International style (architecture)

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The Weissenhof Estate in Stuttgart, Germany (1927)
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The Weissenhof Estate in Stuttgart, Germany (1930)

The International style was a major architectural trend of the 1920s and 1930s. The term usually refers to the buildings and architects of the formative decades of modernism, before World War II. The term had its origin from the name of a book by Henry-Russell Hitchcock and Philip Johnson which identified, categorised and expanded upon characteristics common to modernism across the world. As a result, the focus was more on the stylistic aspects of modernism. The basic design principles of the international style thus constitute part of modernism.

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[edit] Europe

Around 1900 a number of architects around the world began developing new architectural solutions to integrate traditional precedents with new social demands and technological possibilities. The work of Victor Horta and Henry van de Velde in Brussels, Antoni Gaudi in Barcelona, Otto Wagner in Vienna and Charles Rennie Mackintosh in Glasgow, among many others, can be seen as a common struggle between old and new.

The international style as such blossomed in 1920s Western Europe. Researchers find significant contemporary common ground among the Dutch de Stijl movement, the work of visionary French/Swiss architect Le Corbusier and various German efforts to industrialize craft traditions, which resulted in the formation of the Deutscher Werkbund, large civic worker-housing projects in Frankfurt and Stuttgart, and, most famously, the Bauhaus. The Bauhaus was one of a number of European schools and associations concerned with reconciling craft tradition and industrial technology.

By the 1920s the most important figures in modern architecture had established their reputations. The big three are commonly recognized as Le Corbusier in France, and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Walter Gropius in Germany.

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The Glass Palace, a celebration of transparency, in Heerlen, The Netherlands (1935)

The common characteristics are easy to identify: a radical simplification of form, a rejection of ornament, adoption of glass, steel and concrete as preferred materials, the transparency of buildings and, thus, the construction (called the honest expression of structure), acceptance of industrialized mass-production techniques and the machine aesthetic, acceptance of the automobile, design decisions that logically support the function of the building, and a vague but exciting sense of the future.

The ideals of the style are commonly summed up in four slogans: ornament is a crime, truth to materials, form follows function, and Le Corbusier's description of houses as "machines for living".

In 1927, one of the first and most defining manifestations of the International Style was the Weissenhof Estate in Stuttgart, built as a component of the exhibition "Die Wohnung," organized by the Deutscher Werkbund, and overseen by Mies van der Rohe. The fifteen contributing architects included Mies, and other names most associated with the movement: Peter Behrens, Le Corbusier, Walter Gropius, J.J.P. Oud, Mart Stam, and Bruno Taut. The exhibition was enormously popular, with thousands of daily visitors trooping through the houses.

The town of Portolago (now Lakki) in the Greek Dodecanese island of Leros represents some of the most interesting urban planning from the fascist regime in the Dodecanese; an extraordinary example of city takeover in the International style known as Italian rationalist. The symbolism of the shapes is reflected with exemplary effectiveness in the buildings of Lakki: the administration building, the metaphysical tower of the market, the cinema-theatre, the Hotel Roma (now Hotel Leros), the church of San Francesco and the hospital are fine examples of the style. Many of its ideas and ideals were formalized by the 1928 Congrès International d'Architecture Moderne.

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Helsinki University of Technology auditorium, built from red brick, by Alvar Aalto

[edit] United States

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Rudolf Schindler's Lovell Beach House in Los Angeles, California (1926)

The same striving towards simplification, honesty and clarity are identifiable in US architects of the same period, notably in the work of Louis Sullivan, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, and Frank Lloyd Wright in Chicago. As well as the west-coast residences of Irving Gill. Frank Lloyd Wright's career in the 1900s and 1910s parallels and influences the work of the European modernists, particularly via the Wasmuth Portfolio, but he refused to be categorized with them.

In 1922, the competition for the Tribune Tower and its famous second-place entry by Eliel Saarinen gave a clear indication of what was to come.

The term International Style came from the 1932 exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, organized by Philip Johnson, and from the title of the exhibition catalog for that exhibit, written by Johnson and Henry Russell Hitchcock. It addressed building from 1922 through 1932. Johnson named, codified, promoted and subtly re-defined the whole movement by his inclusion of certain architects, and his description of their motives and values. Perhaps the masterstroke was the name, and the positioning of this style as one that transcended any national or regional or continental identity.

Johnson also defined the modern movement as an aesthetic style, rather than a matter of political statement. This was a departure from the functionalist principles of some of the original Weissenhof architects, particularly the Dutch, and especially J.J.P. Oud, with whom Johnson maintained a prickly correspondence on the topic.

The gradual rise of the National Socialist regime in Weimar Germany in the 1930s, and the Nazi's rejection of modern architecture, meant that an entire generation of architects were forced out of Europe. When Walter Gropius and Marcel Breuer fled Germany, they both arrived at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, in an excellent position to extend their influence and promote the Bauhaus as the primary source of architectural modernism. When Mies fled in 1936, he came to Chicago, and solidified his reputation as the prototypical modern architect.

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Hickory Cluster townhouses, Reston, Virginia, designed by Charles M. Goodman, circa 1964

After World War II, the International Style matured into modernism, HOK and SOM perfected the corporate practice, and it became the dominant approach for decades. Perhaps its most famous/notorious manifestations include the United Nations headquarters and the Seagram Building in New York.

The typical International Style high-rise usually consists of the following:

  1. Square or rectangular footprint
  2. Simple cubic "extruded rectangle" form
  3. Windows running in broken horizontal rows forming a grid
  4. All facade angles are 90 degrees.

[edit] Elsewhere

One of the strengths of the International Style was that the design solutions were indifferent to location, site, and climate. This was one of the reasons it was called 'international'; the style made no reference to local history or national vernacular. They were the same buildings around the world. (Later this was identified as one of the style's primary weaknesses.)

American anti-Communist politics after the war, and Philip Johnson's influential rejection of functionalism, have tended to mask the fact that many of the important contributors to the original Weissenhof project fled to the east. This group also tended to be far more concerned with functionalism. Bruno Taut, Mart Stam, the second Bauhaus director Hannes Meyer, Ernst May and other important figures of the International Style went to the Soviet Union in 1930 to undertake huge, ambitious, idealistic urban planning projects, building entire cities from scratch. This Soviet effort was doomed to failure, and these architects became stateless persons in 1936 when Stalin ordered them out of the country and Hitler would not allow them back into Germany.

In the late 1930s this group, and their students, were dispersed to Turkey, France, Mexico, Kenya and India, adding up to a truly international influence.

In July, 2003, UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, proclaimed The White City of Tel Aviv as a World Cultural Heritage site, describing the City as "a synthesis of outstanding significance of the various trends of the Modern Movement in architecture and town planning in the early part of the 20th century".

[edit] Architects


[edit] Examples of International Style architecture

[edit] External links

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es:Estilo Internacional fr:Style international gl:Estilo Internacional (arquitectura) he:הסגנון הבינלאומי nl:Internationale Stijl it:Movimento Moderno ja:インターナショナル・スタイル pl:Styl międzynarodowy pt:International style sv:International style ta:அனைத்துலகக் கட்டிடக்கலைப் பாணி

International style (architecture)

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