modernist-architecture

Last Copies! Out of Print! Evil People in Modernist Homes in Popular Films / Available at www.draw-down.com / Designed by Benjamin Critton. Offers a serious but lighthearted investigation of the representation of modernist architecture in popular film, reflecting on the convention of associating evil characters and events with modern buildings, and also, more generally, on the relation between cinema and architecture. A series of film stills, quotes and accompanying texts point to examples in The Damned Don’t Cry (1950), #Diamonds are Forever (1971), #BladeRunner (1982), Body Double (1984), Lethal Weapon 2 (1989), L.A. Confidential (1997), The #BigLebowski (1998), and #Twilight (2008). #graphicdesign #typography #architecture #zine #archizine #drawdownbooks #modernism #BenjaminCritton #film #popular #evil #villian #design

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Architect Kisho Kurokawa was very innovative in his creation of the Nakagin Capsule Tower in 1972, which was the first capsule architecture design. The 140 capsule module was created with the intention of housing traveling businessmen that worked in central Tokyo (Ginza area) during the week. It is a prototype for architecture of sustainability and recycleability, as each module can be plugged in to the central core and replaced or exchanged when necessary.

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What the Hell is Modern Architecture? (Part One)

I hope you guys like Modernism, because you’re about to get two more Sunday posts about it. Why? Because Modernism dominated the world of architecture for more than a century and it really wouldn’t be fair to stuff it all into one post. 

Today’s post is going to focus on the movements leading up to Modernism and early Modernism, specifically the time period of the late 1800s to the beginning of WWII. All photos in this post are from Wikimedia Commons unless otherwise noted. 

Before I start my post, I have a few things to say:

Ok, back to architecture. 

Some of you may be wondering - how did all of those glassy boxy buildings even get here? Why did architecture go in this direction after centuries upon centuries of Classical tradition? 

Good thing I’m here to answer your questions or else you’d be up late at night thinking about them in a spiral of anxiety. 

Basically, Modernism in architecture can be tied to these three concepts:

1.) The concept of Modernity in general. See here
2.) Cool new technology!
3.) Aesthetic opinions of some dudes about some other dudes. 

Modernity

What is commonly referred to as Modernity in the fields of philosophy and sociology can basically be summed up as lots of new science coupled with angst. The science included ideas such as evolution and new fields such as psychology. The angst in the early 19th century manifested itself as Romanticism, which was best expressed by writers (especially poets like Byron), and composers like Beethoven (large-scale) and Chopin (small-scale - seriously this dude wrote his own funeral march.) 

The new science and philosophy of modernity changed during the Industrial Revolution, resulting in a period of waxing poetic (culminating in ideas like Socialism and Existentialism) about how technology changed social order and how people lived and worked. Hence: 

Technology

The 19th century saw the rise of the factory, which changed how the masses lived and worked. (Hint: it was mostly in filth and poverty.) It also saw the rise of two dope new building materials: reinforced concrete and steel. 

Architects, being architects, went insane. Suddenly one could build things that were REALLY TALL and REALLY WIDE and totally not reflective of one’s ego at all

Which leads us to…

Architectural Betchiness

Basically, throughout most of the 19th century (which will get its own post) architecture was really flowery

The use of ornament in architecture got more and more, well, ornate. By the 1880s, architecture was producing many extremely complex styles such as Gothic Revival and Beaux Arts

Besides looking pretty, architectural ornament played another, less flattering role: hiding the ugly structural bits of the building. 

However, the new technology that was emerging made the structures of buildings a lot stronger and cleaner looking. For example the use of steel made the iron-age buildings, which relied on complex arch forms for their structural integrity, obsolete. Gone too were the limits regarding height that were imposed by the structural shortcomings of masonry. 

This, of course, led to a stylistic *existential crisis* amongst architects, because none of the historical precedents of the past really applied to this new way of building. Trust me: if you think your ex dwells on the past a lot, the field of architecture has them beat 10000 fold.

Enter Louis Sullivan, the Chicago architect who declared in 1896:

“It is the pervading law of all things organic and inorganic, of all things physical and metaphysical, of all things human, and all things super-human, of all true manifestations of the head, of the heart, of the soul, that the life is recognizable in its expression, that form ever follows function. This is the law.”

Sullivan’s main point was actually that this new way of building was unprecedented, and therefore deserved a new stylistic language to go with it, rather than relying on the tired vocabulary of Greco-Roman inspired Classicism. 

Somewhat ironically, many of his contemporaries took the “form follows function” bit and ran off with it, decrying that in this new technological age, ornament was “nonessential” to the construction of buildings, and was thus frivolous. But we’ll get to that bit later. 

Pre-Modernism: Exploring New Ornament

This idea of establishing a new language of architectural ornament wasn’t limited to Sullivan and his much more famous (and douchey) protege Frank Lloyd Wright. In Western Europe, it seemed like every country had its own new ornamental language: 

As we can see here, late 19th century ornament was super cool and also, in the case of Gaudi’s vaguely skeletal buildings, super weird. Still, all this dopeness wasn’t enough for the dudes who saw all ornament as frivolous and also dumb.

To literally no one’s surprise, this line thinking began with the ever-so-practical Germans and Austrians. Like Marx, whose Communist Manifesto sparked massive political change, the Austrian architect Adolf Loos’ 1910 essay Ornament and Crime sparked a similar reaction in architecture. 

The Rational Style: Modernism Canonized

In Loos’ essay, he makes a somewhat valid point that ornamentation can have the effect of causing objects to go out of style and thus become obsolete. Therefore, ornamentation was wasted effort (a crime in this new factory-driven hyper-rational world). What was the point of adding ornament when it would make buildings “meh” in like 10 years?  

Loos attached ornament to the concept of morality, (he literally called it “degenerate”) And, in a very manifesto-y way, declared its suppression was necessary for regulating modern society. 

Basically:

MEANWHILE IN GERMANY a few years before (1899) the Austrian architect Joseph Maria Olbrich seceded from the Vienna Secession (something something Secession II: Electric Boogaloo) to form an artists colony in Darmstadt back when forming an artists colony meant that actual work got done. 

This colony, named the Deutscher Werkbund, became the official national designers’ organization of Germany. Its goals focused on how to best utilize the sweet new tools of mass production (with the side effect of a ton of designers bickering about aesthetics.)

The most important product of the Werkbund was Peter Behrens’ 1907 turbine factory (built for the German electric company AEG). It blew everyone’s freaking mind. 

Seriously, this one building kickstarted the hyper-efficient factory aesthetic of architectural modernity. Suddenly, like the new approach to warfare during WWI, architecture was all about efficiency, rationality, and functionality

In 1919, the soon to be hella famous architect Walter Gropius, who worked under Behrens, seceded(!) to form his own design school based off of these new principles. This school, called the Bauhaus, (German for “construction house”) would ultimately become the most influential arts institution of the 20th century. 

The Bauhaus (1919-1933), later headed by some guy named Hannes Meyer (who had such a huge stick up his ass that he forced one of the dankest Bauhaus members [Marcel Breuer] and others to resign) who was usurped by modern all-star Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, trained some of the most famous architects of the 20th Century. Its credo “Less is More” (coined by Mies - he’s so clever) would dominate the theory and practice of architecture for more than 60 years. 

Sadly, the work of the Bauhaus was cut short by the Nazis, who were coincidentally really into ornament. Shortly after Hitler took power, Walter Gropius, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, and company fled to America where they proceeded to dominate Harvard, other academic institutions, and architecture in general. But we’ll get to that. 

Well, that sums it up for Modern Architecture Part O–

Oh yeah, you thought I forgot about these guys, didn’t you? 

Don’t worry, I didn’t. They’re simply so important that they’re going to get their own special post next Sunday. Le Corbusier and Frank Lloyd Wright impacted architecture, design, and urban planning in such significant ways that if I included them in this post, they’d make it twice as long and y’all are probs tired of reading at this point. 

SO YES. That’s it for this week’s post on Modernism. Join us Thursday for the Certified Dank™ McMansion of the Week, and REMEMBER TO GO VOTE ON TUESDAY FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS GOOD AND HOLY IN THE WORLD. 


P. S.: The deadline for submitting logo proposals is tomorrow (11/7/2016) at midnight! After all proposals have been submitted, the review process will begin! 

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Philip Johnson, Rockefeller Guest House, New York, (1949-1950)

One of the earliest examples of Mies van der Rohe’s brand of modernism in New York City is Philip Johnson’s Rockefeller Guest House. Designed for Blanchette Hooker Rockefeller, the house was praised at the time by critics for its simplicity and elegance. Ada Louise Huxtable described it as: “sophisticated … handsome, unconventional.”

The home was primarily intended as a place for social gatherings, and as a modern art gallery for its owner. Its design was based largely on Mies’ sketches for the IIT campus buildings as well as his drawings for unbuilt court houses. Designed at a time when Johnson was primarily designing private residences, the Guest House makes use not only of the architectural vocabulary that he favored at the time, but also of the proportions that he would use in future residences (like the Hodgenson House and the Oneto House, both of which have front doors and surrounding windows nearly identical to the façade and fenestration that Johnson used to enclose the small courtyard in the Rockefeller Guest House).

In the late 1940’s and early 1950’s, Johnson had built only single-story structures, and thus when faced with the dilemma of how to design a façade with a second floor, he turns to Mies van der Rohe’s sketches, and places a second floor almost entirely of glass. The relationship between this design and that of the Wiley House is apparent, when one considers that both have a substantial first floor made of stone or brick (in this case red brick walls laid in a Flemish bond) with a second floor of glass, though the urban context of the Rockefeller Guest House limits the top floor to being just a one sided version of the all glass pavilion which sits atop the Wiley House. This division between floors also allows for the separation of public and private functions, something which Johnson no doubt picked up from Marcel Breuer during his time at Harvard. The second floor, which was meant to be a bedroom, has seldom if ever been photographed.

The home is one room wide, and upon entering, the living room stretches far back until it is book-ended by floor to ceiling windows that closely mimic the façade’s layout. The living room space has white brick walls and features lighting fixtures designed by Mr. Johnson. Beyond the windows, there is a small courtyard that features a prime example of Philip Johnson’s concept of “safe danger”. In the courtyard, visitors must carefully walk on square travertine stepping-stones and avoid falling into the shallow reflecting pool on either side.

The Rockefeller Guest House was donated by the Rockefellers to the Museum of Modern Art in 1955, after which it had its share of owners. Johnson himself rented the home and lived there from 1971 to 1979. The home was given landmark status by the Landmarks Preservation Commission in December 2000.