International style (architecture)
The Weissenhof Estate in Stuttgart, Germany (1927)
The Weissenhof Estate in Stuttgart, Germany (1930)
The International style was a major architectural trend of the 1920s and 1930s. The
basic design principles of the international style are identical with those of modernism,
but the term usually refers to the buildings and architects of the formative decades of
modernism, before World War II.
2 United States
5 Examples of International Style architecture
6 External links
Around 1900 a number of architects around the world began developing new
architectural solutions to integrate traditional precedents with new social demands and
technological possibilities. The work of Victor Horta in Brussels, Antoni Gaudi in
Barcelona, Otto Wagner in Vienna and Charles Rennie Mackintosh in Glasgow, among
many others, can be seen as a common struggle between old and new.
The international style as such blossomed in 1920s Western Europe. Researchers find
significant contemporary common ground among the Dutch de Stijl movement, the work
of visionary French/Swiss architect Le Corbusier, and various German efforts to
industrialize craft traditions, which resulted in the formation of the Deutscher Werkbund,
large civic worker-housing projects in Frankfurt and Stuttgart, and, most famously, the
Bauhaus. The Bauhaus was one of a number of European schools and associations
concerned with reconciling craft tradition and industrial technology.
By the 1920s the most important figures in modern architecture had established their
reputations. The big three are commonly recognized as Le Corbusier in France, and
Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Walter Gropius in Germany.
The Glass Palace, a celebration of transparency, in Heerlen, The Netherlands (1935)
The common characteristics are easy to identify: a radical simplification of form, a
rejection of ornament, adoption of glass, steel and concrete as preferred materials, the
transparency of buildings and, thus, the construction (called the honest expression of
structure), acceptance of industrialized mass-production techniques and the machine
aesthetic, acceptance of the automobile, design decisions that logically support the
function of the building, and a vague but exciting sense of the future.
The ideals of the style are commonly summed up in three slogans: ornament is a crime,
form follows function, and Le Corbusier's description of houses as "machines for living".
In 1927, one of the first and most defining manifestations of the International Style was
the Weissenhof Estate in Stuttgart, built as a component of the exhibition "Die
Wohnung," organized by the Deutscher Werkbund, and overseen by Mies van der Rohe.
The fifteen contributing architects included Mies, and other names most associated with
the movement: Peter Behrens, Le Corbusier, Walter Gropius, J.J.P. Oud, Mart Stam, and
Bruno Taut. The exhibition was enormously popular, with thousands of daily visitors
trooping through the houses.
The town of Portolago (now Lakki) in the Greek Dodecanese island of Leros represents
some of the most interesting urban planning from the fascist regime in the Dodecanese;
an extraordinary example of city takeover in the International style known as Italian
rationalist. The symbolism of the shapes is reflected with exemplary effectiveness in the
buildings of Lakki: the administration building, the metaphysical tower of the market, the
cinema-theatre, the Hotel Roma (now Hotel Leros), the church of Saint Francisco and the
hospital are fine examples of the style.
Many of its ideas and ideals were formalized by the 1928 Congres Internationaux
Rudolf Schindler's Lovell Beach House in Los Angeles, California (1926)
The same striving towards simplification, honesty and clarity are identifiable in US
architects of the same period, notably in the work of Louis Sullivan in Chicago, and the
west-coast residences of Irving Gill. Frank Lloyd Wright's career in the 1900s and 1910s
parallels and influences the work of the European modernists, particularly via the
Wasmuth Portfolio, but he refused to be categorized with them.
In 1922, the competition for the Tribune Tower and its famous second-place entry by
Eliel Saarinen gave a clear indication of what was to come.
The term International Style came from the 1932 exhibition at the Museum of Modern
Art, organized by Philip Johnson, and from the title of the exhibition catalog for that
exhibit, written by Johnson and Henry Russell Hitchcock. It addressed building from
1922 through 1932. Johnson named, codified, promoted and subtly re-defined the whole
movement by his inclusion of certain architects, and his description of their motives and
values. Perhaps the masterstroke was the name, and the positioning of this style as one
that transcended any national or regional or continental identity.
Johnson also defined the style as an aesthetic surface style, rather than a matter of design
integrity, and saw the architect as equivalent to an artist, accountable to nobody but
himself. This was a departure from the functionalist principles of some of the original
Weissenhof architects, particularly the Dutch, and especially J.J.P. Oud, with whom
Johnson maintained a prickly correspondence on the topic.
The gradual rise of the National Socialist regime in Weimar Germany in the 1930s, and
the Nazi's rejection of modern architecture, meant that an entire generation of architects
were forced out of Europe. When Walter Gropius and Marcel Breuer fled Germany, they
both arrived at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, in an excellent position to extend
their influence and promote the Bauhaus as the primary source of architectural
modernism. When Mies fled in 1936, he came to Chicago, and solidified his reputation as
the prototypical modern architect.
After World War II, the International Style matured into modernism, HOK and SOM
perfected the corporate practice, and it became the dominant approach for decades.
Perhaps its most famous/notorious manifestations include the United Nations
headquarters and the Seagram Building in New York.
The typical International Style high-rise usually consists of the following:
1. Square or rectangular footprint
2. Simple cubic "extruded rectangle" form
3. Windows running in broken horizontal rows forming a grid
4. All facade angles are 90 degrees.
One of the strengths of the International Style was that the design solutions were
indifferent to location, site, and climate. This was one of the reasons it was called
'international'; the style made no reference to local history or national vernacular. They
were the same buildings around the world. (Later this was identified as one of the style's
American anti-Communist politics after the war, and Philip Johnson's influential rejection
of functionalism, have tended to mask the fact that many of the important contributors to
the original Weissenhof project fled to the east. This group also tended to be far more
concerned with functionalism. Bruno Taut, Mart Stam, the second Bauhaus director
Hannes Meyer, Ernst May and other important figures of the International Style went to
the Soviet Union in 1930 to undertake huge, ambitious, idealistic urban planning projects,
building entire cities from scratch. This Soviet effort was doomed to failure, and these
architects became stateless persons in 1936 when Stalin ordered them out of the country
and Hitler wouldn't allow them back into Germany.
In the late 1930s this group, and their students, were dispersed to Turkey, France,
Mexico, Kenya and India, adding up to a truly international influence.
In July, 2003, UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural
Organization, proclaimed "The White City" of Tel Aviv as a World Cultural Heritage
site, describing the City as "a synthesis of outstanding significance of the various trends
of the Modern Movement in architecture and town planning in the early part of the 20th
Ludwig Mies van der Rohe
Examples of International Style architecture
Seagram Building, New York City
World Trade Center, New York City (destroyed)
Sears Tower, Chicago
One Wilshire, Los Angeles
CNA Plaza, Chicago
Villa Savoye, Poissy-sur-Seine, France
California State University, Long Beach campus
Tour de la Bourse , Montreal, Quebec