defining “modern” architecture

I’m often asked about the definition of “modern” when I try to describe the area of real estate in which I specialize. It’s not an easy question to answer and is also very subjective depending with whom you’re speaking. So, I thought this would make for a useful blog in an effort to clarify some of the more common modern terms used in residential properties.

Modern architecture, not to be confused with “contemporary architecture”, is a term given to a number of building styles with similar characteristics, primarily the simplification of form and the elimination of ornament. While the style was conceived early in the 20th century and heavily promoted by a few architects, architectural educators and exhibits, very few Modern buildings were built in the first half of the century. For three decades after the Second World War, however, it became the dominant architectural style for institutional and corporate building.

The exact characteristics and origins of Modern architecture are still open to interpretation and debate.

The International style was a major architectural style of the 1920s and 1930s. The term usually refers to the buildings and architects of the formative decades of Modernism, before World War II. The term had its origin from the name of a book by Henry-Russell Hitchcock and Philip Johnson written to record the International Exhibition of Modern Architecture held at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City in 1932 which identified, categorised and expanded upon characteristics common to Modernism across the world. As a result, the focus was more on the stylistic aspects of Modernism. Hitchcock’s and Johnson’s aims were to define a style of the time, which would encapsulate this modern architecture. They identified three different principles: the expression of volume rather than mass, balance rather than preconceived symmetry and the expulsion of applied ornament. All the works which were displayed as part of the exhibition were carefully selected, as only works which strictly followed the set of rules were displayed.

Mid-Century modern is a design term applied most frequently to residential (and some commercial) architecture, interior design and furniture. Related to the Space Age, the International style and Googie, mid-century modern translated the ideology of Modernism into a sleek, cool, yet accessible lifestyle. Mid-century modernism was more organic in form and less serious than the International Style. Scandinavian and Finnish designers and architects were very prolific at this time, with a style characterized by simplicity, democratic design and organic shapes. They had an influence on Mid-century modernism in the rest of the world, including the US. Mid-century modernism has become popular in recent times, and has influenced contemporary modern design profoundly.

Well-known designers of the mid-century modern era include: Alvar Aalto, Al Beadle, Harry Bertoia, Charles and Ray Eames, Craig Ellwood, Max Gottschalk, Ralph Haver, Edith Heath, Arne Jacobsen, Louis Kahn, Paul McCobb, George Nelson, Richard Neutra, Isamu Noguchi, Harvey Probber, Jens Risom, Eero Saarinen, , Rudolf Schindler, Raphael Soriano, Hans Wegner, Russel Wright, and Eva Zeisel

Bauhaus: an art and architecture school in Germany that operated from 1919 to 1933, and for its approach to design that it publicized and taught. The most natural meaning for its name (related to the German verb for “build”) is Architecture House. Bauhaus style became one of the most influential currents in Modernist architecture, and one of the most important currents of the New Objectivity.

The Bauhaus art school had a profound influence upon subsequent developments in art, architecture, graphic design, interior design, industrial design and typography.

The Bauhaus art school existed in three German cities (Weimar from 1919 to 1925, Dessau from 1925 to 1932, Berlin from 1932 to 1933), under three different architect-directors (Walter Gropius from 1919 to 1927, Hannes Meyer from 1928 to 1930, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe from 1930 to 1933). The changes of venue and leadership resulted in a constant shifting of focus, technique, instructors, and politics. When the school moved from Weimar to Dessau, for instance, although it had been an important revenue source, the pottery shop was discontinued. When Mies took over the school in 1930, he transformed it into a private school, and would not allow any supporters of Hannes Meyer to attend it.

László Moholy-Nagy revived the school for a single year in Chicago as the New Bauhaus.

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