American architectural History

April 9, 2016
As stewards of American

Modernist Architecture in America (c.1925-60)

A late feature of modern art in general, Modernist Architecture was the attempt to create new designs for the "modern man". It rejected all traditional styles based on older prototypes, and proposed a new type of functional design which used modern materials and construction techniques, to create a new aesthetic and sense of space. Unlike in Europe, where Modernism emerged during the first decade of the 20th-century, modernist American architecture only appeared in the mid-to-late 1920s, because America relied much more heavily on historical models than Europe, whose avant-garde art movement was altogether stronger. (See, for instance, the impact of the Armory Show of European modernism.) In addition, given the importance of urban development in the economic recovery of the United States, and the growth of numerous markets within America, it is hardly surprising that most modernist developments during the 1930s involved large commercial buildings, notably skyscrapers. In keeping with its anti-historical attitude, Modernist architecture favoured simplified forms, and only the sort of essential ornamentation that reflected the theme and structure of the building. Important architects in the history and development of the modernist movement in America, included a number of refugees from Europe, such as Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (1886-1969), (1883-1969) the former director of the Bauhaus Design School, and Louis Kahn (1901-74). Other important modernists included: Frank Lloyd Wright, Richard Neutra (1892-1970), Eero Saarinen (1910-61), Louis Skidmore (1897-1962), Nathaniel Owings (1903-84), John Merrill (1896-1975), Philip Johnson, I.M.Pei and Robert Venturi.

International Style

The International style of modern architecture was a particular (purist) style of modernism, which appeared in Europe during the 1920s. It received its name from the "International Exhibition of Modern Architecture" (1932), curated by the architectural historian Henry-Russell Hitchcock (1903-1987) and the architect Philip Johnson (1906-2005), which was held at the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York. A book was published simultaneously with the MOMA exhibit. The aim of Hitchcock and Johnson was to identify and promote a style that encapsulated modern architecture. To achieve this, they had carefully vetted all the structures showcased in the exhibition, to ensure that only those designs that met certain criteria were included. Nearly all were European buildings, designed by the likes of Jacobus Oud, Walter Gropius, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Erich Mendelsohn (1887-1953), and Alvar Aalto (1898-1976). Only two were American buildings - the Film Guild Cinema, New York City (1929), designed by Frederick John Kiesler (1890-1965); and Lovell House, LA (1929), by Richard Neutra.

The criteria used by Hitchcock and Johnson to identify their archetypal style included the following three design rules: (1) the expression of volume rather than mass; (2) the importance of balance rather than preconceived symmetry; (3) the elimination of applied ornament. All the buildings in the exhibition observed these design rules, and were therefore presented to the show's American audience as examples of the "International Style".

The most commonly used materials used by International style architects were glass for the facade, steel for exterior support, and...

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American Architectural History by Keith Eggener Ebook PDF
American Architectural History by Keith Eggener Ebook PDF
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