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The Art Story Homepage Movements, Styles, and Tendencies The International Style Art Works

The International Style Artworks

The International Style Collage

Started: 1914

Ended: 1970

Artworks and Artists of The International Style

The below artworks are the most important in The International Style - that both overview the major ideas of the movement, and highlight the greatest achievements by each artist in The International Style. Don't forget to visit the artist overview pages of the artists that interest you.

Bauhaus, Dessau, Germany (1925-26)

Bauhaus, Dessau, Germany (1925-26)

By: Walter Gropius

Home to the state-supported school for the applied arts, the Bauhaus was founded in Weimar in 1919 by Walter Gropius, but moved to Dessau in 1925 when political conditions in the latter became more favorable to its left-leaning educational climate. Gropius designed the school's new permanent home along with the faculty residences nearby that same year.

The pinwheel-plan institutional building is composed of an asymmetrical set of prismatic structures of reinforced concrete. Each section - dormitories, studio spaces, offices, and refectory - uses a different design that delineates its respective function with remarkable clarity, particularly the use of massive glass curtain walls for the studio spaces to maximize the admittance of natural light. The wraparound corners of these windows, which emerge from the plane of the rest of the facade, enable one to see through two sides of the structure simultaneously, a feature that prompted architectural critic Reyner Banham to call it the first "Cubist" building. The complex only housed the Bauhaus for four years before the political climate became untenable and it moved to Berlin, closing for good under Nazi pressure in 1933.

Villa Savoye, Poissy-sur-Seine, France (1929-31)

Villa Savoye, Poissy-sur-Seine, France (1929-31)

By: Le Corbusier

The Villa Savoye is the last of Le Corbusier's houses that he designed during the 1920s, and fittingly is considered the summation of his "Five Points of a New Architecture" elucidated in his treatise Vers une architecture (1923). The pilotis, or thin point-support columns, are arranged in a near-perfect grid that provides the architect almost complete freedom in the designs of both the floor plan and the facades. The second floor, the main living space, is characterized by the ribbon windows that provide unencumbered views of the landscape - fostering the strong connection between nature and the machine - and it is crowned by a roof terrace.

Built entirely out of the industrial materials of steel, concrete, and glass, the Villa Savoye exhibits several links with the modern means of transportation that fascinated Le Corbusier. The terrace features a sculptural wall whose curved forms echo the smokestacks of ocean liners, a relationship which is underscored by the placement of the house within a large lawn, much like a ship sailing through a vast sea; and in the metal ship-deck railings of the ramps that connect the house's three levels. Meanwhile, the curve of the driveway as it snakes around the first level uses the exact turning radius of a 1929 model Voisin - the automobile manufacturer that had supported Le Corbusier's work throughout the decade. The villa thus represents the way Le Corbusier conceived of a dwelling as "a machine for living."

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German Pavilion, Barcelona, Spain (1929)

German Pavilion, Barcelona, Spain (1929)

By: Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Lilly Reich

Mies and Lilly Reich together designed the German Pavilion for the 1929 World's Fair in Barcelona - a structure which now ranks among the most significant temporary structures ever built, particularly for an international exposition. Demolished after the fair, it was reconstructed in 1986 using the original plans, now in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York. It constitutes Mies' most succinct statement in the reduction of a building to the minimal requirements to define space: a handful of columns elevated on a platform juxtaposed with asymmetrically-arranged opaque and transparent wall planes, supporting a flat roof.

The Pavilion functioned during the fair as simply a reception space for dignitaries, as the Weimar government had other space for actual exhibits. Though there is an extreme emphasis on horizontality, the platform of travertine (a common stone used in ancient classical monuments) elevates it much like a Greek temple, with a structural clarity to match. But also here we see the fineness of materials: the cruciform-plan steel columns are chrome-plated, and the interior is ornamented solely with a red curtain, while the colored onyx walls are cut to expose the diamond pattern, all of which recalling an attention to refinement and craftsmanship that is balanced with the building's clear machine-made qualities. It therefore exemplifies the visual form of Mies' famous dictum, "Less is more."

Filling Stations (1930 and 1931)

Filling Stations (1930 and 1931)

By: Hans Borkowsky and Alfred Clauss/George Daub

The International Style proved to be a perfect idiom for the new, modern building type of the roadside automobile filling station. Both of these structures were included in Hitchcock and Johnson's book The International Style that followed the pair's landmark exhibition of 1932 at the Museum of Modern Art.

They demonstrate the ideal way in which essentially miniature industrial buildings serve a simple, functional purpose. They consist of individual pavilions distinguished by large expanses of glass curtain walls set into a steel structure, topped by a flat roof; in the case of Borkowsky's station (top), the pumps are even covered by a cantilevered canopy. Eschewing all exterior ornament, the stations suggest the minimal, economical use of industrial building materials to serve the simple utilitarian purpose of refueling cars efficiently. This efficiency is only enhanced by the clarity of structure and volume in each station, which also communicates the transparency and honesty of the business. Their construction forecasted the mushrooming popularity of these structures in the postwar era, which (especially in North America) was specifically designed around the widespread use of the automobile as the primary means of everyday transit. In essence, the most important aspect of these two gas stations is their role in establishing the tenets of a particular modern building type, which has remained virtually unchanged to the present day.

Philadelphia Savings Fund Society (PSFS) Building, Philadelphia, PA, USA (1929-32)

Philadelphia Savings Fund Society (PSFS) Building, Philadelphia, PA, USA (1929-32)

By: William Lescaze and George Howe

The PSFS Building was the only significant structure to come from the short-lived partnership of Howe & Lescaze, but it gave both men architectural immortality. The brainchild of the Swiss-born Lescaze, who had immigrated to the USA in 1920 and kept in tune throughout the decade with progressive European architectural currents, the PSFS Building was the first International Style skyscraper to be built in the USA, the birthplace of the building type. It was also the first tall building in the country to be air-conditioned, a necessity when it opened in humid central Philadelphia on August 1st, 1932.

Climatization represented just the tip of the iceberg of the building's innovative character. It was a radical departure from the traditional symmetrical classicism of bank architecture, with a tower using a T-shaped plan supported on a base of retail shops at street level. The double-height banking hall on the second floor, with a curtain wall of windows, was reached by escalators, and a streamlined aesthetic that combined polished steel, brick, wood, and expensive stone exuded a distinctly modern corporate identity. At the top of the tower, the giant "PSFS" neon sign in sans-serif typography symbolized the institution's efficiency, energy, and power, and even today it remains a linchpin of the Philadelphia skyline. Too radical to set a trend at the outset of the Great Depression, the PSFS Building would not be followed by another International-Style American skyscraper until after World War II.

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United Nations General Assembly Building and Secretariat, New York, NY, USA (1948-52)

United Nations General Assembly Building and Secretariat, New York, NY, USA (1948-52)

By: Harrison & Abramovitz and others

The construction of the headquarters of the United Nations, an organization that represented a desire for international cooperation instead of competition in the new post-World War II global order, was itself a highly symbolic process. It was mirrored by the choice of architects, which consisted of an international design team of twelve architects, including Le Corbusier and Oscar Niemeyer, headed by the Americans Wallace Harrison and Max Abramovitz. While each architect submitted his own design, ultimately a hybrid between Niemeyer and Le Corbusier's two proposals was chosen after much lobbying by the Swiss architect for his design to be built, though the actual constructed version was closest to Niemeyer's scheme.

The original complex, which has been expanded significantly in subsequent years, is renowned for the clarity of its conception, with three structures on the long site between First Avenue and the East River in midtown Manhattan: a low, horizontal block of meeting rooms, the tall Secretariat tower of offices, and the fan-shaped General Assembly building, surrounding an open plaza that arguably symbolizes the intermingling of cultures and nations. The explicit functional shape of the Assembly building suggests the democratic nature of the institution, while the office tower, raised on pilotis, exemplifies the sense of order, integrity, and transparency of the UN's operations. As one of the first International Style skyscrapers built after the war, it became a prototype for the architectural identity of corporations and institutions in the USA and elsewhere, aiding greatly in the dissemination of the International Style as the architecture of the modern postwar world.

Plan for Brasilia, Brazil (1956-60)

Plan for Brasilia, Brazil (1956-60)

By: Lucio Costa and Oscar Niemeyer

The construction of the city of Brasilia as Brazil's new capital in the 1950s was a milestone for the country, as it sought to move the government to a new centralized location, away from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil's old capital on the Atlantic coast tied to its colonial past. The opportunity to begin anew on an undeveloped site likewise represented an opportunity to elevate Brazil's global image as a nation on par with the traditional Western powers. International Style architecture and planning for the new capital was seen as the visual crystallization of this ascendancy, and entrusted to the architects Lucio Costa and Oscar Niemeyer, both longtime admirers of Le Corbusier, who had welcomed the Swiss architect to Brazil in the 1930s.

Costa and Niemeyer's plan of Brasilia was laid out using two grand axes, one running roughly east-west - along which ran the governmental buildings - and one curved like a reverse C that crossed the first axis at the center, along which ran the commercial and residential districts. The layout thus appeared like the body of an airplane seen from above, fitting for a city born at the beginning of the jet age and reachable from the world beyond chiefly by airplane. (The airport was placed at the south end of the curved axis.) Prismatic steel-and-glass skyscrapers surrounded by ample green space characterize nearly the entirety of the building program, from housing to government ministries.

In retrospect, the scheme for Brasilia, however, created numerous problems. The plan's massive scale anticipated that all practical ground transportation would take place by car or bus on broad boulevards, which has invited circulation problems, pollution, and precluded the use of other forms of transit. This scheme produces an endless (and arguably disorienting) monotony and, particularly in the giant apartment blocks, divides inhabitants into uniform cells that are disconnected from public space, thereby destroying a sense of community.

Chase Manhattan Bank (1958-61)

Chase Manhattan Bank (1958-61)

By: SOM (Ward Bennett and Davis Allen)

The Chase Manhattan Bank tower was the first International Style skyscraper to be constructed in lower Manhattan, where tall buildings traditionally had used a variety of revivalist and picturesque styles. Both its aesthetic and the choice of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill as the architects exemplify the corporate identity that modern architecture came to represent during the 1950s in the United States. Shown here are then-president David Rockefeller's office (at top) and employee desks in an individual department.

Just as the exteriors of International Style skyscrapers came to embody the precision of the modern machine age, with their stark rectilinearity and structural clarity, their interiors likewise exemplified an ordered corporate environment. The point-support skyscraper structure allowed for the maximum flexibility of interior space for employee work areas, which were often subdivided with gridded moveable partitions, sometimes even creating private offices. Austere metal desks arranged in precise rows embody the sense that the corporate workforce, which arrived and departed by the clock, constituted a well-oiled machine that processed transactions with ease, regularity, and transparency. Recessed lighting throughout the building accentuates the large axial expanses of space.

Rockefeller's own office, while clearly more comfortable, nonetheless exudes a sense of restraint and precision that harmonizes with the rest of the building's interiors. Even the padded chairs, couch, and coffee tables are arranged in a precise grid, accentuated by the rather spare decor, including the rectilinear modern painting on the far wall. The unity between these two interiors thus suggests that the tight sense of structure, protocol, and efficiency is seamless from the top of the corporate ladder to the bottom.

Case Study House #22 (Stahl House) (1959-60)

Case Study House #22 (Stahl House) (1959-60)

By: Pierre Koenig

The Stahl House is one of the most recognizable residences in the Case Study House Program, the experimental series of modern houses in southern California sponsored by and featured prominently in John Entenza's Arts and Architecture magazine between 1945 and 1962. Its design exemplifies the program's commitment to exploring the use of modern industrial materials in designing single-family residences. The L-shaped steel-frame structure, perched on a cliff overlooking Los Angeles, was the brainchild of Pierre Koenig, one of the region's young, up-and-coming architects who designed multiple houses for the latter stages of the Program's run.

The key feature of the interior of the Stahl House is, ironically, the way in which the building dissolves as much as possible the line between interior and exterior, most dramatically seen in the living room wing that cantilevers over the edge of the cliff and is enclosed by curtain walls on three sides. The corrugated steel of the ceiling continues uninterrupted from the exterior patio to the interior. The slightest distinction is made between rooms, with a central fireplace marking the center of the living room, which flows seamlessly into the kitchen, all of which is made possible by the spans created by the steel frame, while the low furniture provides the minimal definition necessary for the interior spaces to function. Together, the clarity of minimal structure and maximum spatial flow make the Stahl House one of the best examples of an International Style interior.

Related Movements and Major Works

Bauhaus building in Dessau, Germany (1919-1925)

Bauhaus building in Dessau, Germany (1919-1925)

Movement: Bauhaus (Read Movement Overview, History, and Artworks pages)

Artist: Walter Gropius (Read Full Artist Overview, Biography, and Artworks pages)

This iconic building, with its spare rectangular shape, glass-curtain walls, and distinctive vertical logo extending up one side, encapsulates the spirit of Bauhaus architecture, and predicts many of the developments that would emerge out of it in the years to come. As the architectural critic Lee F. Mindel wrote, Gropius's "innovative use...of industrial sash, glass curtain walls, and an asymmetrical pinwheel design forged an unforgettable path in the development of what we now call modernism and the International Style."

Born into a culturally and politically well-connected family in Berlin in 1883, Walter Gropius was a decorated war-veteran and avowed patriot, whose advocacy of modernist design principles would see him hounded from his home-country by the Nazis. Like fellow giants of modern architecture such as Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Le Corbusier, he worked in his youth for the influential proto-modernist architect Peter Behrens, and in 1913 published an article on "The Development of Industrial Building", featuring pictures of utilitarian structures such as grain-elevators, which would become a classic statement of the 'form-follows-function' philosophy of modernist design and building. In forming the Bauhaus in 1919 from two existing schools - the Grand-Ducal Saxon School of Arts and Crafts and Weimar Academy of Fine Art - he redefined the Arts and Crafts aesthetic for the twentieth century. However, the famous headquarters above was created for the school's relocation to Dessau in 1925. The project was funded by the city council, which also provided the land for the site. At that time, the Bauhaus was seen as a vital part of the culture of Dessau, which was then in the process of reinventing itself as a modern industrial center.

Amongst the innovative features of the building are the new relationship it establishes between the viewer and the overall architectural space: the three wings, separated according to their functions, are adjoined asymmetrically, with no central view, so that the building can only be experienced by circumambulating it. The use of glass walls on recessed beams, meanwhile, not only creates light-filled interior but also allows for an outside view into the interior functions of the building, suggesting a spirit of openness and transparency. The succession of changing perspectives which the building affords reflected Gropius's vision for social evolution: for the emergence of a more egalitarian, rational, orderly culture. With the design of this building, Gropius laid down a blueprint for the minimalist functionalism which dominated twentieth-century architecture, predicting in particular the development of the so-called International Style - a kind of globalized variant of Soviet and Northern-European Constructivist architecture - during the 1930s.

Club chair (model B3) (1927-1928)

Club chair (model B3) (1927-1928)

Artist: Marcel Breuer (Read Full Artist Overview, Biography, and Artworks pages)

Made of leather and cantilevered steel, the Wassily chair has become one of the world's most enduring and iconic pieces of furniture. Breuer designed the chair at the age of the 23, while still an apprentice at the famed Bauhaus in Weimar, Germany. Inspired by the Constructivist principles of the De Stijl movement and the frame of a bicycle, the Wassily chair distills the type to its bare essentials, reflecting the Bauhaus' proclivity for functionality and simplicity. Breuer viewed the bicycle as an object that represented the paragon of design, owing in part to the fact that its form had remained largely unchanged since its inception. The tubular steel of the bicycle's handlebars also intrigued Breuer, as it was light, durable, and suitable for mass production (a manufacturer by the name Mannesman had recently perfected a type of seamless steel tubing that was capable of being bent without collapsing). Breuer once mused to a friend regarding the bicycle, "Did you ever see how they make those parts? How they bend those handlebars? You would be interested because they bend those steel tubes like macaroni." Breuer bent the steel components so that they were devoid of any weld points and could thus be chromed piecemeal and assembled. He named the chair after the painter Wassily Kandinsky, a professor at the Bauhaus, who was so enamored by the piece during a visit to Breuer's studio that Breuer fashioned a duplicate for Kandinsky's home. First mass-produced by Thonet, the license for manufacturing the chair was picked up after World War II by the Italian firm Gavina, which was in turn bought out by the American company Knoll in 1968. Knoll retains the design trademark and the chair remains in production today.

Design for the Monument to the Third International (1919-1920)

Design for the Monument to the Third International (1919-1920)

Movement: Constructivism (Read Movement Overview, History, and Artworks pages)

Artist: Vladimir Tatlin (Read Full Artist Overview, Biography, and Artworks pages)

Monument to the Third International, also sometimes known simply as Tatlin's Tower, is the artist's most famous work, as well as the most important spur to the formation of the Constructivist movement. The Tower, which was never fully realized, was intended to act as a fully functional conference space and propaganda center for the Communist Third International, or Comintern. Its steel spiral frame was to stand at 1,300 feet, making it the tallest structure in the world at the time - taller, and more functional—and therefore more beautiful by Constructivist standards—than the Eiffel Tower. There were to be three glass units, a cube, cylinder and cone, which would have different spaces for meetings, and these would rotate once per year, month, and day, respectively. For Tatlin, steel and glass were the essential materials of modern construction. They symbolized industry, technology and the machine age, and the constant motion of the geometrically shaped units embodied the dynamism of modernity. Although the tower was commissioned as a monument to revolution, and although it was given considerable prominence by the Bolshevik regime, it was never built, and it has continued to be an emblem of failed utopian aspirations for many generations of artists since.


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