International style architecture was part of the Modern Art movement and evolved from the Bauhaus School during the 1920s and 1930s. It relied on pure geometric forms, with ornamentation stripped from facades to reveal the essential line and curve that defines space.
Bauhaus architects like Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Walter Gropius left Germany with the rise of the Nazi party and the result was the American version of the style which came to be known as International. Other notable architects include Richard Neutra and Le Corbusier, who was also known for his elegant furniture designs.
International style is predominantly found in the large-scale commercial application of skyscrapers and office buildings and less often in residential architecture. The World Trade Center was the epitome of International design. Single family residential homes are relatively unusual, but apartment homes and condos are common in larger cities.
Buildings constructed in this style are characterized by flat, unornamented planes for roofs, walls, and windows. Composition is often asymmetrical, with interesting contrasts between flat planes and curved elements. Strong horizontal lines are apparent in the arrangement of windows and other design features.
Building materials were utilitarian; concrete, glass, aluminum, and steel were commonly used. Revealing the skeleton frame construction was occasionally an integral part of the design. Windows were often metal framed casements arranged in horizontal bands. Where color was used, it was subtle; many buildings were designed to be white or neutral with black or gray contrasting elements.
The International style celebrated technology, progress, and change and was firmly fixed on an optimistic future of infinite possibilities. International style is often ageless and looks as modern now as it did four decades ago.
The following characteristics were typically found on International style buildings:
- Utilitarian materials such as concrete, steel, and glass
- Flat roof
- Flat, smooth, untextured surfaces; flat unornamented planes
- Rounded corners
- Ribbon windows often meeting at corners