Architectural Modernism

Rejecting ornament and embracing minimalism, Modernism became the dominant global movement in 20th-century architecture and design.

Modernism is the single most important new style or philosophy of architecture and design of the 20th century, associated with an analytical approach to the function of buildings, a strictly rational use of (often new) materials, an openness to structural innovation and the elimination of ornament. It has also been called International Modern or International Style, after an exhibition of modernist architecture in America in 1932 by Philip Johnson. Modernism also encompasses Futurism, Constructivism, De Stijl and Bauhaus.

The style is characterized by:
• asymmetrical compositions
• use of general cubic or cylindrical shapes
• flat roofs
• use of reinforced concrete
• metal and glass frameworks often resulting in large windows in horizontal bands
• an absence of ornament or mouldings
• a tendency for white or cream

Plans would be loosely arranged, often with open-plan interiors. Walter Gropius (1883-1969) and Le Corbusier (1887-1965) were the leaders of the movement.

Modernism evolved in two distinct ways in the United States: the first, pursued by the Humanists, sometimes referred to as Organic Architecture, was an outgrowth of our own uniquely American culture. The second, advocated by the proponents of the International School, was a philosophy imported primarily from the Bauhaus School in Germany.

The Humanists:
The beginning intent of the Humanist architects was to create work that stimulated emotional – rather than intellectual – responses in people when they experienced the built-environment. As a result early Humanist architects in the U.S created an entirely fresh approach to their designs, establishing the basis for American Humanism. Louis Sullivan was generally credited with being the father of the Humanists. Frank Lloyd Wright, who worked for and learned from Sullivan, further developed Sullivan’s principles in his own unique architectural philosophy.

Humanists respect the nature of the building site and its microclimates, and design their projects to take full advantage of a site’s natural characteristics. To preserve them, they employ natural materials — wood, stone, copper, etc. — to express the innate quality of those materials and their inherent structural and practical fitness; they combine art and building techniques to create unity and harmony between the two; and they create their designs to avoid formalism.

The Internationalists:
The intent of Internationalist architecture is the fusion of science and life, attempting to unite art and industry, and bring them into daily life using architecture as the intermediary.

European architects, such as Walter Gropius, (founder of the Bauhaus and later head of the Graduate School of Design at Harvard,) Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, ((head of the architectural school at the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT),) and Marcel Breuer, (who became Gropius’ partner and taught at Harvard,) came to the United States, bringing with them the principles of the International-Bauhaus School.

Internationalists reject all forms of extraneous ornament, choosing to allow the building’s structure, functional joining and detailing of their buildings to provide visual refinement. They design their projects with clean, crisp lines — uncluttered, simple forms that clearly express the building’s structure and the functions they house; they are careful to use their building-material palette — metals, concrete, plastics, glass, etc. — to clearly express the true nature of the materials and structural systems employed, and visually define the various elements of the building as a whole.

What to look for in a Modernist building
• Rectangular or cubist shapes
• Minimal or no ornamentation
• Steel and or reinforced concrete
• Large windows
• Open plan

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