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When Did Modernism Begin in Architecture?
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Geddes Notation of Life diagram is a revolutionary attempt to synchronise all components of life with one generally accepted all-embracing system in order to explain it logically and organise its overwhelming complexity. This pattern fits perfectly to understanding the architecture phenomenon. In other words, balance between all factors indicated by Geddes in the early 20th century is to be a major pre-condition for thinking out, planning, and actual creation of the building design.
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This ideal is not in some partial use of the specified aspects of Notation of Life but rather in their complete oneness. Hence, any architectural work must incorporate and reflect the joint concept of acts, deeds, dreams, and facts. Particularly, the building should be constructed as an embodiment of correlation between experience of a specialist and knowledge in the given area, ones original ideas implemented by synergy of cooperation with other narrow professionals as a result of the inspired work process. This is a peak of professionalism that each architect ought to aim to attain in ones qualification and which is going to be pursued in competence development.
The aforementioned approach in designing buildings has been applied in the modernism epoch. Indeed, the famous phrase form follows function by Walter Gropius, who is believed to be one of the forefathers of modernism as an architectural wave, is a perfect example of the principle discussed. For instance, the facts showing the current social needs are able to provoke occurrence of dreams/ideas about how to meet them in the most advanced way for this time. Moreover, all architects before deeds are being performed, such as planning a certain project for construction, etc., have to take into account future acts that will be performed within the walls of this place. Namely, function of the building predetermines its form.
Therefore, this paper will discuss the controversy and achievements of this architectural style paying most attention to emergence and formation of modernism as an art trend.
Modernism as Manifestation of the Industrial Urbanism Pace in Building
Before considering the origins and initial conception of modernism, it is necessary to note that this architectural wave is one of the most criticised. Besides, some critics have expressed doubts regarding whether it really is a self-sufficient style. For instance, in the 1980s, it was attacked by the Prince of Wales regardless modernist urban planning and design had been a successful and mostly advantageous phenomenon for the United Kingdom (Glazer 2007, p. 1).
European countries in the early 1900s, for instance, France, Great Britain, and Germany, are believed to be the cradle of modernism establishment as a notable movement, while some its specified features were evident in the building design before this period. Preconditions for emergence of this art direction were unfavourable socioeconomic conditions that had characterised Europe in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. To be more precise, haunting images of poverty, deprivation, and alienation often associated with Victorian city (Gold 1997, p. 19) became one of the movers to simultaneously incorporate simplicity of forms into functionality of buildings.
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Furthermore, modernist architecture purposed to ensure hardworking labourers worthy living conditions. It should be mentioned that the number of such workers had been immensely growing in cities during the aforementioned time frame as a result of industrialisation and urbanisation following it. Therefore, technological progress was an unstoppable force for development of various industries. Rural residents came to the manufacturing places in search of work, causing constant and too fast growth in urban population. People lived in overcrowded areas with poor living conditions and much poorer sanitation. With regard to the issue, modernist approach to building design has become a manifestation of a style-of-life consumer item (Lu 2011, p. 1), a way to create better places to live for ordinary individuals and meet their burning social needs.
Thus, modernist architects have seen functionality aimed at establishment of social good as a central goal for every professional of their epoch. Nevertheless, this seemingly positive and human-centred commitment of that time has been considered as selfishness, or so to speak self-orientated common good. In other words, critics of this movement believed that modernists created utopias in accordance with good as they had seen it in their imagination; critics believed that it was not based on the social requirements of numerous people in need (Glazer 2007).
As a result, scholars who criticise modernism and call its self-sufficiency doubtful, like Gold (1997), associate architects with the ideas of urban utopias. Production of utopian schemes is generally associated with times of socioeconomic or political stress; times when individuals feel a pressing need to search for something better (Gold 1997, p. 19). Certainly, the above statement has reflected the general trend of the era discussed. First, socioeconomic stress in terms of poor living conditions of urban newcomers in an unstoppable pace of towns-into-cities re-conceptualisation was obvious at that time. Second, the attempts of architects to design the machine for living (Gazer 2007, p. 8) as a better place to live for working class were also evident. Consequently, it is possible to assume that the claims of researchers concerning utopia in modernism are justified. However, they cannot be blamed for being too dreamy or unrealistic in their desire to search new means to ensure more favourable life for people with low incomes and social equality at least to some extent.
Modernism shaped in architecture not only as a rebellion against historicism, ornament, overblown form, pandering to the great and rich (Glazer 2007, p. 7) but also as experimental practice of specialists aimed at gaining building skilfulness in operating with such materials as steel and glass. With respect to the issue, the Crystal Palace built in 1851 in Londons Hyde Park can be considered. This huge exhibition hall of about 560 metres length, 120 metres width, and 33 metres height was proved to be a glass cathedral of its time created by the architect Joseph Paxton. Scholars do not view the 1850s as time frame of modernism itself. Besides, the building does not look like ordinary modernist design simplistic, with no shaped ornaments or any decorations. Nonetheless, the fact that the creator used cast iron constructions and specifically fabricated glass for this magnificent artefact made it a perfect example of emerging modernist characteristics of design art. Although mostly researchers support the idea that this building belonged to the Victorian era, however, due to its specificity, the Crystal Palace can be considered as one of the precursors of modernist movement.
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Le Corbusier, or Charles-Edouard Jeanneret, was one of the founders of modernism as a separate architectural style. Since he was not only an architect but also an artist, urban planner, painter among other fields, he can boldly be regarded as a philosophy inspirer of this movement. Moreover, he was a theorist as well as a successful practitioner of the ideas that he expressed and promoted. For instance, Le Corbusier has outlined the principle attributes that should be followed in any modernist building. These are (a) pilotis; (b) gardens on the roof; (c) ground plan is to be of free design, as well as facade; (d) horizontal windows placement (Cohen 2004). These characteristics can be perfectly observed in the example of one of his famous artefacts Villa Savoye, called The Bright Hours; it was built during 1929-1931 (see Figure 3 below).
This place can be safely viewed as the classical embodiment of the modernist tendencies developed by the author. Indeed, the pilotis comprised of the row of pillars frames the building, which corresponds to the first modernist requirement: as has been described by Cohen (2004), Austerely functional on the outside, its volume is supported by pilotis above a large expanse of lawn (p. 43). Both a facade and the ground plan are of free design; the former has no ornaments or decorative components. There is a garden on the plain roof (the latter is also a rebellion trend of modernism). What is more, this unique architectural work has some features that recall the bridges and decks of a ship, similar to a machine, bearing a resemblance to a hanging garden as well (Cohen 2004, p. 44). There are horizontal seemingly endless windows throughout the entire length of the walls. Furthermore, the modernist tendency of playing with metal-glass constructions. This is the example of the glass wall, which height is from the ceiling to the floor.
Additionally, the picture demonstrates an original spiral stairway, whose only adornment is metal handrails and another pillar supporting the ceiling. The most important is that the form of this perfectly built villa is dictated by multi-functionality. Particularly, the building itself is an all-inclusive house since cars may be parked downstairs, whereas there is a garden on the roof. The space here is zoned as it has been initially planned by modernists. Hence, this building has incorporated the most evident traits of the analysed architecture style, expressing the beauty of simplicity in the play of ornamentless walls, glass, and steel.
The year 1932 is believed to be the date when the term international style referring to modernism was born. Specifically, this event is related to the book International Style: Architecture since 1922 by Henry-Russell Hitchcock and Phillip Johnston presented on the exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York. In accordance with the scholars, European modernism was a new style and they dubbed it to be international since it had already been transplanted from Europe to America (Moffett, Fazio & Wodehouse 2008). However, in this part of the world, the movement has been even more controversial as in the other countries. Surely, preconditions of its maintenance were the same the unstoppable urbanisation and the cities growth. Nevertheless, the point is in disagreement between modernist architects in terms of its centralised concept.
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This aspect is evident from relations within the Bauhaus school and its bright minds Joseph Hudnut and Walter Gropius. As it has been previously stated, Gropius is found to be one of the forefathers of modernism as a trend in architecture emphasising functionality as its main distinctive characteristic and mover for any modernist creation. Conversely, Hudnut supported more humanistic approach to this architectural style, with emotional content, without losing connections with history of this art. Above all, the theorist believed that modernism should create strong ties between the education of planners, architects, and landscape architects, preparing them to tackle together the ultimate design problem the city (Pearlman 2007, p. 4). In this way, the ideas of Hundnut are related to Geddes urban planning and his emphasis on synergy in the creation process. However, the Harvard University Graduate School of Design (GSD), where both inspirers of modernism worked, had become the place of unstoppable debates between the two in terms of providing a direction for shaping and development of modernism, especially the American variant.
After the history of modernisms determinants, components and manifestations have been traced and explained briefly, one should say few words about grounds for criticism of this architectural style. One of the contemporary researchers of this trend, Thomas (2002) has asserted, Apart from the need to engage with social issues, the very technology which was designed to improve peoples lives, indeed the human habitat, has produced unexpected products such as sick building syndrome (p. 11). The latter mostly has referred to modernist projects that were failing, like Pruitt Igoe in St. Louis, Missouri among others, which instead of improving residents lives became the place for more trouble than before the housing development. Nonetheless, the principle cornerstone of this art ideology itself is veiled with a respectable social mission in spite of being utopian.
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In addition, it is to be emphasized that modernist initial goal to rebuke richness of previous artefacts was a short-term one. Even the previously discussed creation by Le Corbusier, Villa Savoye, can hardly be named an example of socially affordable dwelling for people in need. On the contrary, it is The Bright Hours place for rich individuals for which the architect had an extremely generous budget (Cohen 2004, p. 43), but its affluence is in its magnificence and originality. Consequently, modernism in architecture is thoroughly controversial either in terms of its origin or sense as a style.
To sum up, the paper has paid attention to discussion of the modernist architectural style with respect to its emergence and formation of as an art trend.
It has been clarified that generally accepted is dating back its formation to the verge between the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Additionally, the major mover for this process occurrence was intensive industrialisation and urbanisation following it. Particularly, specified characteristics of this art phenomenon can be traced in the British Crystal Palace that was built in 1851 in London: the architect used appropriate for modernism glass and metal constructions for building the entire glass cathedral. Nevertheless, this artefact is often classified as one of the Victorian era because of decorative ornaments which are unacceptable in modernism.
Overall, the founders of modernism as an architectural style are proved to be Le Corbusier, Gropius, and van der Rohe, whose rising activity is marked by the 1920s. For instance, Le Corbusiers Villa Savoya is believed to be the perfect example of the modernist classics, incorporating features of this trend defined by the author. However, it is necessary to underline that this movement is also controversial in various dimensions. For example, Gropius has found functionality to be the central principle of modernism, while his opponent Hudnut has emphasised the necessity to keep up with the emotional content concerning the issue.
The year of 1932 is the date of emergence of the international style with respect to the concept analysed since the movement overcome the international borders and came from Europe to America.
As a result, modernism has followed its all-embracing controversy even regarding its initial conceptualisation.
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