Double coding  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Double coding is a term coined by Charles Jencks in his book The New Paradigm in Architecture (1977), to suggest that postmodern architecture is a language that depends on double understanding, comparable to irony.


It was the rise of postmodern architecture during the late 1970s and early 1980s that gave rise to the idea that star status in the architectural profession was about an avant-gardism linked to popular culture - which, it was argued by postmodern critics such as Charles Jencks, had been derided by modernist architecture. In response, Jencks argued for "double coding"; i.e. that postmodernism could be understood and enjoyed by the general public and yet command "critical approval":

"Double coding: the combination of modern techniques with something else (usually traditional building) in order for architecture to communicate with the public and a concerned minority, usually other architects".

Double coding meant the buildings convey many meanings simultaneously. The AT&T Building does this very well. The building is a tall skyscraper which brings with it connotations of very modern technology. Yet, the top contradicts this. The top section conveys elements of the antiquity. This double coding is a prevalent trait of Postmodernism.


Novelist and theorist Umberto Eco explains his idea of postmodernism as a kind of double coding:

"I think of the postmodern attitude as that of a man who loves a very cultivated woman and knows that he cannot say to her "I love you madly", because he knows that she knows (and that she knows he knows) that these words have already been written by Barbara Cartland. Still there is a solution. He can say "As Barbara Cartland would put it, I love you madly". At this point, having avoided false innocence, having said clearly it is no longer possible to talk innocently, he will nevertheless say what he wanted to say to the woman: that he loves her in an age of lost innocence."

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