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The Seagram Building, New York City, 1958. One of the finest examples of the functionalist aesthetic and a masterpiece of corporate modernism.

Modern architecture is characterized by simplification of form and creation of ornament from the structure and theme of the building. The first variants were conceived early in the 20th century. Modern architecture was adopted by many influential architects and architectural educators, however very few "Modern buildings" were built in the first half of the century. It gained popularity after the Second World War and became the dominant architectural style for institutional and corporate buildings for three decades, covering practically most of the Cold War era.

The exact characteristics and origins of Modern architecture are still open to interpretation and debate.

Contents

History

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Origins

Some historians see the evolution of Modern architecture as a social matter, closely tied to the project of Modernity and thus the Enlightenment. The Modern style developed, in their opinion, as a result of social and political revolutions.[1]

Melnikov House near Arbat Street in Moscow by Konstantin Melnikov.

Others see Modern architecture as primarily driven by technological and engineering developments, and it is true that the availability of new building materials such as iron, steel, and glass drove the invention of new building techniques as part of the Industrial Revolution. In 1796, Shrewsbury mill owner Charles Bage first used his 'fireproof' design, which relied on cast iron and brick with flag stone floors. Such construction greatly strengthened the structure of mills, which enabled them to accommodate much bigger machines. Due to poor knowledge of iron's properties as a construction material, a number of early mills collapsed. It was not until the early 1830s that Eaton Hodgkinson introduced the section beam, leading to widespread use of iron construction, this kind of austere industrial architecture utterly transformed the landscape of northern Britain, leading to the description of places like Manchester and parts of West Yorkshire as "Dark satanic mills".

The Crystal Palace by Joseph Paxton at the Great Exhibition of 1851 was an early example of iron and glass construction; possibly the best example is the development of the tall steel skyscraper in Chicago around 1890 by William Le Baron Jenney and Louis Sullivan. Early structures to employ concrete as the chief means of architectural expression (rather than for purely utilitarian structure) include Frank Lloyd Wright's Unity Temple, built in 1906 near Chicago, and Rudolf Steiner's Second Goetheanum, built from 1926 near Basel, Switzerland.

Other historians regard Modernism as a matter of taste, a reaction against eclecticism and the lavish stylistic excesses of Victorian Era and Edwardian Art Nouveau. Note that the Russian word for Art Nouveau, "Модерн", and the Spanish word for Art Nouveau, "Modernismo" are cognates of the English word "Modern" though they carry different meanings.

Whatever the cause, around 1900 a number of architects around the world began developing new architectural solutions to integrate traditional precedents (Gothic, for instance) with new technological possibilities. The work of Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright in Chicago, Victor Horta 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. An early use of the term in print around this time, approaching its later meaning, was in the title of a book by Otto Wagner.[2][3]

A key organization that spans the ideals of the Arts and Crafts and Modernism as it developed in the 1920s was the Deutscher Werkbund (German Work Federation) a German association of architects, designers and industrialists. It was founded in 1907 in Munich at the instigation of Hermann Muthesius. Muthesius was the author of a three-volume "The English House" of 1905, a survey of the practical lessons of the English Arts and Crafts movement and a leading political and cultural commentator.[4] The purpose of the Werkbund was to sponsor the attempt to integrate traditional crafts with the techniques of industrial mass production. The organization originally included twelve architects and twelve business firms, but quickly expanded. The architects include Peter Behrens, Theodor Fischer (who served as its first president), Josef Hoffmann and Richard Riemerschmid. Joseph August Lux, an Austrian-born critic, helped formulate its agenda.[5]

Modernism as dominant style

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. Mies van der Rohe and Gropius were both directors of the Bauhaus, one of a number of European schools and associations concerned with reconciling craft tradition and industrial technology.

Frank Lloyd Wright's career, in which he built more than Mies, Le Corbusier and Gropius combined, parallels and influences the work of the European modernists, particularly via the Wasmuth Portfolio, but he refused to be categorized with them claiming that "they" copied his ideas. Wright was a major influence on both Gropius (founder of the Bauhaus) and van der Rohe, however, as well as on the whole of organic architecture. Gropius claimed that his "bible" for forming the Bauhaus was 100 Frank Lloyd Wright drawings that the architect shared with Germany over a decade prior to this point. Many architects in Germany believed that Wright's life would be wasted in the United States, since the US wasn't ready for his architecture. Just as many European architects saw Wright's Larkin Building (1904) in Buffalo, Unity Temple (1905) in Oak Park, and the Robie House (1910) in Chicago as some of the first examples of modern architecture in the 20th Century. It would be 2-3 decades later before the European architects would bring their version back to the United States.

Marina City (left) and IBM Plaza (right) in Chicago.

In 1932 came the important MOMA exhibition, the International Exhibition of Modern Architecture, curated by Philip Johnson. Johnson and collaborator Henry-Russell Hitchcock drew together many distinct threads and trends, identified them as stylistically similar and having a common purpose, and consolidated them into the International style.

This was an important turning point. With World War II the important figures of the Bauhaus fled to the United States, to Chicago, to the Harvard Graduate School of Design, and to Black Mountain College. While Modern architectural design never became a dominant style in single-dwelling residential buildings, in institutional and commercial architecture Modernism became the pre-eminent, and in the schools (for leaders of the profession) the only acceptable, design solution from about 1932 to about 1984.

Architects who worked in the International style wanted to break with architectural tradition and design simple, unornamented buildings. The most commonly used materials are glass for the facade, steel for exterior support, and concrete for the floors and interior supports; floor plans were functional and logical. The style became most evident in the design of skyscrapers. Perhaps its most famous manifestations include the United Nations headquarters (Le Corbusier, Oscar Niemeyer, Sir Howard Robertson), the Seagram Building and the Toronto-Dominion Centre (Ludwig Mies van der Rohe), and Lever House (Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill). A prominent residential example is the Lovell House (Richard Neutra) in Los Angeles.

Detractors of the International style claim that its stark, uncompromisingly rectangular geometry is dehumanising. Le Corbusier once described buildings as "machines for living", but people are not machines and it was suggested that they do not want to live in machines.[citation needed] Even Philip Johnson admitted he was "bored with the box." Since the early 1980s many architects have deliberately sought to move away from rectilinear designs, towards more eclectic styles. During the middle of the century, some architects began experimenting in organic forms that they felt were more human and accessible. Mid-century modernism, or organic modernism, was very popular, due to its democratic and playful nature. Oscar Niemeyer, Alvar Aalto and Eero Saarinen were three of the most prolific architects and designers in this movement, which has influenced contemporary modernism.

Although there is debate as to when and why the decline of the modern movement occurred, criticism of Modern architecture began in the 1960s on the grounds that it was universal, sterile, elitist and lacked meaning. Its approach had become ossified in a "style" that threatened to degenerate into a set of mannerisms. Siegfried Giedion in the 1961 introduction to his evolving text, Space, Time and Architecture (first written in 1941), could begin "At the moment a certain confusion exists in contemporary architecture, as in painting; a kind of pause, even a kind of exhaustion." At the Metropolitan Museum of Art, a 1961 symposium discussed the question "Modern Architecture: Death or Metamorphosis?" In New York, the coup d'état appeared to materialize in controversy around the Pan Am Building that loomed over Grand Central Station, taking advantage of the modernist real estate concept of "air rights",[6] In criticism by Ada Louise Huxtable and Douglass Haskell it was seen to "sever" the Park Avenue streetscape and "tarnish" the reputations of its consortium of architects: Walter Gropius, Pietro Belluschi and the builders Emery Roth & Sons. The rise of postmodernism was attributed to disenchantment with Modern architecture. By the 1980s, postmodern architecture appeared triumphant over modernism; however, postmodern aesthetics lacked traction and by the mid-1990s, a neo-modern (or hypermodern) architecture had once again established international pre-eminence. As part of this revival, much of the criticism of the modernists has been revisited, refuted, and re-evaluated; and a modernistic idiom once again dominates in institutional and commercial contemporary practice, but must now compete with the revival of traditional architectural design in commercial and institutional architecture; residential design continues to be dominated by a traditional aesthetic.

The Bailey House, Case Study House #21.

That is not to say that the residential sector in the United States is devoid of examples from the Modernist movement. The Case Study Houses are prime examples of this. Commissioned around the mid-twentieth century, the six homes that were built have had more than 350,000 visitors since their completion, and have influenced many architects over the years. These and other Modern residences tend to focus on humanizing the otherwise harsh ideal, making them more livable and ultimately more appealing to real people. Many of these designs use a similar tactic: blurring the line between indoor and outdoor spaces. This is achieved by embracing "the box" while at the same time dissolving it into the background with minimal structure and large glass walls.[7] Some critics claim that these spaces remain too cold and static for the average person to function, however. The materials utilized in a large number of Modern homes are not hidden behind a softening facade. While this may make them somewhat less desirable for the general public, most modernist architects see this as a necessary and pivotal tenet of Modernism: uncluttered and purely Minimal design.

Therme Vals, a hotel / spa complex in Vals, Switzerland, designed by Peter Zumthor. It characterizes the European practice of exploring the juxtaposition of modern architecture, nature, and centuries-old traditional designs.

Modernist architecture has been more widely accepted as an appropriate residential style in Europe, where the populace is generally more exposed to culture and art than much of the world. This level of education imparts a tendency to accept new ideas while preserving their rich heritage, which is evidenced in the mix of new and old architecture, both intentional and unintentional, that one sees in many major European cities today[8]. Also, one could argue that the numerous modern institutional and commercial buildings that permeate European countries have adjusted their denizens to this type of design; Frank Gehry's Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, for example, has been one of the best received modern pieces in history with over ten million visitors since its opening in 1997[9].

Characteristics

Modern architecture is usually characterized by:

  • an adoption of the principle that the materials and functional requirements determine the result
  • an adoption of the machine aesthetic
  • an emphasis of horizontal and vertical lines
  • a creation of ornament using the structure and theme of the building, or a rejection of ornamentation.
  • a simplification of form and elimination of "unnecessary detail"
  • an adoption of expressed structure
  • Form follows function

Preservation

Although relatively young, works of Modern architecture may be lost because of demolition, neglect, or alterations. While an awareness of the plight of endangered Modern buildings is growing, the threats continue. Non-profit groups such as the World Monuments Fund, Docomomo International and the Recent Past Preservation Network are working to safeguard and document imperiled Modern architecture. In 2006, the World Monuments Fund launched Modernism at Risk, an advocacy and conservation program. Since Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans modernist structures have been increasingly slated for demolition. Currently plans are underway to demolish many of the city's modernist public schools, as well as large portions of the city's Civic Plaza. FEMA funds will contribute to razing the State Office Building and State Supreme Court Building, both designed by the collaborating architectural firms of August Perez and Associates; Goldstein, Parham and Labouisse; and Favrot, Reed, Mathes and Bergman. The New Orleans Recovery School District has proposed demolitions of schools designed by Charles R. Colbert, Curtis and Davis, and Ricciuti Associates. The 1959 Lawrence and Saunders building for the New Orleans International Longshoremen's Association Local 1419 is currently threatened with demolition although the union supports its conservation.

See also

References

  1. ^ Crouch, Christopher. 2000. "Modernism in Art Design and Architecture", New York: St. Martins Press. ISBN 0312218303 (cloth) ISBN 031221832X (pbk)
  2. ^ Otto Wagner. Moderne Architektur: Seinen Schülern ein Führer auf diesem Kunstgebiete. Anton Schroll. 1902.
  3. ^ Otto Wagner. Translated by Harry Francis Mallgrave. Modern Architecture: A Guidebook for His Students to This Field of Art. Getty Center for the History of Art and the Humanities. 1988. ISBN 0226869385
  4. ^ Lucius Burckhardt (1987) . The Werkbund. ? : Hyperion Press. ISBN. Frederic J. Schwartz (1996). The Werkbund: Design Theory and Mass Culture Before the First World War. New Haven, Conn. : Yale University Press. ISBN.
  5. ^ Mark Jarzombek. "Joseph August Lux: Werkbund Promoter, Historian of a Lost Modernity," Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 63/1 (June 2004): 202-219.
  6. ^ Meredith L. Clausen, 2005. The Pan Am building and the shattering of the Modernist Dream (Cambridge: MIT Press) (On-line analytical review)
  7. ^ Paul Adamson, AIA. "California Modernism: Models for Contemporary Housing" arcCa Archive accessed September 3, 2009.
  8. ^ Spier, Steven, and Martin Tschanz. Swiss Made. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2003. pg. 90.
  9. ^ "Guggenheim Bilbao" website accessed September 15, 2009.

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