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Modern Architecture


The international style gains its name because of the integration of style in the developed world. The integration was done by the end of Second World War. Ideas found in Cubist painting, form the basis of international style, resulting into square styles consisting of few organic forms.  

The construction style is Functionalists in nature; usefulness of space is put over aesthetics. Reinforced concrete and steel frame construction are the new building methods incorporated in International Style of architecture. International style did not limit itself to materials usage and used past methods such as load bearing masonry. The style relied on intrinsic elegance of materials rather than applying decorative coatings.

The Bauhaus school in Germany was a major propagator of the International Style. It was established in 1919, in Weimar Germany. The schools founder, Walter Gropius, provided the greatest influence to this distinct style created by the school. Gropius believed that the highest of all forms of art was the creation of a building. According to him, a building required proper integration of skills from craftsmen, artists and architects into one. The school had teaching programs that focused on mastery of craft before art skills that were sophisticated, since the school’s central concept was breaking down the boundary between craft and fine art. Gropius strong believe in mastery of the craft had the school focusing on craft and did not offer architecture classes. 


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Bauhaus school was relocated by more conventional fundamentals of the city due to its school’s philosophy that has a socialist slant. It was moved to Dessau, Germany, in 1925. It is in this location that the school constructed a new campus that conformed to Gropius’s distinct style. The buildings still do exist, and they portray an ideal example of the International style. Under suspicion and pressure on Nazis, the school was closed in 1933. A number of the school’s professors found jobs in United States and Europe after the school’s closure, therefore, spreading the International Style ideas.  

A closer look at today’s buildings reveals that they have roots in the International Style, through their styles and the construction techniques used in them. Building from the style is still used today just like a couple of major architectural movements.

Defining characteristics of Modern Architecture

Inspired by function

Modern Architecture breaks away from the tradition of aesthetics and ornament. It aims at creating buildings that are inspired by function, layout and location. The building is tailored to suite the specific site. Louis Sullivan, Frank Lloyd Wright’s mentor, argued that form follows function to denote that in, modernism, the function of the project dictate the form or design ideas of the project. FLW was also famous for identify the building with its site. FLW believed that the building should be one with the site or its environment. A good example is the Falling Waters.

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Simplicity and clarity of form

Modern Architecture is free of ornament and unnecessary elements. The form of the design derives from only what is required to dictate its aesthetics. Most the buildings, especially residential are stripped down to reveal the detail and design elements. Focus was mainly on the space rather than on unnecessary décor or ornament. Architect Ludwig Mies Van Der Rohe adopted the minimalist idea that “less is more” to further explain his modern architectural tactic of creating simplicity by using only the necessary elements in design. For example, a floor designed to also serve as the radiator, bathroom housed by a massive fireplace etc. Buckminster Fuller also adopted an engineer’s objective of “doing more with less” with an orientation, however, towards engineering and technology rather than aesthetics. Dieter Rams, an industrial designer also shared a similar sentiment of “less, but better” adapted from Mies.

The structure’s aesthetics was also determined by lighting, natural textures and colors, using basic geometry and clean, fine finishes. This also included natural stone cladding on simplified structures.

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Connecting indoors to the outside

Buildings were not concealed in unnecessary cladding or curtain walling. Instead, the viewer could see the inner workings and true nature of the project. Natural materials were also used in their natural form. Structural elements are also exposed to show the support system. This also included exposed beams and columns, and open floor plans to foster a sense of “truth”.

Absence of ornament

The style does not include towering columns, fancy cornices or decorative arches, demonstrating the independence of this style from classical styles.

Modern architectural style breaks the barriers of separate rooms combining them to a multifunctional home. The living room, bedroom and the lounge are all merged together without clear defined partition walls.

Love for rectilinear forms

This style mainly emphasized the use of vertical and horizontal lines. Straight beams and columns, windows, staircases, roof lines, and other structural elements accentuated the creation of rectilinear spaces.

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This style mainly used clear glass, steel and concrete.

Pioneer Architects in Modern Architecture

The history and development of modern architecture was shaped by very many Architects. Notable among them include:

Frank Lloyd Wright

FLW’s first few examples of modern architecture in the United States include the Larkin Building in Buffalo New York, Robie House in Chicago and the Oak Park in Illinois.  Frank Lloyd wright was a great influence on many European Architects like Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Walter Gropius of the Bauhaus. He also had a lot of influence on Organic Architecture. Walter Gropius claimed that the Wasmuth Portfolio by Frank Lloyd Wright inspired him to form the Bauhaus. The Wasmuth was portfolio of a hundred drawings by Frank Lloyd Wright which he shared with Germany.

Le Corbusier

Charles-Édouard Jeanneret, best known as Le Corbusier was an Architect, Urbanist, Writer and designer. He was one of the most important pioneers of Modern Architecture. Le Corbusier was born in Switzerland, but in 1930, he became a French citizen. His buildings, under a career spanning five decades, are constructed throughout America, India and Europe. He was also a pioneer in high-rise design in providing better living conditions for city dwellers. As a solution for dealing with the squalor of the ever growing Parisian slums, Le Corbusier came up with modern architectural forms that provided better quality of life for the low income earners. His cell-like apartments stacked on top of each other came to be known as Immeubles Villas. Le Corbusier was also an urban planner. In 1922, he presented a contemporary scheme for three million city inhabitants. Famous buildings by Le Corbusier include the Villa Savoye, Unité d'Habitation of Meaux, France, Unité d'Habitation of Nantes-Rezé, Nantes, France among others.

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Ludwig Mies van der Rohe

Mies, mostly made use of modern materials such as plate glass and industrial steel to define interior spaces. He also strived for minimalism balanced against free flowing open spaces. He referred to his buildings as “skin and bone architecture” Mies van der Rohe is usually associated with precepts like “God is in the details” and “less is more”.

Famous buildings by Mies include the Farnsworth House in Chicago; the Chicago Center Complex, Crown Hall; Seagram Building, and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, USA.

Walter Adolph Georg Gropius

Walter Gropius was born in May 1883 in Berlin, Germany. He was the founder of the Bauhaus School. Other achievements apart from the Bauhaus include the Fagus Factory in Alfeld an der Leine, Germany, the Sommerfeld House in Berlin, the Gropius House in Massachusetts, USA, JFK Office building in Boston USA, and many more.

Alvar Aalto

Alvar Aalto was an architect and designer from Finland. His works included architecture, textiles, glassware and furniture. His career mainly was associated with the rapid industrialization of Finland at the start of the twentieth century. Many of his clients were industrialists.  His most profound modernism design is evident in the viipuri Libirary which he transformed into a high- modernist building. The interior of the library uses warm colors, natural materials and undulating lines. Aalto was also a member of the Congres Internationaux d'Architecture Moderne (CIAM). It was not until he completed the Paimio Sanatorium in 1929 and the Viipuri Library in 1935, however, that Aalto gained world attention. Frank Lloyd Wright described Aalto’s Finnish Pavilion in New York as a “work of genius”. Other buildings by Aalto include Municipal Hospital, Finland; Helsinki University of Technology, Espoo, Finland; the Experimental House, Finland; Essen opera house, Essen, Germany and the Mount Angel Abbey Library, St. Benedict, Oregon among others.



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