Modernisms Evolution And Falling Water Cultural Studies Essay

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Architecture has evolved radically in the last decade, from the designs of the Middle Ages to the buildings of the 20th Century. Modernity and Modern architecture have played and still play an important role in society. In order to identify and articulate the reasons as to why Modernism plays a vital role, we need to look at its history and importance in much greater depth. Burke (2000) describes Modernism as a "historical period that came about in the late 18th Century". This text reflects and discusses the modern movement in architecture and shows an understanding of design ideas as a product of its cultural, social, political and economic context. In addition, it also looks at an example of modern architecture, Fallingwater (1936) by Frank Lloyd Wright. In doing so, the text evaluates Fallingwater within the framework of a modernist philosophy and compares it with other modernist examples, in particular the Imperial War museum in Manchester. In doing so, it shows an understanding of the role of architecture and design in the global context.

The 1920s in Europe and Russia was one of those rare periods in the history of architecture when new forms were created which seemed to have overthrown previous styles and set new, common basis for individual invention 'The International Style' (Curtis, 1982, p.104). Curtis argues that the International style was not just a style but more than a "revolution in building technique" because this modern movement in architecture relied on the machine-age materials of concrete, steel and glass. Just like the major shifts in the history of forms, the modern movement bought in new ideas from the architect's personal style and in order for us to understand its meaning, we need to investigate into the 'fantasies behind the forms'. This concept particularly applies to Le Corbusier whose 'imaginative world included a vision of the ideal city, a philosophy of nature and a strong feeling of classical tradition' explains Curtis. According to Curtis, Corbusier was one of the personalities who succeed in devoting their 'creations with a universal tone'.

Modernism and Modern Architecture

Modern architecture developed around a century ago in order to set up 'an idealised vision of society with the forces of the industrial revolution' (Curtis, 1982, p.6). In contrast to this, Tinniswood (2001) claims that modern architecture is about 'evolution, not revolution'. It progresses with time using influences from the past as well as setting new trends. The New York Times Company (2008) argues that modernism was something different than just another style; it was a new way of thinking. This can also be seen in Curtis's views who argued the fact that even though modern architecture bought some dramatic and drastic changes in society, in irony, it also made some major improvements. In Curtis's words 'it allowed the basic principles of architecture to be rethought in new ways' (1982, p.6). This view has also been supported by Burke (2000) where he argued that society is fragile to change and any kind of 'progressive movement' or any kind of changes in the society can be described as modernity or modernism.

Modern architecture has been influenced from a variety of sources. The first major influence, according to Curtis (1982, p.11) was the emphasis on the idea of progression and the fact that people wanted to experience something different, something unique. Therefore, destiny required the creation of a new 'authentic style' of the times, unlike the past. Another major source in the creation of modern architecture was the Industrial Revolution (Jencks, 1980, p.6). The Industrial Revolution supplied new methods of construction (for example, in iron), allowed new solutions, created new patrons and problems and suggested new forms. In contrast however, industrialisation led to an increase in new building and construction problems (railway stations, skyscrapers) for which there was no precedent.

One architect that believed in the notion of modernism was Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1956). Wright grew up in America influenced by the 'Jeffersonian ideal of an agrarian society' (Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000). Just like other architects of his time including Emerson and Whitman, Wright had a great love for nature. His belief in ones need for a direct relationship with nature and abiding feelings for the land, were essential to his concept of 'organic architecture'.

Fallingwater by Frank Lloyd Wright

Frank Lloyd Wright believed that 'the space within a building is the reality of that building' (Design Museum, no date). According to the Design Museum, Wright was one of the most 'prolific and influential' twentieth century architects. He developed a language of architecture that was unique to the United States, thus expressing a style that was 'rich in emotions' yet 'sensitive to its surroundings'. His ability to 'integrate his buildings into the landscape marked him out from contemporary pioneers of modern architecture, such as Le Corbusier and Mies van der Rohe, and made his buildings seem in tune with our environmentally conscious era'. Wright's ideas later evolved through its influence on Dutch developments, into the 'International Style' (Curtis, 1982, p.75). In irony, it is important to take into account that the idea of "progression" in the modern movement was not fundamental to Wright's understanding of history (McCarter, 2005, p.17). McCarter explains that Wrights only intentions were to create "timeless elemental forms and spaces" and to find architecture's "eternally valid principles".

Fallingwater (1936) in Bear Run, Pennsylvania was Wright's most 'important domestic architectural commission' (Hanks, 1979, p.145). Sited above a waterfall in 'remote and wooded acreage', Hanks argues that it creates a living space that one who liked to listen to the waterfall, might well live (1979, p.145), thus in this case Edgar Kaufmann. In addition to this, McCarter states that Fallingwater is a 'life-enhancing place to live in, a shaped space that appeals to senses and mind (2005, p. 214) and agrees with Burke (2000) who argues that it is a space of the 'moment of cubism'.

Fallingwater dramatically combines Wright's vision of 'organic' architecture with his engineering skills in cantilevering (Galsinky, 1998). Organic architecture according to Jencks shows 'self-similarity, Unity and variety' (1995, p.43). He argues those who consider themselves as organic architects mimic nature's patterns in their designs and 'naturally' repeat a formal idea extensively. This concept can clearly be seen in the design of Fallingwater, with the waterfall acting as the nature's element. Wright's choice of the building's position within the site, and the design of the overhanging building allow the inhabitants to live 'within the waterfall' rather than simply look at it (Hanks, 1979, p.145). Hanks points out that in order to achieve this, the house incorporates a 'cantilevered system' of construction method in reinforced concrete. 'The deep overhangs of the house provide the interior with softened, diffused lighting'. In my personal opinion, I believe Fallingwater is not only a residential house but a space which can be experienced by the natives with the acoustics that nature possesses in the landscape. Thus, the sound of the waterfall and breeze, creating an atmosphere that is cool and attractive to live in.

Comparing Fallingwater with the Larkin building and the Guggenheim museum by Wright himself, Gill argues that Wright breached his own concept about the accommodation of the structure of the site (1987, p.352). In Gill's words, 'when one approaches Fallingwater, they come upon some gorgeous apparition, something exciting that one might applaud and exceptional feat of magic onstage'. However, the Larkin building and Guggenheim museum were 'totally odds' with their surroundings. In contrast, McCarter argues that the 'staggered rectilinear elements' of Fallingwater create a rhythmic pattern that at first seem to be closer to the 'International Style' of Mies van der Rohe, as in the Barcelona Pavilion (1928-29) or the Tugendhat House (1928-30).


Overall, it can be seen that Modernism has played a vital role in society. It bought some radical changes to living patterns and the way people pursued architecture. In the 1920s and 30s, the general public was not outraged by modern architecture as much as it forms- 'simple and unadorned, mechanical and cold, white and bald' (Zygas, 1981, p.xvii). One observer, Ove Arup, the structural engineer claimed that architects were 'in love with an architectural style, with the aesthetic feel of the kind of building they admired; and so they were prepared and determined to design their buildings in reinforced concrete - a material they knew nothing about - even if it meant using the concrete to do things that could be done better or cheaply by other means' (Peter, 2007, p.23).

In my opinion, depending on when and where you live, every piece of architecture is said to be modern, whether this was in the 1800 or present time. Thus, I agree with Curtis's statement:

'Past eras have considered themselves as modern, so the term in itself is discriminating' (1982, p.7).

Curtis together with Yorke and Penn (1939), believe that modern architecture links directly on new means of construction and should be disciplined by the need of function. To conclude this, modern architecture in other words should set new 'symbolic forms' that reflect directly to the contemporary style of architecture than the 'rag-bag of historical styles'.

As for Fallingwater, I believe that its fame as a masterpiece of architectural design seems strangely at odds with the feature for which it is famous, namely its discretion, the fact that the house not only comes to rest in its environment but also emerges itself into the foundations upon which it rests. Wright has managed to create an ingenious design that no other architect would have thought about.

Henry Russell Hitchcock and Philip Johnson quote in their book 'The international style':

'The effect of mass, of static solidity, hitherto the primary quality of architecture, has all but disappeared; in its place there is an effect of volume, or more accurately, of plane surfaces bounding a volume'.

This quote reflects on modernism and the modern movement and can be related to the design of Fallingwater. Hitchcock and Johnson state that the original brick wall used in the traditional architecture has been replaced with contemporary methods such as metal or reinforced concrete (1932, p. 55). This is exactly what Wright has done with Fallingwater; reinforced concrete is the main material that has been used in its construction. According to Hitchcock and Johnson, the reinforced concrete provides a 'skeleton of supports' which from a distance will give an effect of 'verticals and horizontals'. In traditional times, the support was provided by the brick walls themselves. As a result, the 'architectural symbol is no longer the dense brick but an open box and in reality as well as in effect, the great majority of buildings are mere planes surrounding a volume' (Hitchcock and Johnson, 1932, p.56). This can clearly be seen in the design of Fallingwater where the exterior is just a mere plane; simple and bold that has been surrounded by an acoustically sound environment. An interesting statement by McCarter states that Hitchcock and Johnson considered Wright's evolution of modern architecture as a problem (1997, p.203). McCarter argues that they chose to present his work as a preamble to, rather than the exemplary model of modern architecture. In my personal viewpoint, Fallingwater is the perfect model to modern architecture because it has its own unique style, uses modern methods of construction (reinforced concrete) and is prominent to the architecture of its time.

Comparing Fallingwater to The Imperial War museum in Manchester, even though the two have completely different concepts to each other, I would argue that in terms of their environment, they are similar because they are both surrounded by water, therefore the acoustics of water are present at both sites. They both create a relaxing atmosphere that one would want to be in all the time 'quite, tranquil and sensual'. Both architectural pieces show their Modern intelligence in their own personal way.

The Imperial War museum in Manchester is an inspired concept of internationally renowned architect, Daniel Libeskind. The museums style, which is typical of Libeskind's work, has become known as 'defragmentation', and it departs dramatically from conventional vertical and right angle-built architecture in its free-flowing forms and asymmetric geometry (Papillon, no date). In its original plan, concrete was the main material to be used for its construction. However due to financial constraints steel sheet cladding had to be used instead. Hence this made no difference to its modernity because they are both classed as modern materials.

Wrights concept was based on the belief of organic architecture. Libeskind's concept on the design of the Imperial War museum is based on the globe, broken into three fragments that depict the shattering effect of the war on the history of the world. The three fragments, as explained by Papillon, 'are structurally interlocked to represent world conflict on land, water and in the air' (no date). In Comparison, it can be seen that both concepts have been built taking nature into account. However, it is very dramatic because both Fallingwater and the Imperial War museum have completely different uses; the former used as a residential space and the latter as a museum that utilises many new and innovative modern exhibition design techniques.

Overall, it can be concluded that modernism aimed to provide an egalitarian experience in environments of a high design quality. In my opinion, people in every generation experience living in 'modern times' and ideas about what constitutes to be 'modern' date quickly. Some of the Georgian architecture in the 1730s may seem to have been modern at the time they were built, however, at present we consider it as traditional architecture. If we look at that piece of architecture now, we would probably say that it has been back dated and no longer meets the requirements of 'modern' architecture; that is a building built with reinforced concrete or steel. Fallingwater looks more structural and functional and is considered modern because of its building style. The Imperial War museum on the other hand, looks complex and geometric. The steel sheet cladding makes the museum have more of a 'modern' feel to it than Fallingwater. In other words one will be able to grasp that the Imperial War museum is a recent piece of architecture than Wright's Fallingwater. Hence it can be concluded that Modernism has evolved with time.