The advent of modernity has wrought massive changes in human society. New forms of transportation and communication, for example, have changed the way people work, learn, conduct business and organize into communities. Technological advances in medicine have resulted in new forms of treatment for disease and longer life spans. Upheavals such as the women's movement and the civil rights movement have challenged prevailing norms and transformed social relations.
The field of architecture is no exception. The modern architecture movement is also largely a response to the availability of new technologies and the changing social needs. The first part of this paper looks at the various definitions of what constitutes "modern" architecture. The next part then looks at how the various styles sought to take advantage of new material and to address changing social needs.
In the last part, the paper examines how modern architecture is responding to new concerns, such as a growing environmental awareness and the security concerns raised by the September 11 attacks on New York's World Trade Center.
Defining modern architecture
The term "modern architecture" encompasses many styles and movements. However, experts generally agree that modern architecture was codified in the "International" style that resulted from the amalgamation of the several design ethics that were only made possible by the technological advances after the Industrial Revolution. By the 20th century, it had become apparent that technology was blurring traditional cultural boundaries, as commerce, industry, travel and immigration grew increasingly global.
Modern architecture grew out of a combination of these developments. The needs of industry and a growing population gave rise to architectural forms that could be easily built, assembled and reproduced. Architects thus began to use iron, glass and reinforced concrete, which are easier to reproduce and cheaper than traditional materials like marble and stone (Cannon-Brookes).
Architects also moved away from the design flourishes that were characteristic of Renaissance architecture, in favor of a cleaner style that hinted at the world's growing internationalism. Modern architects like Philip Johnson, Le Corbusier, Walter Gropius and Mies van der Rohe created their versions of buildings that were stripped of cultural symbolisms. Instead, they tried to reflect a growing global aesthetic through a unified style that appealed to all cultural perspectives.
The main unifying aspect of modern architecture was its emphasis on "the essential functions of a building instead of merely its outer appearance" (Kuipers). While Renaissance and classical architecture relied on recognizable forms or distinctive facades, modern architects turned their attention to a building's function. This in turn led to the development of new designs, ones that expressed a structure's function without any cultural or historical references.
Modern architecture is thus characterized by the twin ideas of function and innovation, as brought about the changing needs of an industrializing and increasingly global world. Some historians, however, also ascribe another human factor into the growth of modern architecture - that of rebellion. After all, Renaissance architecture itself was only a reproduction of the classical styles that had been developed in antiquity. With their new creations, modern architects rejected the cloying styles that had borrowed too heavily from the past. Instead, modern architects looked to the future, envisioning and embracing a design ideology that was new in all aspects, a response to the needs and changes that had come into fruition in the 20th century.
Modern architecture and changing social needs
The new lifestyles and social organization in modern society necessitated new structures. Modern architects have risen to that need in a variety of ways.
The functionalists of the early 20th century, for example, proposed that a building's purpose or function should determine the structure's design. This idea was first popularized in Europe in the 1920s, though the idea rapidly spread across the United States. Under the tutelage of Walter Gropius, the members of the Bauhaus School created new structures to serve Europe's urban needs.
For Europe, the period immediately after World War I was a period of rebuilding and recovery. Many cities had to be rebuilt from ground up, while others had to provide new housing for the influx of refugees and immigrants seeking work. Modern architects like the members of the Bauhaus school responded with new housing schemes such as…