Saturday, 26 March 2016

European Modernism (1919-1933) and International Style (1922-1932)


Schroder House: 1920s Modernism by Gerrit Rietveld

European modernism and international style begun at the end of the arts and crafts movement and has connection with the Art Deco movement as they cross over in the 1920s to 1930s.

Early modernism was a movement of growth, cultural trends and changes which began in the early 20th century. The rapid growth of cities and the horror of World War 1 meant that traditional forms of art, architecture, literature etc were outdated and ill-fitted to the newly formed, contemporary society.

Throughout the changes to the social and economic balance of society came the development of new technology and the continuation of mass production which began in the 19th century. This gave many innovators the ability to develop products and techniques that would enhance and benefit their society and unbeknown to them, future societal systems to come. The movement gave rise to the automobile, innovated by Henry Ford in 1908 called the ‘Model T Ford’.

Henry Ford's Model T automobile 1908

Henry Ford did not invent the first car, but was the innovator behind a newly develop version of the automobile, one that was easier to operate, more reliable and affordable to the average American worker. Earlier models of the car were very complicated and much harder to operate then Fords creation. They required a chauffeur (a particular person to drive it) meaning that the vast majority of society didn’t have easy access to the vehicle. This period in time was called ‘Fordism’.

By the early 1920’s, many of the key inventions which were key to becoming fundamental in everyday life were becoming increasingly available to the everyday consumer. Examples of this being electrical lighting, domestic appliances like the washing machine, vacuum cleaner, refrigerator and communications including the telephone and the gramophone and of course the automobile played a key role in bringing rural and suburban communities together.

According to some early critics of the movement, early modernism was developed out of the Romanticism era and was a reaction against the effects of the Industrial Revolution and their dehumanising working conditions and values. It was the age of change and a shift towards the new. It was about recreating old forms using new techniques making it more relatable to the westernised society.

In other aspects of design, artists Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso were causing a shock with their rejection of traditional forms of art.

Left - Henri Matisse, Right - Pablo Picasso

During the Early modernism period, the Bauhaus in Germany (an art school which redefined the meaning of art and design) was founded. The school was renowned for its innovative team of craftsman and their modernist approach to art and their ability to enable students to be comfortable with new methods of art, craft and design including mass production and architecture. It was shut down in 1933 by the Nazi government.


International style developed mainly in Germany, Holland and France in the 1920s and later in America in the 1930s. During this time, it became the dominant trend of architectural design in America. The movement was all about sleek, modern aesthetics which stripped away any unnecessary decoration once popular in early times.

Le Corbusier Villa Savoye 1929-1931

The era emphasised the use of steel and glass which made it ideal for the use of commercial, high-rise buildings. The international style design period increased the populations discontent with earlier decor which had little to no relevance to the building itself. They aimed to create structures that were similar in both the exterior and interior design. Designers in this period idealised the concept of functional and ‘neutral’ design without old fashioned decorative elements- its principle being honesty and “clear harmony between appearance, function and technology” of design.

International style reflected early forms of minimalism where surfaces were left plain with no distinctive decoration, simple linear lines formed and spaces became more open and exposed. Buildings used a lot of glass, steel and concrete which gave the structures strength.

The student building at Bauhaus 1925 by Walter Gropius

The name “International Style’ was actually thought up by two curators, Henry-Russell Hitchcock (1903-1987) and Philip Johnson (1906-2005) who were hosting an exhibition at The Museum of Modern Arts, in New York called ‘International Exhibition of Modern Architecture” in 1932.

For me, the original concept behind early modernism and international style was to rebel against the conformity of a previous way of life and to develop a new society which transforms traditional forms and values into a more relatable and up-to-date idea. It was all about change and being different. Modernist creatives disliked like idea that art had to reflect a particular form and style. They wanted to investigate new ways of doing the same thing by pulling back the layers of the past and refining their ideas. They discovered that there were multiple ways of approaching a situation (not limited to the artistic realm but also in social and political context) which resulted in the same outcome. For example, there is typically never a right or wrong way to do things; there are always multiple paths to take that end up in the same destination.

During the decline of the International Style period, architects felt dissatisfied with the result of the era as they had lost all aspects of early historical design. They began to rediscover innovation and ornamentation, creating buildings using modern techniques and materials but depicting decorative features once again.

   Art Deco Federal building 1920's

I find it quiet ironic that throughout history, designers and innovators attempt to rebel against conformity within their society and create new and unique forms which, unbeknown to them, catapult around the world, creating another version of a ‘copy and paste’ society of which they once tried to escape from.


Wednesday, 9 March 2016

The Neoclassical Period 1780-1820


by Chanel

 As the elaborate age of Baroque and Rococo drew to a close, appreciation for classical restraint resurfaced. It signalled a return to order and rationality but it was the discovery of lost civilisations and ancient ruins of Greece and Rome (more specifically, Pompeii and Herculaneum) which inspired the neoclassical period of the 18th century. Designers drew inspiration from classical architecture and looked to the future, creating a modern and more refined version of the past. The style includes features like classical symmetry, columns and temple-like structural shapes depicted in previous periods. It was a ‘simpler’ version of the past. There was an emphasis on reason and logic, harmony, stability, wisdom, philosophy, economics, social ethics, trade and mortality.

The Neoclassical period first gained influence in England and France. It is characterised by its clarity and refinement using subtle colours, strong horizontal and vertical forms, clean elegant lines, uncluttered appearance and a timeless antique charm.

Early Neoclassical design in the Palace of Caserta, constructed in 1952.

The excavation and archaeological discoveries of Pompeii and Herculaneum resulted in a folio collection, Le Antichità di Ercolano, an illustrated compendium of archeological finds from Ancient Rome. The books illustrations helped popularise classic design and spark the imagination of European and American designers who used them as models for modern design.




A temple style building

The Pantheon in Paris, designed by Jacques-Germain Soufflot and built between 1758-1790. 

A Palladian building

  The Glyptothek in Munich, designed by architect Leon von Klenze and built 1816–1830.


A classical block or square building

The Library of Sainte-Genevièv in France by Henri Labrouste between 1838-1850.


Often called the age of reason (The Enlightenment), the neoclassical period was a symbol of change and question. Its goal was to use reason to reform science and advance knowledge, replacing religion with natural philosophy. Science was relied on heavily to answer questions and give reason to civilisation. "This was a period of political and military unrest, economic growth, the rise of the middle class, the rise of literacy, the invention of marketing, the rise of the Prime Minister, and social reforms." - Dr Fike

 The society was becoming more educated, books were becoming more affordable and knowledge became more accessible to a wider audience. Anyone could become a published author.


Mary Wollstonecraft, 1759-1797

An intellectual, writer and feminist, Mary Wollstonecraft was born in London and was the second of six children. She was raised in an abusive household and was taught sexist and inhuman values –none of which she agreed with. At the age of nineteen Mary went out to earn her own livelihood and in 1783, she helped her sister Eliza escape a miserable marriage by hiding her from an husband until legal separation was arranged. In 1792, Mary published a book about the Vindication on the Rights of Woman, standing up for the equality of the sexes. She believed education held the key to achieving a sense of self-respect and would enable women to put their capacities to good use. Mary undertook the task of helping women to achieve a better life but, of course, it took more than a century before society began to put her views into action.


If it wasn’t for the revolution of science and the desire for philosophical, political, social and ethical knowledge in the neoclassical society, we may not have been introduced to the idea of morals and reason. The development of human rights and the independence of individuals can be linked to neoclassical intellectuals and the change they have created for us all.