For much of history, the worldhas been dominated by a changing set of empires and conquests.
This meant thatpride and nationalism could run rampant along the face of the Earth, throughthe creation, destruction, and reconstruction of sites, in the form ofarchitecture. At the time, the emphasis behind the creation of buildings andlandscapes was to give rise to an aesthetic image, which would encapsulate amovement or a moment in time. This meant that practicality, efficient use ofspace and resources, and optimization of labor and time had to take a step backso that the magnificent structures of the world could take rise. However, theneed to create a world, with a limited amount of space, for a population thatis constantly expanding, has shifted the priorities from the construction ofelegant works of art, to the practical concerns which naturally predominate aspace.
Sometime along the late 19thto mid-20th-century a new art movement surfaced which broke away from theincompatibility of “Victorian morality, optimism, and convention.”1 After the horrorsexperienced during WWI, many of the artists of the time shared a common senseof disillusionment, “a sense that European culture had failed and would have tobe replaced by a transformed society.”2 It was under such conditionsthat the Modernist movement came to rise, in an era that valued “a radicalbreak with the past and the concurrent search for new forms of expression.”3 The Modernist era wascharacterized by industrialization, rapid social change, and advances in sciencethat gave rise to new ideas in psychology, philosophy, and political theory.With regards to architecture, the Modernist upheld the importance of economyand functionality. In their eyes, “rational designs could best be producedthrough mechanization, yielding efficient, somehow machine-made buildings.
“4The Modernist movement startedas a literary response, to the destruction of the world, which sought tocapture the disillusionment and fragmentation of the era. Something which madethe Modernist writers different from their predecessors is that they were wellversed in the styles and motifs of those who had come before them. In his essay”Tradition and the Individual Talent,” T.S.
Elliot highlights how a poet mustbe aware of the historical sense, “which is a sense of the timeless as well asof the temporal and of the timeless and of the temporal together, is what makesa writer traditional. And it is at the same time what makes a writer mostacutely conscious of his place in time, of his own contemporaneity.”5 This approach, towardspoetry and towards the arts, is what enabled Elliot and other modernists,across multiple disciplines, to transcend beyond the cultural landscape, whichthey had known, and into a world that sought to redefine tradition.Perhaps the reason why themodernist took such a holistic approach towards their art was to try andunderstand the conditions which gave rise to warfare, so that they might createa world and art that was free from it.
Elliot expounded upon the idea of the poetand the past and how “he can neither take the past as a lump, an indiscriminatebolus, nor can he form himself wholly on one or two private admirations, norcan he form himself wholly upon one preferred period.”6 He also instills theconcept of awareness of the history of culture, and its changes, “He must beaware that the mind of Europe—the mind of his own country—a mind which helearns in time to be much more important than his own private mind—is a mindwhich changes, and that this change is a development which abandons nothing enroute.”7Herein, it is evident how theModernist understood that their work would affect the art of their time, aswell as that which had preceded them. They understood the significance ofcreating a work which understood the contemporary history of the time, as wellas the history before it. Maybe this is the reason the Modernists sought to getaway from the European conventions which had placed emphasis on aesthetics,optimism, and the presence of structure in work.
They understood that, in atime that was plagued by warfare, poverty, and disarray, it was meaningless tocreate work that idolized those concepts. Instead, they opted to place theirfaith and hopes in the rise of industry and the creation of a world that placedpracticality before beauty. In literature, Modernists like Virginia Woolf,Gertrude Stein, and William Faulkner challenged their audiences byincorporating a technique known as stream of consciousness, into their writing.
This parallels the ideals of the movement because it “commonly ignores orderlysentence structure and incorporates fragments of thought in an attempt tocapture the flow of characters’ mental processes.”8 One of the biggesttakeaways from the Modernist movement is that everyone had a different methodfor making sense of the world and what was going on around them and, as such,this meant that each created different form of art. This stray away fromstructure in style, particularly with the emergence of free-verse in poetry,highlighted the idea that order was absent at the time and that it was up toeach person to find meaning and solutions.With regards to architecture,modernism has “given way to mass culture, economy to parsimony, and honesty tobanality.”9 The movement removeditself from the capitalistic livelihood which had dominated prior to the warand chose to promote Socialist ideals. Some of the critics of the Modernistmovement describe the way the buildings are “reductivistic, or stripped of allbut its essential part”10 to the extent that itleaves room for little or no meaning. When making this statement, the primeexample would be the Home Insurance Company built by William Le Baron Jenneyfrom 1883-1885.
As one of the first skyscrapers to be built, the building hadlittle room to be concerned with ornamentation and aesthetic appeal, rather itwas created to serve a function, to be a home insurance company. Moreimportantly though, the technological accomplishments of the building,successful attempt at fireproofing steel frame buildings, created thefoundation for a further propagation of skyscrapers and solidified theinfluence of the Industrial style in America. As is true with the literature of modernism, the architectural motifspresent in this building had a didactic and informative intent. This meant thatthe onlooker had to be acquainted with the elements of the building, as well asthe elements which had been eliminated by the Modernists, those to which theywere reacting. The modernist architecture wasthe “manifestation of the future with no thoughts of the past.
“11 centered aroundtechnology, life, and optimization. However, “to understand the creation of themodern design, one must first understand the evolution in building materials.”12 To transform society,Modernists first had to set out and industrialize the building process with”new construction techniques and the use of materials such as steel, concreteand glass” which “would reduce costs and so allow more housing to be built.
“13 Furthermore, beyond theeconomic benefit of using these materials, the Modernist architects found asense of awe in how novel they were. “They admired steel for its tensilestrength, concrete for its resistance and glass for its ability to admit light.They sought innovative and expressive ways to reveal these properties, and usedsteel and glass to create visual transparency.”14Prior to these innovations,the British architects were celebrating and showcasing these new materials.
Theconstruction of Britain’s Crystal Palace, built by Joseph Paxton, was arevolutionary concept which epitomized the efficacy and rigor of the industrialrevolution. During the construction of the building, the contractors Fox andHenderson “made one of the large-scale demonstrations of prefabrication.”15 Moreover, due to therepetitive iron-and-glass sections, that made up the bulk of the building, onlya limited number of components had to be made, which meant that “supplyingfactories could easily mass produce the material needed.
” At the time ofconstruction and assembly, the materials arrived, at the site, preassembledinto subsections, and the “final assembly proceeded at an “unprecedented rate.”Although it was regarded with heavy criticism, nicknamed “glass monster”, muchof the success and public praise for the Crystal Palace has to do with itserving as a precursor for the modernist movement and the International Style,”increasing acceptance of a larger amount of glass and iron in buildingsdesigned by architects.”16Before making a fulltransition into the modernist movement it’s important to look one step furtherinto the transition. The Guaranty Building in Buffalo, New York, designed byDankmar Adler and Louis Sullivan, found artistic expression by turning toclassical precedent for inspiration.
“Rather than a layering of horizontalelements drawn from one or more historical periods” the building has a base, amiddle section, and a top, like a classical column. Sullivan explained hisreasons for the organization of the building, in his essay “The Tall BuildingArtistically Considered.”17 The ground floor wasconveniently made to allow easy access from the street “into banks, shops, andthe like,”18The mezzanine or second floor could be easily reached on foot and served as a unit;”he laced stacked offices on the third-through-top floors, where repetitivewindows illuminated floor areas that could be subdivided to suit therequirements of various tenants; and he locate the mechanical systems, fromtanks and pumps to elevator machinery, behind a deep cornice”19 Sullivan evolved acharacteristic ornamental style derived from natural plant forms and found an”unashamedly vertical expression for tall buildings” which would later besolidified in the modernist movement.Over time, the use of thesematerials, steel, concrete and glass, was “codified as the InternationalStyle.” The International Style was an architectural style that became thepreeminent tendency in Western architecture. “The most common characteristicsof International Style buildings are rectilinear forms; light, taut planesurfaces that have been completely stripped of applied ornamentation anddecoration; open interior spaces; and a visually weightless quality engenderedby the use of cantilever construction.
Glass and steel, in combination withusually less visible reinforced concrete, are the characteristic materials ofconstruction.”20The revolutionary use of the International Style grew out of three problemsthat confronted architects in the modern period. The first problem was thecreation of buildings with eclectic themes and decorative elements, fromdifferent architectural periods and styles, that bore no relation to thefunction of the building. The second was the need to create a large number of”office buildings and other commercial, residential, and civic structures”, inthe most cost-effective manner, to serve the rapidly industrialized society.The third was “the development of new building technologies centering on theuse of iron and steel, reinforced concrete, and glass.
“21 These three principles led tothe search for a “honest, economical, and utilitarian architecture that wouldboth use the new materials and satisfy society’s new building needs while stillappealing to aesthetic taste.”22 Herein, the Modernistideal of practicality and efficiency is displayed through the implementation ofthe International Style into modern architecture. Rather than placing emphasison the aesthetic appeal and decorative features of the building, the Modernistbelieved that a pure focus on efficiency and structural engineering wouldnaturally bring about a pleasant outlook upon the landscape. “A harmony betweenartistic expression, function, and technology would thus be established in anaustere and disciplined new architecture”23An epitome of Modernistthinking and values can be found in Louis Sullivan’s phrase, “form (ever)follows function,” which upheld the idea that the external features of abuilding should be reflective of the internal function which it serves. In hisdesign, of The University of Arkansas Fine Arts Center in Fayetteville, EdwardDurell Stone illuminates this thinking by following a pattern of simple linesand a lack of unnecessary ornamentation in his design. It was one of the firsteducational facilities in the country to combine the Fine Arts under one roof,and the design of the building created a collective aura which resonated in thedifferent disciplines being taught.
However, to fully understand the extent ofmodernism, it is necessary to look at the Seagram Building in New York City,designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. The building was Mies’ first attempt atthe construction of a tall office building. Soon after it was finished itbecame the “standard for the modern skyscraper.
” The building interacts withthe surrounding areas by juxtaposing the large granite surface of the plazabelow with the bronze and dark glass that envelops around its structure. Mies also opted to set the building back 100feet from the edge of the street, which in turn enabled him to have a highlyactive open plaza. This detail allowed Mies and his building to distancethemselves from “New York urban morphology, lot line development, and theconventional economics of skyscraper construction.”24Beyond the plaza, Miesdesigned a lobby with white ceilings that stretch throughout all the entrydoors to further dissolve the “defined line between interior and exterior.”25 The beauty of this detaillies in the fact that it creates a space in the building that allows it to blendinto the landscape in the most natural manner, as if it had been there allalong. This concept, of blending the natural elements of the landscape into thebuilding, is further exemplified in his design of the office buildings abovethe lobby.
Each floorplan was designed with the intent of allowing the greatestamount of natural light into the offices. He achieved this by using gray topazglass, which is used for sun and heat protection. His primary goal with thisdesign was to create lighting indoors which didn’t have a big contrast with theone outside. These details, concerned with lighting, blending into thelandscape, and consumption of energy, illustrate the practicality which theModernist used to approach the design of their buildings.
Furthermore, Mies wascapable of inserting aesthetic elements, in the design of the building, thatdidn’t remove emphasis from the importance of its functionality, but ratherbrought light to it. “The metal bronze skin that is seen in the facade isnonstructural but is used to express the idea of the structural frame that isunderneath.”26Likewise, “vertical elements were also welded to the window panels not only tostiffen the skin for installation and wind loading, but to aestheticallyfurther enhance the vertical articulation of the building.”27 The Seagram Buildingbecame the model for many surrounding office buildings who valued the use ofmodern materials and the setback from the city grid. The Modernist movement washighlighted by an optimism following the post-war era, “it meant lookingforward rather than backwards.”28 This was particularlyappealing to an American nation that had little history to look back on andborrow from.
At a time in which the country became a powerhouse and forerunnerin the industrial movement, the modernist approach provided the conditions necessaryto implement the ideals of the International Style, into the landscape. Thiswas a nation concerned with aerospace, automobile, and technological endeavorsand the modernist style for design provided an epitome to these ideals. Once the preeminence ofModernism had been established, new styles began to form, in an era ofexperimentation, that sought to find new ways to depict the “capabilities ofreinforced concrete, structural steel, and glass.”29 The mid-century modernistmovement was not concerned with class or previous social structures, instead itlooked to find something “fresh and new.” This follows the idea of theModernist movement as a catalyst for innovation and the creation of multiplesolutions to the problems exhibited in the past. In a way, the modernistarchitecture “filled a void” that was left by the warfare of the previousyears. It gave a sense of optimism into the future and the idea that there wassomething to be found there, rather than dwelling on the past.
A new place forthe new generation to grow and live. The modernist style was honest and did notseek to embellish the world with ornaments and designs which sought to hide thereality of the world, but instead focused on the progression towards a worldthat could, hopefully, provide a new beginning. The efficiency of themodernist movement enabled the creation of cities and landscapes that couldgrow at the same rate as a population which sought to repopulate the earth.
Rather than removing itself from the landscape and creating a future thatseemed outlandish, the architects of the modernist movement were very carefulto make their designs blend with the historical past, the present, and thefuture that was to come. Likewise, the modernists innovated methods to provideaesthetic qualities to their work without taking emphasis away from thefunctionality of the building. Ultimately, the presence ofModernism in the history of architecture provided the world with optimism aftera time of horror and bloodshed. It shifted focus away from the aestheticdetails which had adorned the cultures of the past, and instead focused on thesimple details and practicality. Moreover, it placed emphasis on the use of newmaterials like steel, concrete, and glass in ways that highlighted the importanceof engineering and the industrial movement with regards to the future. Ratherthan pretending that things could go on in the structure which they had before,they acknowledged that changes needed to be made to provide the world with alandscape that resembled the political, economic, and technological ideals ofthe new society.
Along with this, the Utopian principle, behind modernism,promoted the idea that there was a correct way to build the future. This meantthat each and every single modernist building could be modified and constructedin different sites throughout the world, providing the perfect landscape forthe future.1 The Editors ofEncyclopædia Britannica. “Modernism.” Encyclopædia Britannica. February22 February. 2016. https://www.
britannica.com/art/Modernism-art. Accessed 01December. 2017.2Fazio,Michael W., Marian Moffett, and Lawrence Wodehouse. Buildings across Time: AnIntroduction to World Architecture.
4thed. Boston: McGraw-Hill Higher Education, 2012. 455. 3 The Editors ofEncyclopædia Britannica. “Modernism.
“4 Fazio,Michael W., Marian Moffett, and Lawrence Wodehouse. Buildings across Time: An Introduction to World Architecture. 455.5 Ibid., 4566 Ibid.7 Ibid.8 The Editors ofEncyclopædia Britannica.
“Modernism.”9 Fazio,Michael W., Marian Moffett, and Lawrence Wodehouse. Buildings across Time: An Introduction to World Architecture. 455.10 Ibid.
11 YouTube. “CLEAN LINES,OPEN SPACES A VIEW OF MID CENTURY MODERN ARCHITECTURE Full Version.” YouTube, uploaded by IbrahimSiddiqConlon.09 July. 2015.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K_YZbp-MmEo. Accessed 03December. 2017.12 Ibid.
13 “Modernism.”GAMSWEN. 05 January. 2011.
https://gamswen.wordpress.com/presentations/modernism/.Accessed 04 December. 2017.14 Ibid15 Fazio,Michael W., Marian Moffett, and Lawrence Wodehouse. Buildings across Time: An Introduction to World Architecture.
415.16 Ibid.17 Ibid.,448.18 Ibid.19 Ibid.20The Editors ofEncyclopædia Britannica.
“International Style.” Encyclopædia Britannica.18 October.
Accessed 04 December. 2017. 21 Ibid.22 Ibid.23 The Editors ofEncyclopædia Britannica. “International Style.
” 24Perez, Adelyn.”AD Classics: Seagram Building / Mies van der Rohe.” ArchDaily.
09May. 2010. https://www.archdaily.com/59412/seagram-building-mies-van-der-rohe. Accessed05 December.
2017.25 Ibid.26 Ibid.27 Ibid.28 YouTube.
“CLEAN LINES,OPEN SPACES A VIEW OF MID CENTURY MODERN ARCHITECTURE Full Version.”29 Ibid.