Architectural Styles – The International Style of Architecture

The International Style of Architecture

The International Style of architecture was developed during the 1920s and the 1930s by a select group of architects in Europe and the United State. It soon went on to become the representative of modern Western architecture, and remained largely in vogue until the 1960s when post-modernism made its appearance.

The term International Style was first used in the essay ‘The International Style: Architecture Since 1922’, written by Henry-Russell Hitchcock and Philip Johnson. This essay was used as an explanatory catalog for the Museum of Modern Art’s International Exhibition of Modern Architecture exhibition in 1932.

Reasons why the International Style of Architecture came about

  • People were tiring of the overdone ornamentation of the buildings of the previous eras. It was a new Century and the new trend was towards having simplistic designs that had a necessary role in the function of the building.
  • Society was changing and evolving rapidly with rapid industrialization. There was a need for constructing better and more affordable buildings for factories, industries, commercial complexes and residential purposes.
  • New building technology had revolutionized the construction industry. Use of steel, reinforced concrete and glass enabled the construction of strong, utilitarian structures with a nod towards the aesthetic.
  • The advent of the Nazis, with their disdain for Modernism and their anti-semitic policies, led many leading European architects and designers to flee the continent and go to the USA. Here their imagination found fertile ground and the buildings they constructed went on to become symbolic of the USA’s status as an economically advanced world power.

Characteristics of the International Style of Architecture

  • Simple, clear and functional forms
  • Undecorated plain facade
  • Use of glass, steel and reinforced concrete
  • Use of primary colors
  • Square or rectangular boxlike forms with 90 degree facade angles
  • Form followed function and structural engineering
  • Uncluttered interiors
  • Use of sliding panels in interiors, so occupants could adjust interior spaces to their convenience
  • Use of windows in horizontal, grid-like rows
  • Was not hampered by any climatic and geographical conditions. Hence the term ‘International’.

Some Leading Architects of the International Style

  • Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Germany and USA
  • Le Corbusier in France
  • Walter Gropius in Germany and USA
  • J.J.P. Oud in the Netherlands
  • Richard Neutra in the USA
  • Philip Johnson in the USA

Some Famous Buildings of the International Style

  • Bauhaus School, Dessau, Germany, by Walter Gropius, 1926
  • City Employment Office, Dessau, Germany, by Walter Gropius, 1928
  • Villa Savoye, Poissy-Sur-Seine, Le Corbusier & Pierre Jeanneret, 1930
  • Carlos de Beistegui Penthouse, Champs-Élysées, Paris, Le Corbusier & Pierre Jeanneret, 1931
  • Ciudad Universitaria de Caracas in Caracas, Venezuela, by Carlos Raúl Villanueva and group
  • The Seagram building, Park Avenue, New York City, by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Philip Johnson, 1958
  • The Lake Shore Drive Apartments, Chicago, by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, 1949-1951

Criticism of the International Style

The French architect Le Corbusier, one of the leading proponents of this style, famously called the houses he built "machines for living." He meant that in a laudatory way at the time, but he himself later came to tire of the style. Even at its peak, from the 1920s to the 1960s, the International Style was criticized as being too plain and too stark. It was too inhuman and rigid. It was seen as sterile and elitist. It conceded no corner to local and traditional architectural ideas. Architects began to tire of the formulaic box-like forms and began turning towards more innovative, freer forms and imaginative ornamentation, ushering in Post-Modernism.