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Modern Movement

Modern Movement. C20 architectural movement (also called Modernism) that sought to sunder all stylistic and historic links with the past. While C19 theorists sought to find a style suitable for the times, the methods attempted to achieve this involved eclecticism and mingling of styles to produce so-called Free or Mixed styles, the optimistic idea being that a new style might emerge from the mélange. There were also some for whom function, honest expression of structure and materials, and a rational approach to design problems from first principles offered the way forward.

Early C20 movements such as Futurism and Constructivism sought answers in machinery, technology, and the expression of industrialized power, while the search for a Machine Aesthetic became at times an end in itself. To some (notably Le Corbusier), grain silos, trans-Atlantic liners of the Mauritania and Titanic vintage, motor-cars, and aeroplanes were paradigms of a desirable new aesthetic, while others held that all art, all aesthetics, and all refinement were bourgeois affectations and therefore should be rejected. The aims of Modernism were radical, concerned with the suppression of all ornament, historical allusions, and styles, counterbalanced by the elevation of Sachlichkeit (objectivity) and the evolution of industrialized methods of building. Some groups within the Modern Movement, such as De Stijl, advocated abstractions and purity of expression, and there were various emphases within the overall Movement, but virtually all were agreed on the need for rational responses to contemporary needs using modern materials, mass-produced building components, and experimental, industrial methods of construction. Whilst idealistic iconoclasm, allied with leftist attitudes, was endemic, the more extreme protagonists advocated violence and revolutions to achieve their objectives, but slogan-making and polemics all too often replaced rational argument. Functionalism was widely held to be ground on which all agreed, but even that faced objections in the search for an architecture freed from the constraints not only of the past and aesthetics, but from use as well. Some elements within the Modern Movement advocated that the purest architecture was that which remained on paper, or even in the mind, uncorrupted by the processes of being built, let alone used by untidy humanity.

By 1927 International Modernism had arrived, and the white rectilinear flatroofed building with strip-windows in metal frames (as in the exhibits at the Weissenhofsiedlung, Stuttgart (1927), and Le Corbusier's designs) became the exemplar of what Modern Movement architecture should aim to be, no matter if the pristine white walls were rendered block-work rather than concrete, or steel for that matter. So the Movement that sought to abolish style had simply created a new image, with its own pressures on members to conform. Devoted to the destruction of academic architecture and institutions, it constructed its own theories, dogmas, and pedagogic establishment: the Bauhaus became the model for education; CIAM (1928) set the agenda and laid down the creeds; and writers (e.g. Giedion and Pevsner) evolved theories of a continuous, logical, and inevitable development of Modernism from C18 and C19 ‘Functional’ buildings by the so-called ‘pioneers’ of design. Architecture that did not fit neatly into this seamless ‘history’ was ignored, a chilling parallel to C20 political totalitarianism and its methods. After the 1939–45 war, ‘Modernismus’, as Reginald Blomfield called it in the 1930s (a reference to its Teutonic origins), became the doctrine of the architectural establishment until new challenges arose from Modernist apostates (such as Philip Johnson), advocates of contrast and contradiction (such as Venturi), the protagonists of Neo-Rationalist architecture (in particular the Ticino School), and the critiques of academics some of whom have identified many strands within a Movement that has not been as coherent, logical, objective, or homogeneous as some of its apologists apparently have believed. What is also clear is that the obsessions of the Modern Movement (which resembled a religion or a cult) with the image of what was perceived to be Modernity, killed craftsmanship, wasted energy to a profligate degree, and necessitated high maintenance costs. The Modern Movement promoted buildings which have not contributed to an environment that has lived up to its protagonists' promises.


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