“There’s nothing modern about Modern architecture”


Modern architecture as it stood in history was undeniably modern in terms of philosophy, which was the focus behind the movement.

 

Modernists had strong ideals. Form following function is integral to most of the work. Simplicity; the elimination of unnecessary details, and expression of structure and materials are ways in which this ideal was often achieved. Essentially, architects craved truth.

Architects pursued efficiency through mass production, new technologies and the design of space, often using a free plan.

Politics affected Modernist principles, particularly Communism, as many architects favoured equalisation; each family to live in a standard home to maximise space efficiency and design. Le Corbusier in particular held strong views about the way people should live. Though he was never a communist, his ideals were synonymous.

Modernist philosophies were also very much a rebellion against contemporary styles, such as Neo-classicism, which Modern architects felt were florid and were not architecturally truthful.

In these ways, Modernist principles were modern as they were so closely influenced by the current arts and culture.

 

Modernists were heavily inspired by the Japanese. Frank Lloyd Wright, who influenced many, is known to have been inspired by traditional Japanese architecture. The simple versatility of a frame with panels to create “rooms” as defined by the space and objects inside inspired Wright to seek to ‘eliminate the box’ when reinterpreting modern homes.

Mies Van Der Rohe was influenced by both Wright and Japanese architecture directly; he often designed to give the impression of simplicity and efficiency, core principles in Japanese culture. For example his explorations of horizontal, floating planes “supported” by slim columns, as in the Barcelona Pavilion and Farnsworth House hold the idea of a clear construction, where columns appear to support the horizontal planes, while understated load-bearing walls behind the glazing are more structural, thus creating the illusion.

Louis Kahn, who approached Modern architecture quite differently to Mies Van Der Rohe, Le Corbusier and other modernists, was also influenced by the Japanese, working sensitively with light similarly to both modern and traditional Japanese design. It is this and his attention to Humanist values which set him apart from other Modernists.

With such strong influence from an ancient culture, which has inspired focal philosophies of Modern architecture concerning efficiency, versatility and simplicity, it could be argued that Modern architecture was not modern. However, while these ideas have been common in Japan, to the Western world they were an entirely new concept.

 

I believe Modern architecture to have been modern as, while influenced by old ideas and designs, their reinterpretations were consistent with their current political and artistic beliefs. Modern architecture contrasted aesthetically and philosophically with contemporary styles and was influenced by the political situations throughout the time, which, I conclude, implicitly demonstrates modernity.

What do you think?

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