Turun Sanomat Building,
Finland (1930)
The International Style

Modern architecture flourished in the years between 1927 and 1932, with a wide
variety of designs that could only loosely be tied together by the theme of an
International Style.  Hitchcock and Johnson did so by noting what they considered
to be three principles that ran through all the designs of this era: architecture as
volume, regularity, and avoidance of applied decoration.

Hitchcock and Johnson first stated the 19th century Rationalist and 20th century
Functionalist ideas that gave rise to the modern movement in architecture. The
authors noted the influences of Frank Lloyd Wright, Peter Behrens and Auguste
Perret, among others.  However, they singled out Le Corbusier, Walter Gropius,
Mies van der Rohe and J.J.P. Oud as “the four leaders of modern architecture,”
setting a new path for all others to follow.  Their work was well-represented in the
exhibit.  The authors also noted the divisive debate between Functionalists and
Formalists.  There is mention of Hannes Meyer, one of the leading Functionalists,
who felt that architecture was primarily a programmatic concern and not a matter of
aesthetics.  But, the authors clearly felt that carefully controlled aesthetic principles
set architecture apart from building construction.

These broad principles were drawn from the various texts that were readily
available at the time, including Le Corbusier’s Toward a New Architecture.  The
first principle stressed architecture as volume, with thin surface materials giving it
a lighter appearance.  The second principle was regularity, which implied a
standardization of elements.  The third principle was the avoidance of applied
decoration, stressing the composition of the building instead.  The 1932 exhibit
included a carefully selected number of commercial and residential designs from
Europe and America, which the authors felt best represented these aesthetic
principles.

Alvar Aalto: Turun Sanomat Building, Finland, 1930

Industrial building raised to the level of architecture by fine proportions, smooth
surfaces and carefully studied forms.  The shape of the concrete supports
expresses frankly the structural stresses.

Aalto had been first introduced to Le Corbusier’s ideas in 1926, when Vers une
Architecture had been reviewed in the magazine, Arkkitehti.  In 1927, he traveled to
Germany where he visited the Weissenhofsiedlung and the Bauhaus at Dessau.  
He firmly embraced the functionalist view of Bauhaus and the Deutscher
Werkbund.  He moved to Turku, which had a more progressive attitude toward
architecture than did Helsinki.  He earned several notable commissions which
captured the attention of the owner of the Turun Sanomat newspaper.  Arvo
Ketonen had given his newspaper a more progressive look and wanted a building
that fully expressed “the free, international communications of ideas,” which he felt
would establish Finland’s place in the world.  For too long Finland had been living
under the cultural shadow of Sweden.

The design of the building was based largely on Le Corbusier’s “Five Points of a
New Architecture,” but contained Constructivist elements as well.  It is a building
raised up on elegantly rounded columns, with ribbon windows that dominated the
front façade, and a roof garden above.  The two-story entrance initially had a vast
projection of the newspaper’s front page, which Richard Weston felt was taken
from the Vesnin Brothers’ Pravda building.  In his interior detailing, Aalto used
profiles that recalled vernacular timber details.  But, the most distinctive feature
was the tapered columns, which were asymmetrically balanced in relation to the
structural loads of the floors above.  It was the first of his designs to be seen
outside Finland, drawing attention to the country’s progressive attitude toward
modern architecture.

Erik Gunnar Asplund, Stockholm Exhibition Building , Sweden 1930

Asbestos sheathing and large windows in light frames produce an excellent
surface for wood construction.  Off-white walls of side pavilions contrast with green
of center pavilion. Skilful decorative use of lettering and colored flags.

Asplund had earlier explored Neo-Classical ideas in his architecture, notably the
Stockholm Public Library, 1920-8, which had reduced classical elements to pure
forms reminiscent of Ledoux.  However, in the Stockholm Exhibition Building, he
gave himself completely over to
the prevailing modern ideas, incorporating huge expanses of glass, setting them
against broad planar elements, with an open, efficient plan.  Later, he would
combine modern structural and spatial concepts with classical disciplines and
types, Curtis noted.

As in Finland, modern architecture was seen as being able to better express
communal aspirations and individual artistic visions.  Most importantly the state
government willingly promoted these forms of expression.  The Scandinavian
countries in general were seen as a more progressive environment for modern
architecture, especially after 1932 when totalitarian regimes gained control of
Germany, Italy and other countries in Europe.

Brinkman, Van der Vlugt and Stam, Van Nelle Factory, Netherlands, 1929

An industrial admirably composed of three sections, each devoted to a separate
function but with same structural regularity throughout.

One of the grandest modern buildings of the era, this tobacco, coffee and tea
factory captured the attention of Le Corbusier, who considered it in one of the
fullest realizations of the socialist ethos which underlay the modern movement.  Its
sweeping, curvilinear forms created a dramatic perspective, highlighted by huge
expanses of “floating” glass.  The interiors were fully exposed to the outside so that
the whole process of manufacturing in each of the three plants was made visible.

A grid of mushroom columns supported the cantilevering floor slabs from which
the glass façades were suspended.  Transparent stair towers, lifts and reflective
metal ventilation pipes provided discreet vertical elements which didn’t take away
from the overall horizontal effect of the building.   Although these forms were all
based on pragmatic concerns regarding the process of manufacture, they
transcended mere function and took on a poetic vision of the industrial process. It
was perhaps the most complete synthesis of Futurist and Russian Constructivist
ideas to date.

Howe and Lescaze, Philadelphia Saving Fund Society, USA, 1932

The building will not be completed until the summer of 1932.  The entire front is
cantilevered.  The relation of the base with its curved corner to the tower is
awkward. The different parts of the building are distinguished by different surfacing
materials: the base, housing of the bank, of granite slabs; two intermediate storeys
of limestone; the spandrels of the tower of brick.

This was the first tall building to actually be built in the modern style.  Unlike
previous American skyscrapers which mimicked Gothic verticality or picked up the
cliché elements of modern architecture, the PSFS building was modern inside and
out.  It had one of the most dynamic spatial concepts, expressing the internal
functions on the outside, with various surface treatments to call further attention to
these functions.  The overall image was that of efficiency and crispness, Curtis
noted.

The tall building had reached grand heights in America with the completion of the
Empire State Building in New York in 1931.  Most of these skyscrapers where
based on a step-back system advocated by the New York planning department to
avoid turning the streets of the city into dark canyons.   Raymond Hood had created
a more modern version of this type of hi-rise in the McGraw-Hill Building (1930)
which was included in the exhibition.

However, the planning boards in Philadelphia were less rigorous, allowing Howe
and Lescaze to take full advantage of the dramatic vertical forms, which they
treated as two narrow slabs, creating an interlocking “L” with a cantilevering
awning that wrapped around the base of the building.  The banking functions were
raised above the broad awning with large plate glass windows allowing for
spacious, well-lit interiors.

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From The League of Nations Competition to the
Formation of the Congrès Internationaux de
l’Architecture Moderne (CIAM)
The International Style