Ideology of Modernism

9 September 2016

To what extent did the ideology of Modernism reflect new sets of values in architecture and design in the period between 1919 and 1960? Answer this question with examination of works of 3 architects/designers of the time analyzing how Modernism was manifested in their works. ANSWER Bauhaus’ Walter Gropius said in Germany, 1919, “Today’s artist lives in an era of dissolution without guidance. He stands alone.

The old forms are in ruins, the benumbed world is shaken up, the old human spirit is invalidated and in flux towards a new form. We float in space and cannot perceive the new order”. This statement epitomized a Germany suffering shocking economic deprivation from reparations imposed by The Treaty of Versailles 1918. Across Northern France, Germany and Belgium countryside and villages were devastated. Europe was bereft and in chaos. People desperately searched a new order to dispel the atrocities of WWI.

Ideology of Modernism Essay Example

Gropius’ bewilderment, was symptomatic of people’s disillusionment with a world whose values courted wanton destruction instead of harmony. Modernism evolved from romantic, socialist, utopian aspirations coupled with arts and crafts reforms in the wake of industrialism and war; a loose term used retrospectively to describe the broad movement in art, literature, architecture, design and culture, searching to assuage the pain of WWI. Modernism is easier to understand by referencing what it is not:- historicism, traditional, decorative, rooted in academics.

The term encompasses the trend in the early to mid 20th century when designers, artists, architects and others sought innovation, leaning towards the abstract in the search for new ways to express aesthetically their reactionary moral and political ideals. The change in direction from historical reference to forward looking was prompted by new political ideals following the Bolshevik Revolution and rise of Communism in Russia and in Europe, with the weakening of the class system. The quest was Utopia, unattainable perfection being the benchmark of Modernist ideology.

Mass production for the war effort filtered into general mass production resulting in Bauhaus in 1923 exhibiting “Haus am Horn,” viewing a functioning house as a machine to live in. The formulaic ideology of a better world required benefits of machine and function + healthy mind and body + mass market production + the referencing to nature for inspiration and guidance + simplicity = beauty = utopia. The extent to which the foregoing reflected new sets of values in architecture and design is difficult to accurately discern.

The Utopian vision was not standardized Utopian values were not static or uniformly adhered to, the only constant; desire for a better world. As ideals changed so did values and aesthetics. The changes were more by degree than paradigm shift. Works by Frank Lloyd Wright, Le Corbusier and Knoll evidence this. Wright and Corbusier lauded reaction and acknowledged the importance of nature. Wright designed with reverence for nature and the ideal of unity and beauty being at one with and following from nature such that ‘form became feeling’.

Their often abstract designs were derived from and intertwined with the function and natural geometry of nature. They searched a Utopia in which human everyday life could sit happily in the natural environment. Wright lived in one of his own making at Taliesin and Corbusier in the Charterhouse of Ema in Tuscany. These living communes became ‘the socio-physical model for [their] reinterpretation of Utopian socialist ideals’ and inspired their architecture to remedy the ills of the cities of their day; European cities suffering economic privation post WW1 and Revolution and the U.

S. weakened by extreme poverty from 1929 Great Depression. Cities were crowded, filthy and unhealthy, their inhabitants often injured by war, suffering from the Spanish Flu Epidemic or TB, out of work or unemployable. Both saw the rise of socialism as a response to the desperate need for pleasant city housing. They visited Bauhaus for inspiration from the like minded who searched for a way to improve society through beautiful architecture. ‘Architecture was the direct carrier of spiritual forces, the molder of the sensibilities of the general public.  They became dedicated to architecture which would satisfy their individual visions of Utopia. They believed mass production could produce volumes of low cost housing, which would be functional and therefore beautiful. The machine, art, architecture and social advancement were viewed as inseparable. Paradoxically, their interest in mass production was juxtaposed against a desire for a healthy body and mind. People needed sunlight and clean air to appreciate beauty. Linked to love of nature and the need for Utopia, good health lay at the core of Wright and Corbusier’s Modernist ideals.

They designed light filled buildings with opening windows for fresh air and very simple surfaces that would not accumulate dust. They believed that healthy, well housed people would want to commune with nature and would thus appreciate beauty. It was an ideology of social engineering – better people would make a better world. Healthy people would function as machines and be capable of great productivity. Their large scale city plans pursued Utopia, Its values of health, beauty, nature, simplicity and equality were reflected in the aesthetics implemented.

In his Five Points of a New Architecture, Corbusier called for roof gardens and long windows in his city buildings. These satisfied functional requirements through empirical form whilst at the same time abstract elements affected the viewers senses and nourish the intellect of the inhabitants. Corbusier developed his Dom-Ino prototype for housing consisting of cement layers supported by free standing columns in symmetrical arrangement. He saw this design as a prototype capable of inexpensive production in large pre-fabricated quantities for easy erection. DOM-INO The concrete Dom-Ino prototype.

Le Corbusier, Towards a New Architecture BN Publishing. net, Great Britain p230. The Dom-Ino progressed to his Villes Pilotis, being homes constructed and raised off the ground on free standing pillars, the latter being further refined to become Maison Citrohan( Citroen) manifesting, in addition to the foregoing, long rectilinear volumes open at one end for light with double height living space and childrens’ bedrooms on the roof; functional and easy to build being a box. MAISON CITROHAN The reinforced concrete Citrohan Le Corbusier, Towards a New Architecture BN Publishing. et, Great Britain p241 There were 3 million “boxes” in his 1922 Ville Contemporaine. The Ville was zoned into administration, workers and industry, separated by green belts in a wide open plan layout. The new urban city was designed to maximize sunlight and air whilst easing traffic flow. ‘A city made for speed [was] a city, made for success’. The Ville Contemporaine was mid-rise, high density living comprising stackable duplexes, up to 6 double floors with a small garden. The homes opened at ground level to green space and recreational facilities for communal use.

Corbusier’s “Utopia “ incorporated his design values of space, light, inexpensive mass production and green. His design lay mid-way between a middle class apartment block and a socialist communal housing estate. VILLE CONTEMPORAINE Picture of Le Corbusier Ville Contemporaine from Frampton, Kenneth Le Corbusier, Thames and Hudson, London 2001, p50. Corbusier’s Villa Savoy 1931, moved away from repeated geometry focusing on rotational movement and variances with weather and light as outline, form and depth became highlighted. A country home for wealthy clients, it was at odds with socialism.

Maison Citrohan’s functional cyndrical pilotis provided support but were so placed to allow the house to “ hover”. Darling, Elizabeth, Le Corbusier, Carlton Books, London, p37 The villa is carefully placed, sculptured and hollowed such that the park outside seems to be inside. A smoothly curved staircase leads up to the large main living level surrounded by a courtyard; large glass windows and strip windows capture the view. Interior Villa Savoye showing stripped windows, courtyard and ingressive sun Darling, Elizabeth, Le Corbusier, Carlton Books, London, p39

Internal View of Staircase, Villa Savoye Darling, Elizabeth, Le Corbusier, Carlton Books, London, p39 The house manifests, health by sunlight, green and fresh air. The machine (boat), is evidenced by tubular railings and a layered stack with a pilotis protruding like a funnel. Daily Telegraph, 3rd September 2010: Sir Terence Conran: Modernism’s Shining Knight Earlier works were refined, perfected and whittled to their fundamentals. From these a dynamic new image voiced new possibilities of form and meaning in a hitherto unseen synthesis.

The ramp and the car passing under were used in a new arrangement. His previously used strip windows now appeared on all 4 sides of the box not just 1 and the pilotis were used in both interior and exterior design, free of all ornament being images of modern engineering. A Utopian dwelling addressing the needs of an industrial society. Corbusier obsessed that his designs for high density, functional, communal housing were the road to Utopia. Jumping to 1952 post WWII, is his idea of the Ville Radieuse manifest in the Unite d’Habitation in Marseille.

Constructed in his favoured reinforced concrete, the slab is high rise, 12 storeys on giant pilotis, comprising undercroft, roof terrace and 23 styles of double height apartments with balconies. The apartments, united by spinal corridors are factory produced units slotting into the overall lattice of the building’s structural framework. The aesthetic is one of unity, maintained by proportion, rhythm, human scale and sculptural control. The building is a single whole high rise city in itself including all amenities required by its inhabitants.

The roof terrace houses a gym, a school, a creche, pool and running track. Its internal corridors form streets with shops, a hotel, restaurants, services etc. In his Unite, Corbusier sought high density without foregoing the pleasures of light, space and greenery but without the need for the space of the Ville Contemporaine. To enable this, each apartment had a 2 to 1 ratio. Spacious living rooms looked out over habitable balconies. Kitchen, bathroom and bedrooms were half previous sizes. The Unite was the Citrohan rethought.

The communal aspects were crucial so to maximize space the apartments were stacked, jigsaw style. Corbusier lifted the Unite in the air, for shade under and to allow traffic and greenery to co-exist. It was a ‘house machine’ (boat) evidenced by mimicry of an ocean liner with decks, public and private places; a functioning communal living. Darling, Elizabeth; Le Corbusier, Carlton Books, London, p152 to p159 Darling, Elizabeth; Le Corbusier, Carlton Frampton, Kenneth; Le Corbusier, Thames and Hudson Books, London, pictures taken from p152 to p160London, 2001, p162.

Corbusier strove for the Unite’ to be at one with the rocky outcrops of its adjoining countryside seeing reinforced concrete as a natural material comparable to the local stone. Cement was ‘a finish appropriate to the ethos of the second machine age, the era of harmony in which a new contract could be formed between man and nature’. With his Unite Corbusier moved away from horizontal grid geometry to verticality thus embracing the values of the late 1940s and 50s; less abstract more organic, neighbourhood, association and cluster.

Wright also believed that society would improve if its members understood beauty. Whereas Corbusier’s passion was the inner city, Wright’s passion was regionalization. He wrote a scathing critique of Corbusier’s Ville Radieuse for reducing the individual to an anonymous cog in an urban machine. Wright saw Utopian architecture as ‘in the service of humanity that would provide the background and framework of civilisation’. He worked to mould American culture through architecture into an intellectual democratic culture of which to be proud, unfolding American democracy into architectural form.

Decentralization was the answer to town planning. He took the Modernist creed of the need for air, sun, light and breathing space a step further by requiring people to be land owners and not renters. Wright ‘s Broadacre although envisaging the integration of cultural and commercial space, situated the home on an acre of land removed from the inner city. A grid of 4, square mile units would be a complete community, nourishing local identity through electronic communication. The land, the home and the economy were to be in harmony inspired by nature.

Broadacre would be safe, with spacious landscaped highways coming over and under pedestrian passage ways thus eliminating all crosswalks and by-passing living areas. No telegraph, telephone poles and wires and no bill boards. Theatres, co-operatives and community centres would be in the fields. Nature, health and beauty were paramount. Wright insisted that Broadacre was neither ‘backward looking, nor escapist, but an intelligent response to excess urbanization combining the best of scientific culture with new free forms’

McCarter, Robert On and by Frank Lloyd Wright, A Primer of Architectural Principles. Phaidon Press Ltd, London 2005, p188 and p189. Broadacre used Wright’s ‘Usonian’ prototype. The Usonian (Utopian) dealt with the social and economic poverties of the Great Depression. Totally practical, it was built from a kit comprising reinforced concrete slab foundations floating on a drained bed of cinders and sand with hot water pipes running beneath. Walls were pre-fabricated from tar and board. An insulated and ventilated roof slab overhung the houses to shelter, protect rom glare and provide a horizontal relating to the earth’s plane. The kit allowed mass production by machine, ergo, the house would function efficiently and be beautiful. That there was no space for servants acknowledged poverty and rejected pre-war formal American life. The Usonian with its exterior deck and free plan interior was totally appropriate for the burgeoning suburban middle class. Broadacre manifested Wright’s reflection on the problem of unifying an ideal state with individual liberty in a mechanized society. It was rural democracy as opposed to centralized urban capitalism.

McCarter, Robert on and by Frank Lloyd Wright, a primer of architectural principles. Phaidon Press Ltd, London 2005, p186 and p187. Finally, Knoll sold Modernist furniture, created Modernist offices and domestic interior design. Modernist designs were Knoll’s road to design success from 1948. Knoll manifested clarity of form, honesty of materials, the creative elevation of industrial production and Gropuis’ union of art and technology. Modernist architects created functional, exciting buildings but without furniture. Knoll pounced on this market niche.

German in origin, Knoll took off in New York post WWII when money started to be plentiful and American architects wanted access to European Modernist furniture. During WWII it was impossible to import from Germany. Knoll needed to manufacture locally. At this time Eero Saarinen and Charles Eames of the Cranbrook Academy of Fine Arts won a design award for their chairs. Working with Michigan manufacturers, they produced proto-types of compound moulded plywood shell chairs that allowed the shape of the chair to be its primary component of comfort. Unlike other chairs, these new designs showed a form dictated by use not decorative effect’. Moulded Ply Chair, Eames & Saarinen Knoll acquired the rights to sell these.

They were so successful that the look of both domestic and corporate interiors still harks back to this change in artistic expression. Knoll hired Cranbrook graduate Florence Schust. She learnt her design skills from Eliel Saarinen, head of Cranbook and his Finnish friend, Alvar Aalto, from Gropius and Van Der Rohe (moved to US following Nazi closure of Bauhaus)   Florence said ‘The most important essage I got from Van Der Rohe was the clarification of an idea, bringing things down to the bare bones and working with just the clearest form of design’. Florence elevated interiors to the same level as architecture. The US economy was booming. Knoll’s Planning Unit work proliferated due to the efficiency of Florence’s planning methodology and her strict adherence to Modernist design aesthetics. ‘Good design is good business’. Relying on industrial materials, honesty, simplicity and function was paramount.

Knoll became synonymous with efficiency, best displayed to the public in the company’s showrooms; free plan, with furnishings placed according to function as if in a domestic or corporate setting, set off by rugs, plants and art work. Florence redesigned Hans’ office at Knoll H. Q. placing storage behind his desk within easy access and placing the desk parallel to the wall, not at right angles as in other offices. This slight but revolutionary rearrangement is still current in office planning.

Han Knoll’s Office Designed by Florence, archives of the Metropolitan Museum, New York Florence’s interiors coupled with furniture like Saarenen’s Womb Chair, Eames pedestal collection of 1958, his chair and foot stool, Bertoia’s wire sculptured chairs and Van Der Rohe’s Barcelona Chair ensured Knoll’s Modernist values were becoming part of the fabric of American design due to unswerving dedication to the ideal of function and its ensuing aesthetic of simplicity. Saarinen’s Pedestal Tulip Chair Saarinen’s Womb ChairBertoia’s wire sculptured chairs and Table

Van der Rohe’s, Barcelona ChairAlvaar Alto’s Moulded Plywood Chair Images taken from Vitra Furniture Catalogue and New York Metropolitan Museum Archive. In conclusion, the Utopian ideology of Modernism displayed in the work of Corbusier, Wright and Knoll from 1919 to 1960 can be witnessed in new values particularly the need for unity and harmony with nature, rejection of clutter and applied ornament, strict adherence to function as a means of attaining beauty and a deep rooted understanding that beauty of design could lead the world to be a better place.

These values combined with social and political beliefs were cosmopolitan and international in outlook and practice due to political persecution of Modernist proponents in their home lands and their subsequent global relocation. The extent to which Modernist ideology reflected new sets of values in the artistic works of the time was profound. Its legacy can be seen in every modern city today. As Van Der Rohe so aptly said, their work ‘was not just a phenomenon of our time and country but rather part of a movement that is emerging across the whole worl.The Modernists hoped to create a new world, free from the disasters they had witnessed in WWI and WWII, the Spanish Civil War, the Russian Revolution and the Great Depression. ‘In their exhilaration, their striving for physical and emotional liberation, The Modernists sent a shock wave through Europe and America which no designers have since come near to recreating.

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