailers across the United States, beginning with Macy's New York, started featuring high-tech decor in windows and in furniture departments. But credit should go to a shop on 64th Street and Lexington Avenue in New York, Ad Hoc Housewares, which opened in 1977, for marketing these objects to a residential audience before anyone else. The book went on to be reprinted in England, France, and Japan, and like the original, each edition included a directory of local sources for the objects.


High-tech architecture was, in some ways, a response to growing disillusionment with modern architecture. The realization of Le Corbusier’s urban development plans led to cities with monotonous and standardized buildings. Enthusiasm for economic building led to extremely low-quality finishes, with subsequent degradation countering a now-waning aesthetic novelty. High-tech architecture created a new aesthetic in contrast with standard modern architecture. In "High Tech: The Industrial Style and Source Book for The Home", when discussing the high-tech aesthetic, the authors emphasized using elements "your parents might find insulting". This humour so aptly demonstrates the rebellious attitude.

Kron and Slesin further explain the term "high-tech" as one being used in architectural circles to describe an increasing number of residences and public buildings with a "nuts-and-bolts, exposed-pipes, technological look". There is no need to look further than Roger’s Pompidou Centre for an example of this. This highlights the one of the aims of high-tech architecture, to boast the technical elements of the building by externalizing them. Thus, the technical aspects create the building's aesthetic.

For interior design there was a trend of using formerly industrial appliances as household objects, e.g. chemical beakers as vases for flowers. This was because of an aim to use an industrial aesthetic. This was assisted by the conversion of former industrial spaces into residential spaces. High-tech architecture aimed to give everything an industrial appearance.

Another aspect to the aims of high-tech architecture was that of a renewed belief in the power of technology to improve the world. This is especially evident in Kenzo Tange’s plans for technically sophisticated buildings in Japan's post-war boom in the 1960s, but few of these plans actually became buildings.High-tech architecture aimed to achieve a new industrial aesthetic, spurred on by the renewed faith in the progression of technology.

But however prominent the industrial look appeared, the functional element of modern architecture was very much retained. The pieces still served a purpose in the building’s function. The function of the building was also aimed as not being set. This dynamic property means that a building should be a "catalyst", the "technical services are provided but do not become set."


Characteristics of high-tech architecture have varied somewhat, yet all have accentuated technical elements. They included the prominent display of the building's technical and functional components, and an orderly arrangement and use of pre-fabricated elements. Glass walls and steel frames were also immensely popular.

To boast technical features, they were externalized, often along with load-bearing structures. There can be no more illustrious example than Pompidou Centre. The ventilation ducts are all prominently shown on the outside. This was a radical design, as previous ventilation ducts would have been a component hidden on the inside of the building. The means of access to the building is also on the outside, with the large tube allowing visitors to enter the building.

The orderly and logical fashion in which buildings in the high-tech architectural style are designed to keep to their functional essence is demonstrated in Norman Foster’s Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank HQ. Besides the technology being the overriding feature of the building, its design is very much functionally orientated. The large interior open space and the easy access to all floors very much enhance the function of being a bank. Also, the elements of the buildings are very neatly composed to achieve optimal orderliness in order to logically solve the problem of the needs of a bank. This can be seen in the levels' structure and in the escalators.

The high-tech buildings make persistent use of glass curtain walls and steel structure. It is greatly indebted to modern architecture for this, and influenced by Mies van der Rohe’s corporate buildings. The SOM Sears Tower demonstrates that with glass walls and skeleton pipe structure of steel, a very tall building can be built. Many high-tech buildings meant their purposes to be dynamic. This could best be explained by Günther Behnisch and Frei Otto’s Munich Olympic Stadium. This structure made sport in the open possible and is meant to be used for many purposes. Originally an abandoned airfield, it is now a sport stadium, used for various disciplines.


*HSBC headquarters - Hong Kong
*Žižkov TV Tower - Prague
*Lord's cricket ground - London
*Centre Georges Pompidou - Paris

ee also

*High tech


* [http://www.archpedia.com/Styles-High-Tech.html Archpedia entry: High-tech architecture]

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