International Style is an architectural style that flourished in Europe and the United States in the 1920s and 1930s. It became the dominant style in the Western architecture during the mid 20th century. The common traits of the International Style buildings are the rectilinear framework, light and firm plane surfaces that were entirely void of ornamentation and decoration. Additionally, there were more prevalent open interior spaces and a visually weightless outlook brought about the usage of cantilever structure. Glass and steel were common materials used in International Style buildings accompanied with less noticeable reinforced concrete. The term International Style was first mentioned in 1932 by Henry Russell Hitchcock and Philip Johnson in their essay named The International Style: Architecture Since 1922 which was part of a catalog for an architectural exhibition happened at the Museum of Modern Art.
The International Style was developed due to a series of factors that challenged architects at the beginning of 20th century. The first factor was the escalating displeasure towards building designs that bore a combination of different decorations from various architectural era. Moreover, these ornamentations served no purpose to the function of the building. The architects felt that they needed to construct more modern, neutral and functional buildings stripped of all decorative features that were old-fashioned. The second factor was due to a growing industrialised society whereby the demand of commercial and communal buildings were in demand. The third factor was due to the discovery of modern construction methods by using steel, reinforced concrete and glass.
The following are some notable works that preceded the International Style and also buildings that were termed to be International Style buildings. The first example is the iron bridge built by Thomas F Pritchard and Abraham Darby. Iron was rediscovered as a building material owing to the construction of the iron bridge. It was said that rediscovery of iron was the catalyst behind modern architecture. This sparked the evolvement of Engineering which led to the evolvement of new technical processes, new materials, new aesthetics and functional requirements. This ended the search for architectural styles for awhile. Structural implications of buildings pre dominated the importance of function and aesthetics. Iron helped the architects of the new age to propagate the ideals of the international style. This further led to the rejection of the revival of historic styles and buildings returned to the basis of architecture: form, structure and proportion.
The second architect worth mentioning is Frank Lloyd Wright who was regarded as the master of reinforced concrete. His work actually pre date the international style so he was regarded as one of the fore runners. His motive was for an organic architecture designed for a democratic society. He recognizes the natural beauty of Japanese materials and advocates for its adoption in modern buildings. He believes that a blend of east oriental and west traditions will harmonise modern space with nature. His love for stronger horizontal lines that extend the structures into landscape were evident in the Prairie houses that he built.
The third key player of the International Style who is worth mentioning is Mie van der Rohe. He was often regarded as the father of modern architecture. His architectural works were stripped of all overtones if style and decorations. He strongly advocated simplicity and he believes that simplification of his works could speak for itself. He reinforced his statement by saying that “less is more” and that “God is in its details”.
Another notable work during the International Style is the Villa Savoye in Paris built by Le Corbusier. Villa Savoye was built entirely out of the industrial materials of steel, concrete, and glass. The thin point-support columns are arranged in a near-perfect grid. In addition, the terrace features a sculptural wall whose curved forms reflects the smokestacks of ocean liners. The curve of the driveway follows the exact turning radius of a 1929 model Voisin. It was inherently built to be “a machine for living”.
One modern adaptation of the International Style can be seen in Brazil. Brazil adopted International Style in particular because the country had plans to build a new capital based on the theories of modern architecture and international style came in handy. Thus, the architect Niemeyer Oscar proposed a more organic and sensual international style. He was known as one of the great contributors to Brazil new capital, Brasilia.
Besides the positive feedback on the International Style, there were criticisms to it. International Style was criticised to be an easy formula to copy and the architecture were built without feelings which made them looked like factories. Furthermore, it was mentioned that International style divorced architecture from social purpose, housing was treated indifferently as if working for a communist government. Additionally, there were no hierarchy of building types. Architects stopped bothering about about the relationship of buildings to its climatic and environmental setting because artificial means like the use of heaters, air conditioners can be relied to correct any discomfort.
In conclusion, International Style seems to be a successful style adopted by many architects because they could make use of economical materials accompanied with new construction methods while fulfilling the aesthetics. Evidently, technology did play a big part in the development of International Style because the construction of the International Style buildings were made possible due to engineering. International Style did make a name for itself whereby the principle of modern buildings reflected a clear balance between looks, functionality and technology.