modern architecture

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

modern architecture

modern architecture, new architectural style that emerged in many Western countries in the decade after World War I. It was based on the "rational" use of modern materials, the principles of functionalist planning, and the rejection of historical precedent and ornament. This style has been generally designated as modern, although the labels International style, Neue Sachlichkeit, and functionalism have also been used.

Development of the Style

Since the mid-19th cent. there had been repeated attempts to assimilate modern technology in practice and theory and to formulate a modern style of architecture suitable to its age. A functionalist approach eventually replaced the formerly eclectic approach to design. Technical progress in the use of iron and glass made possible the construction of Sir Joseph Paxton's celebrated Crystal Palace in London (1851), in which a remarkable delicacy was achieved. In the ensuing years iron, steel, and glass enabled architects and engineers to enclose the vast interior spaces of train sheds, department stores, and market halls, but often the structural forms were clothed with irrelevant ornament.

As late as 1889 the exposed, iron skeleton of the newly erected Eiffel Tower in Paris was met with public outrage. In Chicago, William Le Baron Jenney pioneered the use of a complete steel skeleton for the urban skyscraper in his Home Insurance Building (1883–85). His contemporary, Louis Henry Sullivan, first articulated the theory of functionalism (see functionalism), which he demonstrated in his numerous commercial designs. In addition, experiments in concrete construction were being carried out in France by François Hennebique and Auguste Perret, and in the United States by Ernest Ransome.

As a result of these advances, the formal conception of architecture was also undergoing a profound transformation. Frank Lloyd Wright, a pupil of Sullivan, experimented with the interpenetration of interior and exterior spaces in his residential designs. In Holland, where Wright's work was widely admired, the architects of de Stijl sought to organize building elements into new combinations of overlapping and hovering rectangular planes.

Form and Materials

By 1920 there was an increasingly wide understanding that building forms must be determined by their functions and materials if they were to achieve intrinsic significance or beauty in contemporary terms, without resorting to traditional ornament. Instead of viewing a building as a heavy mass made of ponderous materials, the leading innovators of modern architecture considered it as a volume of space enclosed by light, thin curtain walls and resting on slender piers. The visual aesthetic of modern architecture was largely inspired by the machine and by abstract painting and sculpture.

In giving form and coherence to modern architecture, Le Corbusier's book Vers une architecture (1923, tr. 1927) played an important role, as did the writings of the Dutch architect J. J. P. Oud and the German architect Walter Gropius, who also headed the Bauhaus in Dessau. Other early leaders of the modern movement included Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Marcel Breuer, and Ernst May in Germany and Raymond Hood, Albert Kahn, Richard J. Neutra, William Lescaze, and George Howe in the United States.

In 1932 the label "International style" was applied to modern architecture by the Museum of Modern Art, New York City, anticipating its growing acceptance around the world. The United States became a stronghold of modern architecture after the emigration of Gropius, Mies, and Breuer from Germany during the 1930s. By the mid-20th cent. modern architecture had become an effective instrument for dealing with the increasingly complex building needs of a global society. Large architectural firms such as Harrison and Abramovitz and Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill did much to popularize modern architecture around the world after World War II.

At the same time new technological developments continued to influence architects' designs, particularly in the realm of prefabricated construction, as seen in the works of R. Buckminster Fuller and Moshe Safdie. The development of sophisticated air conditioning and heating systems also allowed modern architecture to spread from the temperate climates of Europe and North America to countries with extremely varied weather conditions.

The Style Evolves

Increasingly, during the 1950s, modern architecture was criticized for its sterility, its "institutional" anonymity, and its disregard for regional building traditions. More varied and individual, as well as regionalist, modes of expression were sought by architects of the next generation, although the basic emphasis on structure and materials continued. This tendency was evident in the works of Louis Kahn, Edward Durell Stone, and Philip Cortelyou Johnson in the United States, and the architects of the so-called New Brutalism movement in England. A dynamic sculptural unity distinguished the buildings of Eero Saarinen and the late works of Le Corbusier. Other leading architects of this generation include Alvar Aalto of Finland, the Italians Pier Luigi Nervi and Paolo Soleri, and in Central and South America, Lúcio Costa, Oscar Niemeyer, Juan O'Gorman, and Felix Candela.

Development of Postmodernism

After 1960, a less evolutionary and more revolutionary critical reaction to modern architecture, first articulated in the writings of Robert Venturi, began to form. Architects have become more concerned with context and tradition. Ornament, once banished by modernism, has returned, often in the form of overtly historical revivalism, although it has just as often been reinterpreted in high-tech materials. This has resulted in a stylistic eclecticism on the contemporary scene. Prominent architects working in the postmodern mode include Philip Johnson in his later projects, Michael Graves, Ricardo Bofill, and Aldo Rossi.

See also articles on individual architects, e.g., Walter Gropius.

Bibliography

See Le Corbusier, Towards a New Architecture (1923, tr. 1927); W. Gropius, The New Architecture and the Bauhaus (1937); V. Scully, Jr., Modern Architecture: The Architecture of Democracy (1961); L. Benevolo, History of Modern Architecture (2 vol., 1966; tr. 1972); H.-R. Hitchcock and P. Johnson, The International Style (2d ed. 1966); R. Venturi, Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture (1966); S. Giedion, Space, Time, and Architecture (5th ed. 1967); D. Sharp, A Visual History of Twentieth-Century Architecture (1973); C. Jencks, Post-Modernism (1987); W. J. R. Curtis Modern Architecture since 1900 (3d ed. 1996); D. L. Johnson and D. Langmead, Makers of 20th Century Modern Architecture: A Bio-Critical Sourcebook (1997); M. Filler, Makers of Modern Architecture (2 vol., 2007–13).

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