The early twentieth century is when Modernism first emerged, and by the 1920s, the prominent figures of the movement - Le Corbusier, Walter Gropius, and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe – had the largest reputations towards it. It was not until after the Second World War that it gained huge popularity, after modernist planning was implemented as a solution to meet basic social needs, after the previous failures in architecture and design. Up to 15% the urban populations were living in poverty During the 1930s and one of the many social problems of this decade was slum clearance.1 One of the most popular solutions to these problems was modernist planning idea. Unfortunately the movement could not comprehend and cater for all the social problems of family and community, and a result; a lot modernist buildings were torn apart in the seventies. With some input to key architectural studies, this essay discusses the principles of urban modernism, how modernist architects tried to solve design problems by making urban utopias, and why the dream ultimately failed for the ambitious modernists.
The Bauhaus School of Design taught purity of form and to design for a better world by Walter Gropius. The phrase ‘form follows function’ is often used to describe the principles of modernism. It says that forms should be as simple as possible – architectural designs should not have any more ornament that is necessary to function. Ornament should follow the structure and purpose of the building, which is the modernist believes. Family life and social interaction was at the centre of the modernist dream for a planned environment. “The vision was for trouble free areas by mixing blocks with terraces to create squares, zoning services and amenities, all interlinked by roads”.2 The modernists believed that residential should by separate from the commercial by planning and zoning areas. In the introduction to Modernism in Design, Paul Greenhalgh writes some key features in modernist design such as progress, function, social morality and anti-historicism.3 These key principles of the modernist dream can be found in – Le Corbusier’s famous Villa Savoye in Poissy, France is a prime example. It shows no relationship to historic architectural design; the plan was first off its kind and a progressive leap for the late 1920s. These ideas were not adapted to social housing until 1937, when Kensal House in London by Maxwell Fry’s applied the principles of the Modernism to a social housing scheme. It is still popular with its residents today was a huge success. It then became the social housing prime example of modern living to follow. Many of the modernist projects were in the beginning successful and the public started to connect the strong aesthetic with wealth and progress. After the war, the ambitions of the modernists and their “strong sense of social responsibility in that architecture should raise the living conditions of the masses”.4 It was understandable that the Architectural Review called the movement the style of the century. One successful project was in Newcastle, the Byker Housing project by the architect Ralph Erskine, which began in the 1960s. Historically, Byker began as a village but by the late 19th century the dominant type was the Tyneside flat. Conditions were awful and occupants of the area generally suffered from poverty, overcrowding and poor sanitation. Despite this undesirable situation, Byker was known for its strength of neighbourly relationships and character. The design team wanted to capture this sense of community and as such “Byker was one of the first major attempts in Britain to create a dialogue between community and architecture”.5 The public housing development combined two types of buildings; wall of multi story flats, low-rise housing, public spaces and play areas. The wall creates boundary on the north side of the development south facing aspect to utilise light and views across the River Tyne and of the city. Of...
Bibliography: Greenhalgh, P., Modernism in Design (London: Reaktion Books Ltd, 1990)
Jones, P. & Canniffe, E., Modern Architecture Through Case Studies 1945-1990 (Oxford: Architectural Press, 2007)
Newman, O., Creating Defensible Space (Washington D.C: Rutgers University, 1996)
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