Gateway to the Twentieth Century: Art and Culture in a Changing World

By Jean Cassou; Emil Langui et al. | Go to book overview

ARCHITECTURE AND THE APPLIED ARTS

Where lie the sources of the twentieth century? To speak of sources there must issue from them a stream, then a river, and finally, in our particular case here, the ocean of the International Style of the 1930s. Do Prometheus and the unknown inventor of the wheel stand by the source as the genii fontis? No; because there are breaks, and our civilization is not connected with that distant past by a continous flow. But even if we admit that civilizations 'rise and fall, crumble, are extended, Are renewed, destroyed', even if we keep within Western civilization, are the sources of the twentieth century then the invention of clocks with wheels and weights and of printing with movable type? They are; for without printing and clocking-in there could be no twentieth century. Mass communication and mass production are among the things distinguishing ours from all preceding centuries. However, it is only the quantitative exploitation which belongs exclusively to us, not the invention itself. And that is indeed a phenomenon to rank high in force among the sources of the twentieth century. The twentieth century is the century of the masses: mass education, mass entertainment, mass transport, universities with twenty thousand students, comprehensive schools for two thousand children, hospitals with two thousand beds, stadia with a hundred thousand seats. That is one aspect; the other is speed of locomotion, every citizen being an express-train driver on his own, and some pilots travelling faster than sound. Both are only expressions of the technological fanaticism of the age, and technology is only an application of science.

Science, technology, mass locomotion, mass production and consumption, mass communication -- in the field of the visual arts which is our field in this book, that means the predominance of architecture and design over the beaux-arts, it means the predominance of the city over the small town and the country, and it means the concentration on architecture and design for the masses and on what new materials and new techniques can do for them.

If this is accepted as a diagram of the twentieth century, so far as we can observe and analyse it, where do its sources lie then? We can now endeavour to list and consider them in their order of time.

Architecture and design for the masses must be functional, in the sense that they must be acceptable to all and that their well-functioning is the primary necessity. A chair can be uncomfortable and a work of art, but only the occasional connoisseur can be expected to prefer its aesthetic to its utilitarian qualities. The plea for functionalism is the first of our sources. Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin, born in 1812, the English son of a French father, wrote on the first page of his most important book: 'There should be no features about a building which are not necessary for convenience, construction, or propriety... The smallest detail should... serve a purpose, and construction itself should vary with the material employed'1. That was written in 1841, but it was not new then. It is the direct continuation of the prin-

____________________
1
The true Principles of Pointed or Christian Architecture, 1841, p. 1.

-229-

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Gateway to the Twentieth Century: Art and Culture in a Changing World
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page 1
  • Contents 3
  • Epochs of European Art 4
  • The Climate of Thought 5
  • The Visual Arts from 1884 to 1914 125
  • Architecture and the Applied Arts 229
  • SOURCES OF ILLUSTRATIONS 333
  • NOTES ON THE PLATES 335
  • Index 359
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