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The International Style in Architecture

The International Style in Architecture

Author: Ian McConnell
Description:

This lesson will explore the International Style in architecture.

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Tutorial

An overview of the International Style in architecture.

Video Transcription

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[MUSIC PLAYING] Hello. I'd like to welcome you to this episode of Exploring Art History with Ian. My name is Ian McConnell. And today's lesson is about the International Style in architecture. As you're watching the video, feel free to pause, move forward, or rewind as often as you feel is necessary. And as soon as you're ready, we can begin.

Today's objectives are listed below. By the end of the lesson today, you'll be able to identify and define today's key terms, describe the origins of the International Style in architecture, and identify examples of the International Style in architecture. Key terms, as always, are listed in yellow throughout the lesson.

First key term is "International Style," an architectural style based upon the philosophy that form follows function and characterized by having qualities of volume, balance, with no ornamentation. Reinforced concrete-- concrete material that has been strengthened, usually by embedded steel rods. Cantilever-- an architectural construction technique seen in bridges, buildings, and balconies that uses a support beam that overhangs without bracing. And pilotis-- support, such as columns or piers, usually made of reinforced concrete, that raise a building off of the ground and create an open ground level.

The big idea for today is that the International Style has its origins in the architecture of de Stijl and the Bauhaus. And the architecture that we'll look at today dates from between 1928 and 1960. We're traveling to Pussy, France, New York City, Basilia, Brazil. Now the International Style had a philosophy that was as straightforward as the aesthetic. It was a completely modern, unadorned aesthetic that followed three basic rules-- ornament is a crime, truth to materials, and form follows function.

Charles-Edouard Jeanneret-Gris, known as Le Corbusier, was one of the pioneers of this new aesthetic and one of the more important figures in the history of modern architecture. The Villa Savoye exemplifies his idea of a machine aesthetic, or rather the beauty found in the functional. Now this carried over into his idea of the house as a machine for living. Again, form meets function. And good design maximized this relationship.

And the Villa Savoye is an early example of the International Style. The building is not integrated with its site at all. It could be located anywhere. It doesn't impact its surroundings, either, a quality that Le Corbusier considered important.

Instead, the thin columns elevate the reinforced concrete building, causing it to appear to levitate and open up the ground floor using structural elements called pilotis. The exterior is covered in white stucco to emphasize the lack of adornment. Now the building incorporates three units that are present in almost all of Le Corbusier's designs-- the cube, the stilt, and the sculptured roof. Now although the lack of adornment seems practical, this building fell quickly into disrepair when it was abandoned by the wealthy Savoye family after World War II and the white stucco began to peel off.

Ludvig Mies van der Rohe's design of the Seagram Building in New York City incorporates his philosophy of less is more. And it's considered a masterpiece of modern architectural design. It's a bevy of innovations, from its exposed structural elements that function as a sort of ornamentation to its open ground level that became a public gathering place, which inspired skyscraper design in New York for years to come.

Now in the interest of improving humanity through design, architects and urban planners would build streamlined buildings in the middle of wide-open spaces, truly believing that this would help improve people's lives. That was a model that was used for many housing projects in Brasilia and actually had the opposite effect of increasing crime in the areas where they were located. But this Utopian ideal can be seen in the design and construction of Brasilia's National Congress Building by Oscar Niemeyer.

Now it's a model of horizontal lines and verticality set within an open space. The asymmetrical design maintains a visual balance by shifting the vertical towers to the left to offset the visual weight of the larger inverse dome on the far right. It's a wonderful example of the International Style's adaptability.

Like we saw with the Villa Savoye, the building is not integrated within its surroundings but appears to float above it. And note the design aesthetic may be universal. The execution definitely isn't. Each building that's built in the International Style is unique, as the overall form was always dictated by the intended function.

So that brings us to the end of this lesson. Let's take a look at our objectives again to see if we met them. Now that you've seen the lesson, are you able to identify and define today's key terms, describe the origins of the International Style in architecture, and identify examples of the International Style in architecture?

And once again, the big idea for today is that the International Style has its origins in the architecture of de Stijl and the Bauhaus. That's it. Thank you very much for joining me today. I'll see you next time.

Notes on "The International Style in Architecture"

Citations

Villa Savoye; Creative Commons: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:VillaSavoye.jpg Seagram Building; Public Domain: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:NewYorkSeagram_04.30.2008.JPG; Niemeyer, National Congress, Creative Commons, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Brazilian_National_Congress.jpg; National Congress Building Creative Commons http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:National_Congress_of_Brazil.jpg

TERMS TO KNOW
  • International Style

    An architectural style based upon the philosophy that "form follows function" and characterized by having qualities of volume, balance, with no ornamentation.

  • Reinforced Concrete

    Concrete material that has been strengthened usually by embedded steel rods.

  • Cantilever

    An architectural construction technique seen in bridges, buildings, and balconies that uses a support beam that overhangs without bracing.

  • Pilotis

    Supports such as columns or piers, usually made of reinforced concrete, that raise a building off of the ground and create an open ground level.