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.
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 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 four slogans:
ornament is a crime, truth to materials, 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 San Francesco and
the hospital are fine examples of the style.
Many of its ideas and ideals were formalized by the 1928 Congres
Internationaux d'Architecture Moderne.