Theory and Design in the First Machine Age

By Reyner Banham | Go to book overview

15: Architecture and the Cubist tradition

SO POWERFUL WAS the mystique of reinforced concrete in Paris by about 1920 that many French writers have accepted the idea that the new architecture of the Twenties was in some way caused by this one material, rather than facilitated by it. This acceptance of Choisy's view of technique as a prime cause of style, was doubtless encouraged by the dominating position of Perret as the sole innovator of consequence in the years immediately before the War, but Rob Mallet-Stevens is speaking in the most general terms when he declares, in 1925,1

Abruptly, everything changed. Reinforced concrete appeared revolutionising the processes of construction... science creates a new aesthetic, forms are profoundly modified.

Indeed, he goes so far as to attribute the lag in architectural development as between Europe and America (dates were not his strong point) to an American preference for the wrong material, iron.

Reinforced concrete supervened. The Americans resisted this mode of construction for a long time, and iron reigned supreme in their art of building.

The position here adopted by Mallet-Stevens clearly accepts reinforced concrete as something which had imposed itself, just as Choisy supposed the flying buttress to have imposed itself, and this imposition he accepted as a sufficient explanation of the new aesthetic, the profoundly modified forms. However, at a distance of almost forty years in time, it is clear that the modes of employing reinforced concrete were already extremely various, ranging from the careful Classicism of Perret to the bold vault-work of Freyssinet, and that none of these varieties was, in practice, employed by the younger architects who made the French contribution to the mainstream of the International Style. In particular, they avoided vaults, and curved forms in section generally (which even Perret employed), but frequently made use of curved forms in plan. Though they paid frequent lip-service to the achievements of their immediate elders, their only real inheritance from these pioneers of reinforced concrete was Perret's preference for

____________________
1
This, also, is from Wendingen's special number on Frank Lloyd Wright!

-202-

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Theory and Design in the First Machine Age
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page 3
  • Contents 5
  • Acknowledgements 6
  • Illustrations 7
  • Introduction--The Machine Age 9
  • Section One 13
  • 1: the Academic Tradition and the Concept of Elementary Composition 14
  • 2: Choisy 23
  • 3: the Academic Succession 35
  • 4:England:Lethaby and Scott 44
  • 5: Germany 68
  • 6: the Factory Aesthetic 79
  • 7: Adolf Loos and the Problem of Ornament 88
  • Section Two 98
  • 8: Futurism 99
  • 9: Futurism: Theory and Development 106
  • 10: Sant'Elia and Futurist Architecture 127
  • Section Three 138
  • 11: Holland 139
  • 12: De Stijl: the Dutch Phase 148
  • 13: Expressionism 163
  • 14: De Stijl 185
  • Section Four 201
  • 15: Architecture and the Cubist Tradition 202
  • 16: Progressive Building in Paris 214
  • 17: Vers Une Architecture 220
  • 18: Le Corbusier 247
  • Section Five 264
  • 19: the Berlin School 265
  • 20: the Bauhaus 276
  • 21: Germany: the Encyclopaedics 305
  • 22: Conclusion 320
  • Index to Proper Names and Buildings 331
  • Index, to Topics, Publications, and Organisations 335
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