Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Architectural Styles Defined: Modern Architecture

Part 3 in our series of articles on the misuse of terms as they apply to the architectural style of a building, and how that misuse leads to poor communication between clients and professionals. Here’s an in-depth look at what defines “Modern Architecture:”

Mies Van Der Rohe's Farnsworth House:
image source farnsworthhouse.org

Let me start by saying "Modern Architecture" is a misnomer. The term modern simply represents the current style of the day that reflects society's impression of itself to the world. Modern architecture as we know it today however started with the International Style, Bauhaus, and the impact of cubist art on the form of a building. Like most styles, it began as a rejection of what was accepted and as an embrace of new technologies. In this case, the progression of steel as a building material allowed greater spans, previously impossible cantilevers, and minimized the ratio of thickness for vertical support. All of which meant that buildings could now be built proportionally in such a different way that they actually didn't even look as though they were capable of standing.

'International Style' Le Corbusier's Villa Savoye:
image source wikipedia

While these buildings are examples of classic modernism, the problematic term is 'classic'. Soon after, a new wave of architects began a new interpretation of how to reconcile the traditional forms of architecture with the new styles and technology in what they called 'Post Modernism'. At the same time, another movement began called 'Brutalism' which spiritually could even be considered a hybrid between modernism and the craftsman movement for truth in materials by leaving rough exposed concrete and using the wooden formwork in many cases to create the finish texture of the concrete.

'Postmodernism' Robert Venturi's House for his mother:
image source about.com

'Brutalism' Paul Rudolph's Westport House (demolished):
image source nothingliving.com

As technology advanced, the limits began to push further. Architects began a new style a 'Deconstruction' which was based on taking traditional geometry, breaking it apart, and then recombining it in different forms. Simple things such as the value of right angles finally came into question, as architects attempted to incorporate new ideas such as chaos theory into space and form.

'Deconstruction' Peter Eisenman's Casa Guardiola:

The question however is, "What is Modern Architecture?" Within the styles described above, the consistent threads are challenges to traditional forms, proportions, and materials; an openness of space, flexibility of arrangement. For the greater part, modern architecture displays a truth in materials and construction. The problem with modern architecture is in the term 'modern'. As time passes, others will decide if the architecture of modernity in the last century is unified as one style and what that style would be called. In the present, there is a strong departure from classic modernism / minimalism, and the deconstruction movement. Whether it remains a pure departure or experiment within 'modernism' such as post-modernism and brutalism remains to be seen.


RadoAller said...

I think the negligence of deconstructivism towards the general (If we may call them) rules of architecture is quite out of question; because as much as they were rules as much as they were created for the sole intention of an opinion and not to enforce people to abide by them. By sticking to those rules (Form follows function) we are preventing a disastrous piece of architecture from occurring: http://yglesias.thinkprogress.org/2009/10/ugly-buildings/ , & yet sustaining a more harmonious outlook towards architecture.

Eric said...

I don't think the purpose of deconstruction was to abandon the motto of form following function so much as it tried to reinvent the notion of what forms were themselves considered functional. Most of the rules that were followed in design were more rules of construction technology, and cost efficiency. The advancement of design tools (CAD) and of construction methods that had been pushed to new boundaries already through earlier forms of modernism made it easier to not only challenge traditional form and space, but to actually draw and detail it for a contractor.