Question: To what extent did the ideology of Modernism reflect new sets of values in architecture and design in the period between 1919 and 1960? Answer this question with examination of works of 3 architects/designers of the time analyzing how Modernism was manifested in their works. ANSWER
Bauhaus’ Walter Gropius said in Germany, 1919, “Today’s artist lives in an era of dissolution without guidance. He stands alone. The old forms are in ruins, the benumbed world is shaken up, the old human spirit is invalidated and in flux towards a new form. We float in space and cannot perceive the new order”. This statement epitomized a Germany suffering shocking economic deprivation from reparations imposed by The Treaty of Versailles 1918. Across Northern France, Germany and Belgium countryside and villages were devastated. Europe was bereft and in chaos. People desperately searched a new order to dispel the atrocities of WWI. Gropius’ bewilderment, was symptomatic of people’s disillusionment with a world whose values courted wanton destruction instead of harmony. Modernism evolved from romantic, socialist, utopian aspirations coupled with arts and crafts reforms in the wake of industrialism and war; a loose term used retrospectively to describe the broad movement in art, literature, architecture, design and culture, searching to assuage the pain of WWI. Modernism is easier to understand by referencing what it is not:- historicism, traditional, decorative, rooted in academics. The term encompasses the trend in the early to mid 20th century when designers, artists, architects and others sought innovation, leaning towards the abstract in the search for new ways to express aesthetically their reactionary moral and political ideals. The change in direction from historical reference to forward looking was prompted by new political ideals following the Bolshevik Revolution and rise of Communism in Russia and in Europe, with the weakening of the class system. The quest was Utopia, unattainable perfection being the benchmark of Modernist ideology. Mass production for the war effort filtered into general mass production resulting in Bauhaus in 1923 exhibiting “Haus am Horn,” viewing a functioning house as a machine to live in. The formulaic ideology of a better world required benefits of machine and function + healthy mind and body + mass market production + the referencing to nature for inspiration and guidance + simplicity = beauty = utopia. The extent to which the foregoing reflected new sets of values in architecture and design is difficult to accurately discern. The Utopian vision was not standardized Utopian values were not static or uniformly adhered to, the only constant; desire for a better world. As ideals changed so did values and aesthetics. The changes were more by degree than paradigm shift. Works by Frank Lloyd Wright, Le Corbusier and Knoll evidence this. Wright and Corbusier lauded reaction and acknowledged the importance of nature. Wright designed with reverence for nature and the ideal of unity and beauty being at one with and following from nature such that ‘form became feeling’. Their often abstract designs were derived from and intertwined with the function and natural geometry of nature. They searched a Utopia in which human everyday life could sit happily in the natural environment. Wright lived in one of his own making at Taliesin and Corbusier in the Charterhouse of Ema in Tuscany. These living communes became ‘the socio-physical model for [their] reinterpretation of Utopian socialist ideals’ and inspired their architecture to remedy the ills of the cities of their day; European cities suffering economic privation post WW1 and Revolution and the U.S. weakened by extreme poverty from 1929 Great Depression. Cities were crowded, filthy and unhealthy, their inhabitants often injured by war, suffering from the Spanish Flu Epidemic or TB, out of work or unemployable. Both saw the...
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[ 2 ]. McCarter, Robert; Frank Lloyd Wright, Reaktion Books Ltd. London, 2006, p19.
[ 4 ]. Taut, Bruno; Programme for Architecture (1918) referred to by Christine Lodder, Searching for Utopia published in Wilk, Andrew; Modernism Designing a New Word, V & A Publications, London 2006 P.25.
[ 5 ]. Le Corbusier and Jeanneret Ville Contemporaine 1922. Frampton, Kenneth; Modern Architecture, A Critical History Thames and Hudson, London, 2011, P.155
[ 6 ]
[ 7 ]. Wright, Frank Lloyd; Modern Architecture: Being The Kahn Lectures (1930) – as quoted in McCarter Robert; Frank Lloyd Wright, Reaktion Books, London, 2006, P.122
[ 8 ]
[ 13 ]. Greenhalgh, Paul, Modernism in Design, Reaktion Books Ltd, London, 1990 p.24
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