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Modern Architecture or Modernism was a product of the mid-20th century.
Famously coined as the International Style by Reyner Banham, the Modern style was linked notably with Le Corbusier and central European and generally western architecture.
Modernist Architecture eventually made its way to the Developing World and also to colder climates in the North where the white concrete didn’t always weather so well.
The Modern movement – also referred to controversially as a ‘style’ by some – bound morality, technology and art together.
Morality in that there was an aim to improve humanity’s lot, notably whole scale demolition of slums to make way for clean modern housing. This was called comprehensive redevelopment and in the UK one of the most notorious examples is Glasgow: slums were cleared but so were communities. The modern city was strangled by a motorway that divided residential areas and mostly lower social classes were transferred to huge developments on the edge of town or beyond.
Modern Technology was invoked with the admiration for emerging development of planes, cars, ships and trains. Modern Architecture was to evoke streamlined looks and some physical technology from these transport types. Famously the Le Corbusier – one of the most famous Modern architects – in ‘Vers une Architecture’ lauded the world of transport for having the courage to use new techology whilst architecture had become lost in the world of style, of mannerism and above all, tradition.
Art because ultimately Modern Architecture was based on stylistic devices that not always totally integrated into the above two aspects. Le Corbusier defined five points, such as fenetre longeur and point columns: essentially the drive was towards clean lines with a sense of lightness. A typical example would be a villa by Le Corbusier – white concrete, large areas of glass, floating mass / cantilevers and lack of ornamentation. But there were other Modernist Architects who did not use much white-rendered or painted concrete and even Le Corbusier was later to leave this light functionalist style for a more expressive architecture.
Modern Architecture was associated with some great architects and some powerful countries and companies. Modernism became the establishment.
The Key Modern Architects
The key Modern Architects are Le Corbusier, Mies van der Rohe, Walter Gropius and Frank Lloyd Wright. Many Modern Architects had to flee Germany around the time of World War II, leaving for the USA or UK. The Scandinavian school of Modern Architects were known for a softer approach, more integrated into regional traditions, for example Jacobsen, Aaalto, Häring and Asplund.
Modern Architects that took a strong polemical line include Loos, Kahn and Mies Van der Rohe. Loos was famous for his doctrine of ‘Ornament is Crime’ and Mies for ‘Less is More’ – a puritanical, rectilinear architectural style. American architect Louis Sullivan coined the phrase “Form ever follows function” and later architects such as Le Corbusier committed their work to this ‘form follows function’ approach, thus cutting out much poetry and wit from designing buildings.
Post-Modernism was in many ways a reaction to this overly rigid stylistic concept which resulted in buildings by Philip Johnson and Jim Stirling that actively encouraged humour. There are not many architects today who would describe themselves as Modern Architects (a handful are labelled neo Modern) but it would be interesting to hear from any that do.
photograph : Wessel de Jonge
20th Century Architect
Perhaps the most celebrated Modern architect was Le Corbusier
building image © Karavan
Also Alvar Aalto, Mies van der Rohe, Frank Lloyd Wright and Walter Gropius
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