Use On Modernism In Architecture Cultural Studies Essay

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Modernism in architecture is called as reductionist, banal and monotone. Designers and architects had developed new trends in architecture in order to "make the society better". Unfortunately this Utopian idea turned into massive housing buildings with the help of tower blocks. Modernism occurrence in architecture is often explained as an outcome of developing sciences (biology, mathematics, cosmology etc). Architecture distilled peculiarities of every science and embodied them in its buildings. The spirit of technological progress penetrated into minds of designers and architects in the beginning of the XX century (Brookes, 2003; Finch, 2006). The ideas of the latter were no longer linear; their thoughts were developing next to new technologies' development. Nevertheless, one can discern the beginnings of a shift in architecture that relates to a deep American (Frank Gehry, Peter Eisenman, and Daniel Libeskind), Dutch (Rem Koolhaas, Ben van Berkel and MVRDV) and other Europeans (Santiago Calatrava and Coop Himmelblau) architects who started up a new architect movement (Brookes, 2003; Finch, 2006).

In such a way, architecture can be considered as dynamical cultural phenomenon, which is responsive to new technological developments. A tendency to density in buildings was caused by population density, naturally. Thus initial modernistic idea in architecture reflected the idea of vertical cities: skyscrapers everywhere. In accordance with Modernistic ideas in architecture, the need for density would be demanded by ideal societies with compliant and obedient representatives (Lewis, 2003). Decoration and embellishment is of the secondary importance; functionality and clean is of high priority. Of course, utopian ideas of ideal society were carefully preserved and architecture made an attempt to make them come true.

Historical background of Modernism in architecture

In order to determine the initial date of Modernism in architecture, it's relevant to give a brief historical overview. The period between architecture of the Viennese Secession early in the beginning of XX century and construction of the Royal Festival Hall half 50 years later can be considered as the first echoes of Modernism in architecture. Nevertheless WWII has slowed down the process of Modernism in architecture though it didn't prevent its development. European process of postwar reconstruction was saturated with modernist trends (the Crittall window, the Zimmer frame etc) (Narrow Utopia).

Moreover the Postwar years under influence of Russia brought into architecture the following trend, which was perfectly stated by Russian Futurist poet Vladimir Mayakovsky: "We do not need a dead mausoleum of art where dead works are worshipped, but a living factory of the human spirit - in the streets, the tramways and the factories, in workshops and the homes of workers" (Narrow Utopia). Consequently, modernist tendencies could have been embodied in 'daily buildings'. Modernism concerned things of daily usage, such as the car modernization, the chair transformation, and, what is more important in terms of this research paper, houses and buildings.

Thus a famous German modernist architect, Peter Behrens who used glass and unordinary materials in his buildings' design claims: "Architecture is the art of building and combines two ideas - the mastery of the practical and the art of the beautiful ... practical utility and abstract beauty, too often opposed to each other in the past ... Now the utilitarian object is no longer subservient to mere utility, but combines utility with pleasure" (Narrow Utopia).

This architect underlined the importance of practical meaning of building and not only aesthetical pleasure. For the practical meaningfulness of new buildings, he used new materials. Their ergonomic and functionality was the best manifestation of Modernism.

A significant modernist symbol is the Rietveld-Schroder House (1924) in Utrecht. In creative working union of the architect and furniture designer Gerrit Rietveld and his client Truus Schroder, appeared a tiny family house which witnessed De Stijl Modernist theory (Malcolmson, 2006). A utopian vision of living was already embodied into reality. This family house was open-plan "…with its simple surfaces, flat roof, horizontal bands of windows, and white paint picked out by bold primary colors and black railings" (Narrow Utopia). Consequently, this house was an exemplification of 3D in architecture. This female customer dwelled in that house with her children and they strived for an ideal life in an ideal house, - a utopian idea of Modernism in architecture.

Further on Modernism in Architecture led to mass market housing. An architect J.J.P. from Amsterdam and Ernst May from Frankfurt transformed residential design of unusual daily things and common houses into available social reality (Malcolmson, 2006). Modernist housing propagated by these two architects with built-in furniture was an exemplification of ideal conditions for family living. New dwellings were space-saving, inexpensive and hygienic (Landi, 2005). Families enjoyed ideas of these two architects, because the major social requirements for housing were taken into account.

Unfortunately, a successful birth of Modernism was often guided by totalitarian regimes. Utopian future was a tool for society manipulation (LaVine, 2001). Modernist tendencies were worked out mainly not for the use of common citizens, but in order to propagate the idea of equality.

Modernism and mass housing

In accordance with Lewis Mumford "The building of houses constitutes the major architectural work of any civilization. ...It is only during the last generation that we have begun to conceive of a new domestic environment which will utilize our technical and scientific achievements for the benefit of human living" (Norberg-Schulz, p. 43). This claim will be a central for our further discussion of Modernism and mass housing. The 1927 Weissenhof 27 housings in Stuttgart were described by Franz Schulze as "…white rectilinear facades, flat roofs, and ship's railing balconies" (Norberg-Schulz, p. 45). Such architects as Mies, Le Corbusier, Gropius and others embodied "communal realization" under guidance of current politics. Low costs of this buildings and simplicity of their forms was in spirit of Modernism.

Nowadays Modernists Architects, unlike their predecessors don't make housing of their primary concern. Aesthetics for current Modernism prevails over political underpinnings of Modernism in 50s. Modernists of our time claim that Weisenhof housing can be hardly regarded as a contribution to Modernism. More often, these buildings are perceived as political tools for society manipulations and were intended on bureaucratic cost-reduction without paying proper attention to design and functionality of buildings.

Tower blocks are criticized due to the gravity of their structure; concrete slabs are perceived sometimes as architectural monsters. Nevertheless, mass housing can't be criticized without proper discussion. Thus Eichler produced 11,000 variants of the compact, open-plan homes in Northern and Southern California (period 1950 - 1974). This housing was differed by their extraordinary flat roofs and shallow gables, open post-and-beam construction, and open, indoor-outdoor one-story floor plans (Gregory). The architects of this project brought in new ideas on Modernist mass-housing building. The founder of this architect style, Joseph Eichler, wanted to make a design and construction of a modern home with public appeal.

Thus he hired famous architects Anshen Allen, Jones & Emmons, and Claude Oakland, he created a perfect talented union that made his dream come true. The main distinctive feature of Eichler's housing, the atrium plan (with an outdoor room at the center of the house), was widely appreciated and even rewarded in 1963 to the AIA-Sunset Western Home Award (Gregory). A glorification of indoor-outdoor living was a crown of Modernism in 50s-60s. Eichler housing was also distinguished by simplicity, functionality and usage of contemporary materials.

Modernist features of housing in 60s can be seen in Geffrye Museum (Hvattum, 2004). This Museum, located in Britain, London, is specialized in domestic interiors and furniture preferred by the representatives of middle-class. Room 10 in Geffrye Museum presents an open-plan living/dining room (Refer to Appendix A, Picture 1). On this picture it is possible to trace modernistic ideas such as functionality and impression of space. Large windows and circular stairs create an atmosphere of endless space. Functionality, as modernist idea, was embodied in a central place of television and not the chimney in the room. In spite of modest sizes of living room, this area in 60s was used as recreational area, dining room, study etc. The furniture of the living room is ordinary, without any decorations or excesses. Colorful palette of the room is white and neutral colors of furniture underlines functionality of this living room too.


Modernism in architecture is called as reductionist, banal and monotone. Designers and architects created new trends in architecture with the purpose of "making the society better". Modernism occurrence in architecture is often explained as a result of developing sciences (biology, mathematics, cosmology etc). Architecture distilled peculiarities of every science and embodied them in its buildings. The spirit of technological progress penetrated into minds of designers and architects in the beginning of the XX century

Modernism in mass housing building was an embodiment of functionality and space-saving. All these core modernist features were dictated by historical and political background: population growth after WWII required mass housing building. People were satisfied with moderate price of new housing; they didn't care much about pretentious architectural decisions, vice versa people were glad to allow them affordable housing, which comprised all necessary conditions for living and its functionality made it even more desirable. Modernism in architecture put such issues as quality, affordability, habitability and functionality high on the agenda. Though typical features of mass housing buildings displeased critics, arouse a number of disappointments and negative reviews, a tendency to develop ideal society through creation of better living conditions can't be underestimated.