Oscar Niemeyer, Pampulha Casino,
Brazil (1942-3)
Britain and America

With Europe on the brink of war, leading modern architects and designers
immigrated to Great Britain and the United States.  In Britain, they often faced a
hostile audience, who preferred the various historical revivals of the era.  However,
foreign architects like
Berthold Lubetkin were able to establish firms and find clients
for their modern designs.  

Lubetkin was from Russia, he had witnessed the early architectural debates of the
Soviet Revolution and had studied in Paris under
Auguste Perret.  He transformed
his solid understanding of concrete forms into a delightful display of interlocking
curved ramps in a
Penguin Pool he designed for the London Zoo.  His first major
commission was
High Point I (1933-5), also in London.  It demonstrated a thorough
understanding of Le Corbusier’s
Five Points, as well as an interpreting Ginzburg’s
idea of a “social condenser,” with the overall plan evocative of an airplane, propelling
his design with a curved ramp leading up to the main entrance.  The radio masts
resembled Constructivist tensile sculptures.  Lubetkin would later design an
High Point II (1936-8), to the complex that took on a more fluid form,
reminiscent of Baroque design, which J.M. Richards called “celebrity architecture.”
He had broken away from the rigid planning notions that governed his first design,
perhaps in response to the sharply critical local planning authority. However, Curtis
seemed to feel that Lubetkin was no longer so deeply concerned with Socialist aims
and was responding to the values of his clients.

Erich Mendelsohn had also immigrated to Britain, eventually settling in Israel.  One
of the few buildings he designed while in residence was the
De La Warr Seaside
(1933-5) in Sussex, which seemed like a deliberate interpretation of the
International Style. He treated the functions in volumetric zones with the only
expressive elements being the rounded glazed ends of the seaside façades, which
contain spiral stairs.  There is a formal symmetry to the main entrance with the
central element rising up like a stage tower, with large glazed panels to either size.

Marcel Breuer likewise stopped off briefly in Britain before making his final
destination in America.  He had been one of the key figures in the Bauhaus and
translated the tight discipline of this design aesthetic into a house at Angmering in
1936.   He included sculpted elements such as the concrete stair rising up to a
curved balcony supported by one pier.  However, these designs were not embraced
by the British establishment, which decried them as foreign intrusions.
Walter Gropius received a warmer welcome in America.  He had been invited to
direct the Department of Architecture at
Harvard Graduate School of Design.  His
first design was a house he built for himself and his wife in Massachusetts, in which
adapted he adapted his principles to the wooded setting, using vernacular wooden
framing and white painted New England siding.  The open plan, wide openings and
white volumes were well balanced and showed a refinement of his earlier “machine
aesthetic” into a more humane residential design.  William Jordy noted that it
represented “the domestication of the modern.”  However Gropius was largely
responsible for bringing the modern movement to America by initiating the Bauhaus
program at Harvard which would eventually transform architectural education
throughout the country.  He invited Marcel Breuer and other former colleagues to
teach along side him.

Mies van der Rohe relocated in Chicago, where he briefly associated himself with
Frank Lloyd Wright.  Mies had long been drawn to the free form plans of Wright, but
what he now explored was a “universal plan” which could be adapted to almost any
setting.  He was asked to design the campus for the
Illinois Institute of Technology
(IIT), which he began in 1939.  He seemed to be inspired by the Chicago factories,
adapting these industrial structures into large communal buildings into an
asymmetrical plan that stretched out along a long promenade.  He devised an
intriguing steel frame construction whereby several of the halls were suspended
from a series of box trusses, giving them a sense of weightlessness.  He had
transformed many of the ideas of the Acropolis into a modern university.

One of the most intriguing figures to emerge during this time was
Buckminster Fuller
.  He rejected the International Style as a “fashion-innoculation
without necessary knowledge of the scientific fundamentals of structural mechanics
and chemistry.”  He was an engineer and a philosopher who created what he called
a “Dymaxion” world based almost exclusively on functional and technological
considerations.  His
Dymaxion House (1929) was made entirely from aluminum
and rotated on a central mast, which contained the mechanical services.  It could be
easily constructed on any site.  He had more carefully considered the manufacture of
these houses, equated the weight and the cost of materials as one would a
prototypical car, which he also designed.  Although dismissed as an eccentric at the
time, Fuller was a pioneer in American pre-fabricated designs, with many of his
inventions later absorbed by the mainstream, including his geodesic dome.
Penguin Pool, London Zoo (1934)
Dymaxion House (1929)
De La Warr Seaside Pavilion (1935)
Latin America

“Tropical modernism” developed in countries like Brazil and Mexico, where the
governments attempted to create new identities separate from their colonial roots.
Brazil was the largest country in South America, almost the size of the United States.  
Its vast resources fueled a construction boom in the 1930’s.  The government
underwrote many of the modern projects, which attracted modern architects from
Europe and America.  
Le Corbusier came to Brazil, where he worked on the Ministry
of Education Building
(1936-45) with Lucio Costa and Oscar Niemeyer, who had
studied under Le Corbusier in Paris.  This was the first physical example of the
, which he had previously proposed for a high-rise in Algiers.  The solar screen
broke down the main façade into a highly regimented grid system, raised up on huge
pilotis, rising 10 meters above ground.  The cooling towers take on dynamic forms
on the roof top.

Niemeyer would become the most famous architect in Brazil, developing a style all
his own.  He was drawn to Baroque forms as was Lubetkin, but had a much freer
hand, as can be seen in the
Church of St. Francis of Assisi (1943).  However, his
most successful design at the time was the
Pampulha Casino (1942-3), which
combined the formal discipline of the International Style with highly expressive
ramps, cantilevered canopies and undulating interior partitions which celebrated this
pleasure palace.  Materials were richly expressive on the inside, but subdued on the
outside, where he used local stone veneer. Whether working for the state or private
interests, Niemeyer was able to project a sense of modernity that captured Brazil’s
lofty aspirations.

In Mexico, a closer parallel between ancient and modern forms could be
established, as a new generation of architects drew on Pre-Columbian motifs, as
Wright had done in his California houses.  
Luis Barragán was able to reduce these
elements to poetic modern forms, using native materials and rich colors to
accentuate his monolithic walls.  The crystallization of these ideas would occur in the
1960’s, but one can find early hints in the
Ortega House (1940), in Mexico City, which
had a cloistered feeling like the Spanish missions, which remained remarkably cool
in the searing heat.   Water became a soothing, therapeutic element flowing through
his plans into reflective pools.  This was a sharp contrast to the
Juan O’Gorman
studio houses (1929-30), which directly translated Le Corbusier’s Paris studios in
Mexico City.  O’Gorman had studied under Le Corbusier.

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Ministry of Education Building
Modern Architecture Expands its Boundaries
The Diversity of a New Tradition