International Style Architecture and Interior Design Term Paper

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International Style of Design & Architecture

The International Style

In the 1920s and the 1930sa major architectural and design style emerged that was referred to as the International Style by Henry-Russell Hitchcock and Philip Johnson in their book titled the International Style (Hasan-Uddin & Jodidia 2009). Hitchcock and Johnson published the book in order to catalogue and preserve a record of the work introduced at the International Exhibition of Modern Architecture that took place in 1932 at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City (Hasan-Uddin & Jodidia 2009). Other references to the International Style category are attributed to Walter Gropius, a pioneer of modern architecture, in his book Internationale Architektur, and to Ludwig Hilberseimer in Internationale neue Baukunst (Hasan-Uddin & Jodidia 2009). Circa 1900, architects across the globe had begun to devise innovative solutions that allowed them to integrate traditional precedents with new technological possibilities and enduring social demands (Hasan-Uddin & Jodidia 2009). This time of growing pains -- of the struggle between the old and the new -- can be seen in the work of Antoni Gaudi in Barcelona, Victor Horta and Henry van de Velde in Brussels, Charles Rennie Mackintosh in Glasgow, and Otto Wagner in Vienna (Hasan-Uddin & Jodidia 2009). The 1920s found many of the most esteemed and influential figures in modern architecture with established reputations and positive prospects for moving the International Style forward.

Modern architecture emerged in conjunction with and as solutions for social problems, such as the housing shortage for the unemployed and homeless, the poor living conditions of the inner-city working class, and the liberation of women from excessive domesticity (Hasan-Uddin & Jodidia 2009). In Western Europe during the 1920s, several visionary movements began to change the trajectory of design and architecture to better address these exigencies. These movements are discussed briefly below.

The 1920s and the 1930s were a formative period of modern design and architecture, from which radical departures from the 20th century traditions developed (Hasan-Uddin & Jodidia 2009). By the late 1930s, the International Style emerged from Bauhaus, with the influence of form follows function strongly manifested (Hasan-Uddin & Jodidia 2009). The creation of this particular categorical style was intended to identify a distinctly modern architecture that expanded on the stylistic aspects common to Modernism (Hasan-Uddin & Jodidia 2009). Specific architects were linked to International Style whose work manifested the expression of volume over mass, an emphasis on balance over the more familiar symmetry, and the elimination of applied ornamentation (Hasan-Uddin & Jodidia 2009). The exhibition included only works that conformed to these design tenets (Hasan-Uddin & Jodidia 2009).

The Dutch de Stijl movement. The Dutch de Stijl movement sought to establish a utopian ideal of order and spiritual harmony, called neoplasticism (Jarzombek, 1999). The designs were simplified compositions of vertical and horizontal lines, using primary colors and black and white only (Jarzombek, 1999). An article on neoplasticism posted on the online Tate Gallery asserted that de Stilj art utilized "only primary colours and non-colours, only squares and rectangles, only straight and horizontal or vertical line" (Jarzombek, 1999). The most familiar artist of this movement may be Mondrian. In his words in the essay neo-Plasticism in Pictorial Art, "…his new plastic idea will ignore the particulars of appearance, that is to say, natural form and colour (Jarzombek, 1999). On the contrary, it should find its expression in the abstraction of form and colour, that is to say, in the straight line and the clearly defined primary colour" (Jarzombek, 1999).

The Deutscher Werkbund movement. A partnership between architects, designers, artists, and industrialists formed in 1907 in Munich resulted in the formation of the Deutscher Werkbund or German Work Federation. The Werkbund lasted until about 1937 and was the foundation for the creation of the Bauhaus school of design. Of all the European associations and schools that emphasized the reconciliation of industrial technology and craft technology, Bauhaus was perhaps the most famous. The catalyst for the Werkbund establishment was a desire to increase the global competitiveness -- particularly with England and the United States -- of German industrial design and modern architecture. As such, the Werkbund was a state-sponsored initiative that was intended to integrate industrial mass-production techniques and traditional crafts. Indicative of the expected scope of the initiative, the motto of the movement was Vom Sofakissen zum Stadtebau, which translates to 'from sofa cushions to city-building." The visionary French / Swiss architect Le Corbusier was responsible for the large civic housing projects for workers in Frankfurt and Stuttgart ().

The Changing Design Criteria

Innovations in industrial technology and mass production techniques permitted the design criteria of the period to evolve in substantive ways (Henry-Russell & Johnson, 1997). The International Style brought about a profound shift in the criteria of form that was based on function and aesthetic simplicity (Henry-Russell & Johnson, 1997). Ornamentation was rejected over the sheer presentation of contemporary construction materials that lent an air of authenticity and transparency to the new structures and to the new industrial designs (Henry-Russell & Johnson, 1997). Moreover, historicism shifted into the background of the International Style philosophy as the machine aesthetic and logic influenced design decisions (Henry-Russell & Johnson, 1997). A fundamental tenet emerged from this foundation -- that of truth to materials (Henry-Russell & Johnson, 1997). This standard meant that decisions about the materials used in construction were based on appropriateness and utility (Henry-Russell & Johnson, 1997). Moreover, the nature of building materials should not be concealed or physically obfuscated (Henry-Russell & Johnson, 1997).

Modernism generated reactions to the style that resulted in post-modernism. The post-modernist movement sought to restore interest in the "wit, ornament, and reference" to the formal modernist style (Henry-Russell & Johnson, 1997). At the most fundamental level, modernism has its roots an absence of ornamentation, minimalism, and a true use of material (Henry-Russell & Johnson, 1997). However, postmodernism rejects the strict rules that the early modernists insisted upon and instead seeks to establish meaning and expression through building techniques, innovative and occasionally classical forms, and stylistic references with a nod to the past and the populist (Henry-Russell & Johnson, 1997). The return of columns that were adapted from classical Greek and Roman forms -- yet were not neoclassical -- is illustrative of the Post-Modern approach (Henry-Russell & Johnson, 1997). Aesthetics drove the revival of the use of columns, not structural necessity (Henry-Russell & Johnson, 1997). Moreover, modernist high-rise buildings, in particular, are predominantly monolithic structures (Henry-Russell & Johnson, 1997). The idea of a stack design where elements are arranged into a single unit that extends from bottom to top is counterpoint to a tapering or wedding cake sort of design (Jarzombek, 1999). By eliminating the visual elements that run horizontally along a building, modern architect are able to suggest the possibility that a skyscraper is continuous from the ground to the single metallic extrusion (Henry-Russell & Johnson, 1997). Minoru Yaasaki's World Trade Center buildings were a strict interpretation of this approach (Jarzombek, 1999).

Political and Social Influences

The Bauhaus and Werkbund were firmly established by the 1930s when the rise of the Nazis in the Weimar Republic brought about a denunciation of modern art and a rejection of modern architecture (Henry-Russell & Johnson, 1997). The political and social unrest that accompanied the growth of Nazism drove the talented cohort of modernist architects from Europe (Henry-Russell & Johnson, 1997). The Harvard Graduate School of Design attracted Walter Gropius and Marcel Breuer when they fled Germany (Henry-Russell & Johnson, 1997). There the architects were able to promote the brand of architectural modernism that characterized the Bauhaus movement (Jarzombek, 1999). In 1938, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe fled to Chicago and established the Second School of Chicago at the Illinois Institute of Technology and was soon established as a prototypical modern architect (Jarzombek, 1999).

The International Style…

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