Modern Movement

The Modern Movement in the history of architecture was a period placed between the two world wars, aimed at renewing the characters, design and principles of architecture, urban planning and design. The architects who characterized their projects to functionality criteria and new aesthetic concepts were the protagonists.

It was one of the most important movements in the history of architecture, influencing more or less directly all the architecture and urban planning of the twentieth century. They are remembered as Masters of the Modern Movement Le Corbusier, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Walter Gropius, Frank Lloyd Wright, Alvar Aalto but also the Italians Giovanni Michelucci, Piero Portaluppi, Gio Ponti, Gualtiero Galmanini.

The movement identified itself at the moment of its highest expression, in the twenties and thirties of the twentieth century. A decisive impulse to the movement was given by the CIAM, promoted by Le Corbusier, which were international congresses where many of the theories and principles were elaborated which were then applied in the various disciplines. To this movement belong the De Stijl, the Bauhaus, the Constructivism, the Italian Rationalism; in 1936 the term International Style was coined in the USA, which is often referred to as the whole movement.

“The revolution of the Modern Movement was, before anything else, a typological revolution: there has not been a building that has maintained, after a complete revolution, the type or types, the model or models that existed before»
(Ludovico Quaroni, Designing a Building – Eight Architecture Lessons)

Some scholars consider one of the fathers of the Modern Movement William Morris, who had dictated the first principles of architectural renewal as early as the nineteenth century. Around 1900 then several architects around the world began to develop new architectural solutions in response to the changed social reality and new technological possibilities, factors that had a considerable development in the second half of the nineteenth century. The works of Art Nouveau by Victor Horta in Brussels, the Vienna Secession from Otto Wagner in Vienna, the new personal architectural experiments ofAntoni Gaudí in Barcelona and Charles Rennie Mackintosh in Glasgow are an expression of this change.

The functionalism is an architectural movement that the appearance of each building should clearly reflect the purpose for which it is created. The origins of functionalism date back to before the Great War. With the birth of the industry and with the consequent decadence of the craftsmanship, from the end of the eighteenth and especially the nineteenth century, we came up against what is “useful” to what is “beautiful”.

The concepts of functionalism are at the basis of rationalist architecture and in the case of the De Stijl and Bauhaus movements more markedly also in the field of design.

The idea of redeeming the object of use, felt since the mid-nineteenth century, stands as the most important artistic movement between the two wars: functionalism.

Characters of modern movement
Following these business meetings the fundamental principles of the movement are clarified and the theoretical writings are elaborated, so Bruno Taut in his book of 1929 summarizes the characteristics of the Modern Movement in these five points:

The first requirement in every building is the achievement of the best possible utility;
The materials used and the construction system must be subordinated to this primary requirement.
The beauty consists in the direct relationship between the building and purpose, characteristics of the materials and elegance of the building system.
The aesthetics of the whole building is as a whole without pre-eminence of facades or plants or architectural details. What is functional is also beautiful.
As the parties live in the unity of mutual relationships, so the house lives in relationship with the surrounding buildings. The home is the product of a collective and social arrangement.
From here come definitions of the architectures that are framed in the movement:

The rational architecture turns in a completely conscious way to the reason of the spectator. It must communicate purity, knowledge and knowledge.
The ‘ functional architecture focuses on functional benefits, rationally demonstrable, rather than on assessments of taste and is reflected in the definition of Le Corbusier of the house like machine for living.
L ‘ international architecture, which is well defined by Walter Gropius: “in’ modern architecture is clearly perceived the objectification of what is personal and national. A modern common touch, influenced by world trade and the technical world, makes its way into every cultural environment… among the three concentric circles, individual people, humanity – the third and higher embraces the other two; hence the international architecture title. ” [ without source ]

The movement in Europe
The Modern Movement in Europe in the twenties will dictate common standards for universal architecture, that is, valid for designing the built environment in every place and at every latitude. This will clash with the organic architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright, a supporter not of pre – established principles but, instead, of the unaudible reading and interpretation of the place, space and time. Alvar Aalto will be close to this organic stream in Europe. Beyond even the passionate participation of the protagonists, this contrast will in reality be only partial, as both tendencies will be part of the same movement, influencing and urging each other.

In recent years the most significant design research can be identified in the movement De Stijl in the Netherlands, work d ‘ vanguard almost share of Le Corbusier and various German contributions from industrial and traditional craftsmanship to major projects housing in Frankfurt and Stuttgart, at the famous Bauhaus school. The latter was a school of art, architecture and design, which sought the integration between the “making” of traditional craftsmanship and modern industrial technology.

Three figures will be prominent in the architecture of the twenties: Le Corbusier, who theorises in addition to the “Five principles” of Towards an architecture the concept of ‘ Unité d’Habitation, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Walter Gropius in Germany that the Bauhaus, of which they were both directors, influenced the international architectural scene with their projects and their theories of rationalism.

The Deutscher Werkbund
The Deutscher Werkbund (“German League of craftsmen”) was a German association, founded in Munich in 1907, on the initiative of architect Muthesius, of the entrepreneur Karl Schmidt and of the Protestant pastor and liberal politician Friedrich Naumann. The purpose of the association was to weld the gap between industry and applied arts during the recent extraordinary economic development, proposing a new culture of industrial work in which, for each project, production costs, the quality of craftsmanship had to be analyzed, production methods and times, trying to combine them with company policies.

The constructivism is a cultural movement born in Russia in 1913, shortly before the Revolution of 1917, which rejected the cult of ” art for art “in favor of art as direct practice towards social purposes. Constructivism as an active force lasted until about 1934, exerting great influence on the artistic experiences of the Weimar Republic and elsewhere, before being replaced by Socialist Realism. Constructivist ideas and suggestions can be found sporadically in other artistic movements of the period and later.

De Stijl
The De Stijl movement was born in 1917 in the Netherlands with the publication of the magazine of the same name. Piet Mondrian and Theo van Doesburg in the De Stijl Manifesto, used the term neoplasticism to describe their form of art: abstract, essential and geometric.

In Germany, after years of effort to reform the teaching of applied arts, in 1919 the Weimar State Bauhaus (Staatliche Bauhaus in Weimar) made its first official communication, publishing the Manifesto and program of the Weimar State Bauhaus and began its activity.

The Stuttgart exhibition and the Weissenhof
In 1927, with the Stuttgart Exhibition organized by the Deutscher Werkbund, the International Style presents itself strongly in all its components; in fact, under the supervision of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, a district of permanent residences is built on a hill on the outskirts of the city, the Weissenhof. The best architects in Europe are called to design and build houses in this neighborhood, and these are among the most representative figures of the movement: in addition to Mies himself, there are the Germans Peter Behrens, Walter Gropius, J. Frank, R. Cocker, L. Hilberseimer, Hans Poelzig, A. Rading, Hans Scharoun, A. Scheneck, Bruno Taut, the Dutch JJP Oud, Mart Stam, the Swiss Le Corbusier and the Belgian V. Bourgeois.

The Stuttgart exhibition presents the Modern Movement in a unified form to the European public for the first time. The collegial programs and the common tendencies to affect and plan the built environment among the many studies, coming from different places, times and sensitivities, are highlighted. The event is a huge success with the thousands of visitors who daily cross the experimental district.

Italian rationalism
In Italy after the First World War dominates the academy, even if a rationalist movement is born this will be partly hostage to the new Fascist regime which in various ways will condition its development. Despite this, there will be several valuable rationalist architects, such as Pier Luigi Nervi and Giuseppe Terragni.

However, an inevitable compromise with the “twentieth century style” or with the simplified and monumental neoclassicism of Piacentini will occur, more in keeping with the theses of an authoritarian regime.

The international congresses of modern architecture (Congrès Internationaux d’Architecture Moderne) or CIAM were born from the need to promote functional architecture and urban planning. The first meeting took place in 1928 in La Sarraz (Switzerland). During the eleventh congress in 1959 held in Otterlo (the Netherlands), the members decided to cease their activity.

The Movement in America
In the United States of America the Modern Movement was born with the School of Chicago where two generations of engineers and technicians are formed for the reconstruction of the city destroyed by the fire of 1871, who first make a new type of construction the ” skyscraper ” (in 1885), whose most significant expression we have in the “Reliance Building” (Burnaham & root, 1890 – 1895). Louis Sullivan belongs to the school (1856 – 1924), which is the most representative figure and which manifests his design theories with writings and not only with the works, (among the major is the Auditorium of Chicago, 1887). Frank Lloyd Wright, who will be the most significant architect of the Modern Movement in America, forms in his studio. These will represent the avant – garde and will overcome the architecture of his contemporaries looking to Europe even if with the will always to stand out and create an “American” style. Wright’s career will be very long, he will build more than three hundred buildings and his organic architecture will influence three generations of architects beyond and on the ocean. Of these American influences on Europewe will have a first example in the 1922 “Chicago Tribune” competition, where the Finnish architect Eliel Saarinen will win the second prize with a stepped tower, which somehow reminds the Chicago School.

The International Style
In 1932 Philip Johnson organized an exhibition of a certain architectural production in the USA at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. The exhibition catalog, whose title is International Style, is written by the same organizer together with Henry Russell Hitchcock and collects buildings made in the USA from 1922 to 1932. Johnson nominates, codifies, promotes, subtitles and redefines the entire movement and the architects who are part of it, defining its motives and values. A style is born from this workwhich transcends regional, national, continental identities and which becomes international indeed. They also came to indicate the three basic principles of this code-style:

The concept of architecture as a volume, that is, as a space defined by thin planes or surfaces in contrast with the sense of mass and solidity.
The composition based on regularity rather than symmetry and other obvious types of balance
The taste of materials, technical perfection and proportions in opposition to the applied decoration.
At present this term defines the entire modern movement and often also includes buildings built in the decades following the ’30s.

Relations with Europe
A well-known European architect who comes to the United States in 1923 is Richard Neutra. These will succeed in entering the American reality with great success proposing the canons of the Modern Movement. Neutra was born in Vienna, a pupil of Adolf Loos, and worked in the study of Erich Mendelsohn. Its production is varied and combines a simple technical rigor of clear metal structures and fine plaster with light effects, extending the architectural space inside the landscape into its homes. The built environment of Neutra fits dramatically in the midst of sensational natural environmentswith the clear intent of approaching and comparing the work of man without alteration to nature.

With the advent of National Socialism in Germany in the 1930s, the German government takes a rejection of modern architecture that is thought to be degenerate and Bolshevik. This means that entire generations of architects are forced to leave Europe. Alongside the most famous Walter Gropius and Marcel Breuer, who settle at the Harvard Graduate School of Design and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe who goes to Chicago, other Bauhaus teachers arrive in the United Statesand other European architects. Thus the influence of the German school extends to the United States and Gropius attempts to adapt it and integrate it with the characteristics of the new world, as in studies with Konrad Wachsman on the prefabrication of single-family houses.

Ludwig Mies van der Rohe is called in 1938 to head the architecture section of the Illinois Institute of Technology and in his teaching program immediately reveals what will be the philosophy of his American activity. Mies is looking for an architectural rigor that the modern repertoire seems to have lost in some of its superficial achievements. On the one hand research into the observation and application of building materials as elementary values, on the other hand is symbolically searching for the golden section between the elements and the structures in its buildings. So before the campus of the University of Chicago in 1939, and then in the skyscrapers of which theSeagram Building in New York in 1956 is the apotheosis, uses steel and glass and studies the uniqueness of expression between constructive detail and architectural detail, between rhythm and proportion, textures and joints of the elements; all tended to seek harmony as in an ancient Greek temple.

Overcoming the International Style

The causes of crises
The Modern Movement had reworked the culture of architecture and of building first in Europe and America, creating an international style, and, after the Second World War, also in other countries, such as Japan and Brazil, and in India with the experience Chandigarh by Le Corbusier. The revolution of rationalism had been such that every sentimental and occasional bond with the original social, economic and productive structure had been lost.

These concepts were well expressed in the work of the ” Unités d’Habitation “; Le Corbusier claimed that, in order to reorganize the modern city, there was a need to overthrow the “folly of the single-family home”, the expression of a “living marginalization”, and to create a new “collective dwelling”. The great master designed in practice his old theory, that of the machine for living, which was a modification of the concept of living the house as a living unit that is part of a whole, the neighborhood and the city. The theses were too far forward and failed to adapt to the European environment. The death of the great masters then, and the reconstruction of the post-war period, which led to a new building boom, led to an emptying of the contents of the architectural forms of the Modern Movement, and to their trivialization and easy exploitation by the building speculation. This whole situation led to a reaction that generated new architectural tendencies contrary to the principles of functionalism.

Experiences in the new countries
In this critical context there were the Brazilian experiences and also the Indian experiences of Le Corbusier. The designers of Brasilia, the new capital of Brazil, Oscar Niemeyer and Lucio Costa, used the canons and the language of international rationalism, the curtain wall (panel), the brise soleil (frangisole), the pilotis (pillars), which however became forms applied in a conventional way, emptied from a real link to the needs of that reality. The newly designed city it appears so formalistically beautiful in the abstract, symbolic but empty, devoid of the vitality that must be proper to the urban environment.

Le Corbusier, on the contrary, tries to immerse himself in the local environment, which feels decidedly different from the European or North American one, to abandon every defined sample and to derive a new architecture from the tangibility of the native. He will succeed only partially in interpreting some symbols of the Indian tradition, but leaving on the Capitol plain the sign of a courageous expression of great personal talent, isolated in the context of the city. The other building, in fact, built in Chandigarhfrom other European or Indian designers, when compared to the master’s works, he accentuates his limitation and mechanicality in the repetition of some conventional themes that had to be a reinterpretation of traditional recurring figures. In these works in ” exposed concrete ” extremely plastic and strongly expressive of the last Le Corbusier, already adopted for ” Unités d’Habitation ” of Marseilles, many see the overcoming of rationalism and read the signs of what will be the Postmodern. In England, this way of doing architecture and underlining the harshness of robust forms and structures,brutalism.

The new trends
In the sixties, in Europe and America, in antithesis to the principles of functionalism, new architectural researches were created that would, on the whole, overcome the excessive rigor of rationalism, even if by beating different paths. To be briefly mentioned are:

the neoliberty, in reference to the work of some young Italian architects active in Italy since the mid-60s. These architects were critical of what was now tiredly repeating in CIAM, declaring through their works the will to overcome what was in their opinion the manner of the Modern Movement and its Italian interpretation called Italian rationalism.
The first works by Roberto Gabetti and Aimaro Isola, Guido Canella, the Architetti Associati (Vittorio Gregotti, Lodovico Meneghetti and Giotto Stoppino) and Aldo Rossi himself, with particular attention to the cultural circle that revolved around the editorial staff of Casabella magazine, are ascribed to the neoliberty. -Continuity in those years directed by Ernesto Nathan Rogers, one of the most important figures of Italian architectural culture of the twentieth century.

The experiences of radical architecture linked to the abstract and the utopian in the English one by Archigram by P. Cook, which proposes a new and megastructural form of architectural space of a science-fiction city and the Italian one of Superstudio by A. Natalini, which is considered from some more than anything else the “negation” of the architecture of the Modern Movement;
the culture of high tech, expression of an extraordinarily technological architecture, that shines through, interacts with the outside world, the bearer of metaphorical messages, whose most significant example is the Center Pompidou (Beaubourg) by Renzo Piano in Paris;
The postmodern, which overturns rationalist thought, considering the architectural form of the environment built by the function as autonomous, and also the typology of the architectures not expression of form, claiming to architecture the symbolic value of history;
Other movements, which are a development of precedents, such as neo-nationalism, deconstructivism, modern pluralism.
In conclusion, the overcoming of the Modern Movement seems expressed before these experiences by those masters, who had been the founding fathers such as the above mentioned Le Corbusier or the Ludwig Mies van der Rohe of the last works, in which some critics have recognized in that such a perfect form of symmetry and compositional rhythm is the language of neoclassicism.

Source from Wikipedia