In the last 100 years, standout architectural designs that have shifted the mainstream approach to architecture and created new and improved ways of living share a commitment to flow incorporating environment, balance, utilisation and functionality. These designers created a shift away from decorative design to embrace more practical environments with a modern approach to use of materials and lines.
The most influential of these architects would have to be Frank Lloyd Wright who’s iconic Falling Water, in Pennsylvania USA, changed the way we think and live in our residential structures. Designed in 1936, Falling Water was to influence the way we view our homes integration with the natural environment and promote the concept of organic architecture. With its cantilever design, use of reinforced concrete, sense of balance and optimisation of natural environment, the now preserved Wright design would influence all design to come. Wright was able to create a seamless flow between structure and environment, he believed in having only space you need to live in, resulting in design that was both practical and artistic. Wright is recognised as having the largest body of work including public structures including the iconic Guggenheim, New York City. This was a masterful example of Wright’s commitment to form and function being ‘one’ in a non-residential environment.
Other great modernist designers include Walter Gropius who started the Bauhaus (School of Art est. 1919) in Germany, where all genres of design were taught in combination. Their principles of balance with both form and function were a part of the progress towards the functionalist architecture that became the trademark of Bauhaus style. Icons from this era include Otte House in Berlin, Auerbach House in Jenna and the Bauhaus sites in Wiemar and Dessau – Germany, which gained UNESCO World Heritage status in 1996. This acknowledgement meant to honour their outstanding contribution not only to architecture but also to the impact of the Bauhaus institutions impact on modernism and its effect on the twentieth century.
Le Corbusier was another in this field whose emphasis was on clear forms and structures using steel, reinforced concrete and elemental geometric forms. Continuing the move away from decorative styling to a more raw and honest design. Le Corbusier was committed to creating homes that really worked and is quoted as saying a home should be a ‘machine to live in, (machine a habiter)’. An icon of this work was the 1920’s housing estate that he built near Bordeaux, France, Quartiers Modernes Frugès, otherwise known as the Sugar Cubes. At the time it was seen as somewhat of a failure due to its residents doing everything possible to change their appearance, however we can see that Le Corbusier truly had the future in mind and it would become an iconic symbol of what was to come for higher density housing. In acknowledgment of this projects ultimate influence on architecture globally it was also inscribed on the World Heritage list in 2016.
Continuing to influence the International Style of Modernist Architecture was Richard Neutra’s 1946 designed Kaufmann Desert House. Featuring connection to the desert landscape whilst allowing for the climate and conditions in the living design, Neutra used glass, steel and some stone in this design.
in 1945 Mies van der Rohe designed Farnsworth House, Plano, Illinois. So well-regarded, the design was exhibited in a model at the Museum of Modern Art in New York before it was built. Van der Rohe’s use of glass and streamlining is an exceptional illustration of both International and Modernistic styles where sleek design is juxtaposed with an organic and environmentally focused approach.
Other iconic designers contributing to the continued development of this Modernist era include, Oscar Niemeyer and Harry Seidler who contributed hugely to the growth of Modernism and like many others fought to have the newness of their designs and engineering challenges accepted by a sometimes restrictive and narrow minded legal and construction community. Without this willingness to go beyond the status quo we would not have the benefits of these industry leaders in our structures today.
Architects like Frank Gehry (Guggenheim, Bilbao) and Zara Hadid have been instrumental in taking modernism and the use of curves and shapes to a whole new level. Their approach is from a perspective where the entire building is art and tells a complete story in form. Computer technology has allowed this kind of construction possible where it wasn’t before and provides inspiration for the mainstream. With their ability to advance design through large and public structures they have been able to impact industry related areas such as engineering and material development and leave the world with iconic structures to create a new history.
Global influence has only been available with the introduction of travel and media, as a designer when looking around the world for inspiration the next step is to look at how others have used it so that you can create beyond that. Through the Modernistic and International Design styles there has been an increased practicality through design in relation to both lifestyle and environment, ultimately increasing the opportunity to experience quality of life in quality style.