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The International Style

The International Style Collage

Started: 1914

Ended: 1970

"Space and light and order. Those are the things that men need just as much as they need bread or a place to sleep."

Le Corbusier Signature

Summary of The International Style

Today when people speak of the "architecture of the modern movement," they are usually referring to the International Style - especially the gleaming steel, glass, and concrete forms of its most famous buildings. More of a movement than a mere aesthetic, the International Style emerged in Europe partly as a response to the cataclysm of World War I and related events. Its use in postwar housing gave it renown as a symbol of social and industrial progress, and not surprisingly, the International Style often resonated with leftist political groups. In the face of opposition from totalitarian regimes in the 1930s, many of the International Style's European proponents resettled in the United States, where economic expansion after World War II allowed it to flourish, particularly in skyscraper construction.

This, along with the growth of rapid postwar intercontinental communication, allowed it to become a truly global architecture. But the inability of the International Style's supporters to solve social problems as its founders had hoped, coupled with its rigid formal monotony, prompted many architects in the 1960s to seek new design directions that reflected an increasingly diverse, commercialized, and post-industrial society. While few architects today call themselves adherents of the International Style, an equally small number would say it has not in some way influenced their work.

Key Ideas

The International Style is often thought of as the "architecture of the machine age," which symbolized for many the crystallization of modernism in building design. This became particularly true after World War II, when the postwar economic building boom made the International Style a kind of "unofficial" American architecture.
Often called "minimalist" architecture, International Style buildings are well-known for the way they seem to strip away all extraneous ornament from the structure, leading to an extreme blurring of interior and exterior space, the exposure of buildings' construction with unvarnished honesty, and the glorification of modern industrial materials: chiefly, steel, concrete, and glass.
The International Style was one of the first architectural movements to receive renown and be adopted unequivocally on every inhabited continent. It became a global symbol of modernity both before and after World War II, especially in Latin America and Asia, where nations felt a keen desire to industrialize and compete politically and economically with traditional powers in Europe and North America.
The term "International Style" was coined in 1932 by an eponymous exposition of European architects at the Museum of Modern Art in New York curated by Henry-Russell Hitchcock and Philip Johnson to describe an ethos of construction purely in terms of materials and space, with virtually no reference to the sociopolitical dimension, as had been highly emphasized in Europe. This differentiated the International Style between its understanding in Europe versus in the USA.
The International Style Image


The International Style arose from several strands of architectural and political thought in the 1910s. First, it often has been said to have grown out of a fascination with buildings for a modern industrialized age, especially factories and warehouses, which demanded utilitarian designs that included ample natural lighting and flexible interior space for machinery or storage for huge quantities of items, with minimal ornamentation of the structure. Such structures also spoke to the efficiency of construction and the solidity of materials. In Germany, such thought was visible in the steel-framed turbine factory in Berlin for Allgemeines Elektrisitäts Gesellschaft - the German General Electric - designed by company architect Peter Behrens between 1907 and 1910. At the time, Behrens simultaneously employed three seminal figures in the history of the International Style: Walter Gropius, Charles-Édouard Jeanneret (later known as Le Corbusier), and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. Soon afterwards, Gropius left Behrens' office and opened his own practice with Adolf Meyer; they immediately received a commission for the new Fagus Shoe Factory at Alfeld-an-der-Leine in 1911, whose large glass curtain walls would be equally as inspiring for progressive architects.

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