Revising The International Style

Apologists for the International Style claimed that modern architecture represented a democratic style expressing the taste of the general public, its works often have been seen as aloof and oversophisticated by their residents. Finally, modern architecture’s efficacy in solving the problems of redesigning cities into finely tuned social organisms has been questioned by those who see it as the destroyer of cohesive neighborhoods through wholesale urban renewal.

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As these contradictions in modern architecture began to emerge clearly in the 1950s, many architects sought to modify the codes of the International Style so as to create buildings at once modern and monumental, as well as functional and responsive to the needs and expectations of a wide audience. An international group of architects formed (1953) under the name Team X (Team 10) succeeded in 1959 in dissolving the Congrès International d’Architecture Moderne (International Congress of Modern Architecture) and setting its own goals for a new, more humane system of public housing.

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Team X members such as Alison and Peter Smithson and Aldo van Eyck, working from the aesthetic basis of the International Style, evolved from it more visually complex, texturally rich, and physically substantial buildings. Late in his career Le Corbusier himself became a major figure in this development, particularly with his sculptural concrete chapel at Ronchamp, France (1951-55). Another convert was Philip Johnson, the theorist of the International Style, who executed a number of monumental public buildings in rich materials.

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If Eero Saarinen turned the International Style to expressionistic ends in works such as his TWA Terminal (1956-62) at J. F. Kennedy Airport in New York City, his buildings are scarcely more extraordinary than the later works of Frank Lloyd Wright, whose spiraling, concrete Guggenheim  Museum was conceived in 1942 and completed in 1959.  Finally, Louis I.  Kahn developed a new monumentality that was first expressed in his Yale University Art Gallery (1951-53) and culminated in such buildings as the Exeter Library (1967-72), a symmetrical, almost classical composition of brick, wood, concrete, and glass.  Kahn was perhaps the last of the great modern architects.  The full emergence of Postmodern Architecture took place shortly after Kahn’s death in 1974, and many prominent architects are now pursuing a variety of formal images beyond the doctrinal limitations of the International Style.

Author: The Artist

Artist, Designer & Photographer

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