International Style Homes


A Major Architectural Style That Emerged in the 1920s and 1930s

International--Initiated by European architects--such as Mies van der Rohe--in the early 20th century, this is the style that introduced the idea of exposed functional building elements, such as elevator shafts, ground-to-ceiling plate glass windows, and smooth facades.



The style was molded from modern materials--concrete, glass, and steel--and is characterized by an absence of decoration. A steel skeleton typically supports these homes. Meanwhile, interior and exterior walls merely act as design and layout elements, and often feature dramatic, but non-supporting projecting beams and columns. With its avant-garde elements, naturally the style appeared primarily in the East and in California.

In the book, 'International Style: Modernist Architecture from 1925 to 1965 (World Architecture) - describes a form of architecture which evolved from Bauhaus with passionate belief that "form does follow function." The International architecture set the tone for modern building until the 1980s, with its judicious solutions to construction issues. Combining steel, concrete and glass, it instituted an aesthetic founded upon the utter thrill of pushing the limits of economic and technical viability. This book track the exhilarating evolution of an architectural style while looking at the regional and individual forms it traveled, and analyses the realities and ideals of architectural utopia visions.

The International style was a major architectural style that emerged in the 1920s and 1930s, the formative decades of Modernist architecture. The term had its origin from the name of a book by Henry-Russell Hitchcock and Philip Johnson written to record the International Exhibition of Modern Architecture held at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City in 1932 which identified, categorized and expanded upon characteristics common to Modernism across the world. As a result, the focus was more on the stylistic aspects of Modernism. Hitchcock's and Johnson's aims were to define a style of the time, which would encapsulate this modern architecture. They identified three different principles: the expression of volume rather than mass, balance rather than preconceived symmetry and the expulsion of applied ornament. All the works which were displayed as part of the exhibition were carefully selected, as only works which strictly followed the set of rules were displayed. Previous uses of the term in the same context can be attributed to Walter Gropius in Internationale Architektur, and Ludwig Hilberseimer in Internationale neue Baukunst

North America

Prior to use of the term 'international style', the same striving towards simplification, honesty and clarity are identifiable in US architects, notably in the work of Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright in Chicago, as well as the west-coast residences of Irving Gill. Frank Lloyd Wright's Wasmuth Portfolio influenced the work of European modernists, and his travels there probably influenced his own work, although 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. Many Modernists disliked the term, believing that they had arrived at an approach to architecture that transcended "style," along with any national or regional or continental identity. The British architectural historian Sir Nikolaus Pevsner commented, "to me what had been achieved in 1914 was the style of the century. It never occurred to me to look beyond. Here was the one and only style which fitted all those aspects which mattered, aspects of economics and sociology, of materials and function. It seems folly to think that anybody would wish to abandon it.

Johnson also defined the modern movement as an aesthetic style, rather than a matter of political statement. 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 same year that Johnson coined the term International Style, saw the completion of the world's first International Style skyscraper: Philadelphia's PSFS Building. Designed by the truly "international" team of architects, George Howe and William Lescaze, the PSFS Building has become an integral element of the Philadelphia skyline.

Research facilities at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, part of the Hanford Site nuclear complex, dating from the early Cold WarFrank Lloyd Wright's work was considered a formative to the international style, but he was considered not to have kept up with more recent developments. His work was included in the exhibition, but not the catalog. This provoked Wright to quip in response to Hitchcock and Johnson "...having a good start, not only do I fully intend to be the greatest architect who has yet lived, but fully intend to be the greatest architect who will ever live". His buildings of the 1920s and 1930s clearly changed his style as an architect, but in a different direction than the international style.

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.

Three of the Toronto-Dominion Centre's five towers (left to right): the Ernst & Young Tower, the Toronto-Dominion Bank Tower, and the Royal Trust Tower.After World War II, the International Style matured, 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, and the Toronto-Dominion Centre in Toronto. Further examples can be found in mid-century institutional buildings throughout North America.

In Canada, this period coincided with a major building boom and few restrictions on massive building projects. International Style skyscrapers came to dominate many of Canada's major cities, especially Montreal, Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, and Toronto. While these glass boxes were at first unique and interesting, the idea was soon repeated to the point of ubiquity. Architects attempted to put new twists into such towers, such as the Toronto City Hall. By the 1970s a backlash was underway against modernism, and Canada was one of its centres — prominent anti-modernists such as Jane Jacobs and George Baird were based in Toronto.

The typical International Style high-rise usually consists of the following:

  1. Square or rectangular footprint
  2. Simple cubic "extruded rectangle" form
  3. Windows running in broken horizontal rows forming a grid
  4. All facade angles are 90 degrees.

Israel - Tel Aviv

Tel Aviv has the largest concentration in the world of buildings built in the "International Style". This style was brought to Tel Aviv in the beginning of the 1930s by European graduates of European architecture schools. Their source of inspiration was the modern architecture movement dominant in Europe in the 1920s.The main principles of the modern movement are – architecture is an expression of volume and not mass, asymmetrical composition and regular repetition instead of classic symmetry, avoidance of all decorations that do not have a useful purpose. The modern style, functional, simple and free of decorations, was seen as the most fitting for a young, rapidly growing city. The European International Style went through local changes in Israel thanks to continuous open discussions among architects. This created a building style which was a combination of modern movement principles and an integration of cultures and influences of daily reality such as: Climate problems, stringent building laws, technological knowledge and production methods that existed at the time. International Style buildings are usually 2 – 4 floors, built as a single building on a plot of land and covered with light colored plaster. The buildings were used in most cases as residential structures and often built for public uses. A large percentage of the buildings built in this style in the city can be found in the area planned by Patrick Geddes, north of the city's main historical commercial center.The combination of modern architecture and advanced city planning created in this part of the city a built area of unique quality known as the "White City (Tel Aviv)". As a result of an unexpected large wave of immigration from Germany in the 1930s, the city went through a period of intensive development in a short period of time leading to the creation of a critical mass of buildings in the International Style. Two thousand seven hundred buildings were constructed in this style between the years 1931 – 1937. Today Tel Aviv has within its borders more than 4,000 buildings in the International Style built between the years 1931 – 1956. The majority of these buildings are located between Allenby Street in the south, Begin Road and Ibn Gvirol Street in the east, the Yarkon River in the north and the sea in the west. Approximately 1,100 of these buildings are intended for preservation in various city plans. In July, 2003, UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, proclaimed the White City of Tel Aviv a World 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".

Other countries

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. (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 would not allow them back into Germany.

In the late 1930s this group and their students were dispersed to Turkey, France, Mexico, Venezuela, Kenya and India, adding up to a truly international influence. In India, Geocentric Construction and Architect, an ISO firm, has played a vital role in different types of architectural work.

In 2000, UNESCO, proclaimed Ciudad Universitaria de Caracas in Caracas, Venezuela, as World Cultural Heritage site, describing it as "a masterpiece of modern city planning, architecture and art, created by the Venezuelan architect Carlos Raúl Villanueva and a group of distinguished avant-garde artists" being the only university campus designed in the 20th century that has received such recognition by UNESCO.

Also the UNESCO proclaimed in June 2007 Ciudad Universitaria of the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico (UNAM) a World Cultural Heritage site due to its relevance and contribution in terms of international style movement (as well as cultural - alma mater of 3 noble prizes and most Mexican presidents). It was designed in the late 1940s and built in the mid 1950's based upon a masterplan created by a then student, later draughtsman of Le Corbusier, now very recognized architect: Teodoro Gonzalez de Leon. His original and visionary idea was enriched by other students, teachers, and diverse professionals of several disciplines. In the place there can be seen mural paintings by Diego Rivera, Juan O'Gorman, etc. as well as Olympic Stadium (1968). Also in his first years of practice, Pritzker Prize winner and remarkable Mexican architect, Luis Barragan designed upon international style, later evolving to a more traditional local architecture. Other notable Mexican architects of the international or modern period are Carlos Obregón Santacilia, Augusto H. Alvarez, Mario Pani, Federico Mariscal, Vladimir Kaspé, Enrique del Moral, Juan Sordo Madaleno, Max Cetto, among many others.

In Brasil Oscar Niemeyer proposed a more organic and sensual International Style. He designed the political landmarks (headquarters of the 3 state powers) of the artificially created new capital Brasilia. The masterplan for the city was proposed by Lucio Costa.

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