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
Square or rectangular footprint
Simple cubic "extruded rectangle" form
Windows running in broken horizontal rows forming a grid
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 primary weaknesses.)
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
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 century."
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