20th Century Architecture in the 20th Century Essay

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20th Century Architecture

Architecture in the 20th Century

As said by a famous spokesperson, architecture aims at eternity. Throughout history, architecture has always asked for creativity and coordination from those who possess the skills to excel in this field. Throughout the course of the nineteenth century, architecture had very little to do with industrial activities and rather was only concerned with structures and monuments which symbolised the pride of a country or state. But the dawn of the twentieth century changed it all[footnoteRef:1] (Writework 1). [1: See "What impact has technology had on architecture of the 20th century? For more information regarding the advancements of technology in the 20th century.]

The industrial revolution in many countries and the development of man's relation with the machines brought about significant changes in the field of architecture. A new ideology was adopted which revolved around mechanics and efficiency, and architecture was transformed into a means of cultural reform (Writework 1). The use of steel and concrete in construction became popular in the construction of stronger and higher buildings, especially in light of the damage caused by the disastrous earthquakes e.g. In San Francisco, 1906. In other areas, cities expanded greatly and very quickly.

At such a point in history, some visionary and ambitious architects set out to design ideal cities. One of such renowned architects was Antonio Sant'Elia (1888 -- 1916), an Italian genius whose remarkable young ideas and imagination enabled him to draw the city of future. Even though he left behind no proper architectural works due to his death at the young age of only twenty - four, he still holds a significant place in the history of modern architecture, because it was his creativity and innovation which paved the way for the later architects to work upon. Sant'Elia was a lot more than just a mere precursor of modern architecture; he was a prophet, a forecaster. At a time when dreams were just elements of imagination, Sant'Elia's young mind dreamt of the romantic idea of changing the society through modernism (Meyer 15)[footnoteRef:2]. He was a man of the belief that the technological advances of the 20th century held the potential of remaking the world into a utopia. [2: See Meyer, pages 15-55, for an insightful analysis of Sant'Elia's ideas.]

Being a socialist, he proposed the idea of replacing the traditional architectural styles with skyscrapers, improvised traffic routes and other characteristics of an industrialized city; things he believed would meet the need of an advancing society. It was the 'urbanization' of the 19th century architecture. His designs of skyscrapers also included terraces and air-borne walkways, ideas that are purely elements of modern architecture. The increased need of speedy communication coupled with the rapid population growth during and after the World Wars had a vital role in popularising Sant'Elia's ideas (Meyer 55).

Another man, this time an American, who contributed significantly in influencing the 20th century architecture was Frank Lloyd Wright. Wright was disgusted by the 'ugly' architecture of the 19th century and desperately longed for something more aesthetical and utopian. His belief that the essence of the environment plays a role in beautifying architecture gained massive popularity among the masses. So he opted to design structures which were in perfect harmony with both humans and Mother Nature, and illustrated his work as 'Organic architecture'[footnoteRef:3]. This contemporary style by him was an answer to rationalism. What he actually wanted was to make the city fall apart all together, so he could recreate it again from the scratch. Fallingwater in rural south-western Pennsylvania is the best depiction of this philosophy of his4. [3: See Wright's computer presentation for details of Organic architecture.]

Wright's model of utopia was created as a result of the devastating effects of the Great Depression. The model was designed to provide the people with air and natural beauty so that they could escape the powers of the modern city and recover from their social and economic misfortunes[footnoteRef:4] (Fishman 1989, 122). The Broadacre City is considered to be Wright's everlasting legacy to the American community as it perfectly represents his belief of a suburban, utopian city where democracy prevails and presents a great escape route from the congested cities[footnoteRef:5] (Alofsin 14). [4: See Fishman 1989 for detail on Wright's utopian theories, p. 122 -142.] [5: See Alofsin 1989 for complete detail about the Broadacre City, p. 10-30.]

Moreover, right after the Second World War, American society began to change dramatically. Many Americans began to disapprove of their old lifestyle and wished for something better and improved not that they were earning a handsome amount of money. Families became more hopeful about their security and means of living and thus, started having more babies. In the mid 1900s, the birth rate increased very significantly and the 'baby boom generation' was produced (VOA). The majority of these growing families preferred to move out of the cities and reside in the suburban regions, away from the hustle of busy and noisy cities. In such a situation, Wright's organic architecture was welcomed with open hands and American suburbs grew swiftly in the years following the war.

Wright's works vary from the boring offices and schools to multi-storied extravagant skyscrapers and hotels. But in everything he designed, he made great effort in taking care of the smallest of details, of both the external and internal fixtures (Wright). With the advancements in the glass industry, Wright introduced the use of Pyrex glass in the construction of Johnson Waz Headquarters. His fondness for glass was emphasised in an essay he wrote in 1928, in which he compared glass with natural mirrors such as lakes and ponds, and whose perfect encouraged his utopian ideas. The Prairie style is, undoubtedly, his best attempt at art glass and with its simple yet intricate window patterns it reflects Wright's impressive aesthetical sense.

Wright's brilliance allowed him to respond quickly to the changing patterns of domestic life with the progression of the twentieth century. As servants began to disappear from American homes at an alarming rate and the need to work independently grew, the architecture of houses underwent a sharp change. The new designs proposed by Wright allowed the woman of the house to work comfortably in her 'workspace' while easily keeping a track on the children in the living room. It also allowed tending to the guests in the dining room much easier by proposing the suitable doors or passageways. These innovative ideas of his formed the basis of modern house architecture and remain in practice to this date (Gossel 140)[footnoteRef:6]. [6: See Gossel and Gabriele for more details of Wright's works regarding glass and American homes, p. 100 -140.]

Another pioneer of 'modern architecture' who made his place in history is Le Corbusier, a man of great wit and talent. He was an architect, more specifically, an urbanist and his work spreads over most of Europe, America and India. Le Corbusier's first design for a utopian city was referred to as the 'Contemporary City' (Fishman 1989, 191)[footnoteRef:7]. It was planned to be an efficient and functional city, totally different from the cities of the past. According to Le Corbusier, the wars had provided the architects with excellent opportunities to reform and recreate the world. His earlier Plan Voisin had faced serious opposition due to the large amount of land it required. But the war destruction provided him with the perfect place to work upon. However, it was later again hindered with the construction of the Berlin wall in 1961 (Kunstler 132). So, he turned to the idea of working in Britain instead, when the British government initiated a slum clearance program on quite a large scale. [7: See Fishman 1989 for a detailed insight on the 'Contemporary City, p. 191-201.]

He was an ambitious man with the aim and dedication to provide better living conditions for the inhabitants of crowded cities. Le Corbusier is best known for his creative solution to the urban crisis in the 20th century with the idea of designing low income houses; for he believed that the simplicity of his designed buildings would contribute to cleaner and healthier cities. In a time when houses were allotted on size rather than economic basis, his brilliant mind proposed the idea of high-rise public housing; buildings in which individual apartments were stacked over one another, just like a child stacks building blocks to make a tower (Fishman 1977, 18). In contrast to Wright, he preferred high density regions in well -- populated cities.

In the post-WWII years, the automobile production was revolutionized and cars spread across the world. Le Corbusier was one of the first people to realize the problems that were to be caused with the increasing automobile usage. So he imagined the future cities having lots and lots of apartment buildings secluded in a park-like setting; he separated the pedestrian pathways from the roads, hence, encouraging the use of automobile simultaneously, ensuring the safety of the walking people (Fishman 1977, 160). He is thus accredited for giving…

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