Mies van der Rohe,
Barcelona Pavillion (1929)
Erich Mendelsohn, Shocken Department Store, Germany, 1930
Startling ribbon windows made possible by cantilever construction. Wall surfaced
with stone plaques. The set-backs required by building laws give and unfortunate
stepped effect, as in New York skyscrapers.
One of the few expressionist architects to be included in the survey, Mendelsohn
had refined many of his ideas into a streamlined vision that greatly appealed to
modernists. The main façade is a single broad curve that wraps around the
rounded base of a triangular site. Stairs and lifts are relegated to the sides and
rear of the building so as not disrupt the dramatic horizontal flow of ribbon
windows and glazed stone spandrels. The stepped back floors above are not so
disconcerting as the authors imply, but rather form terraces that are reflective of Le
Corbusier’s garden roof. The base with its plate glass panels gives the illusion of
openness. It was one of Mendelsohn’s most elegant buildings to date.
Mendelsohn had created an unbroken design, “a simple yet living form subsuming
all parts and details,” Curtis noted.
Mies Van der Rohe, German Pavilion at Barcelona Exhibition, Spain, 1929
As this was a pavilion at an exhibition, aesthetic rather than functional
considerations determined the plan. The walls are independent planes under a
continuous slab roof, which is supported on light metal posts. The absolute
regularity of the spacing of the supports does not prevent wide variety in the placing
of wall screens to form separate rooms. Rich materials: travertine, various
marbles, chrome steel, grey, black and transparent plate glass.
The Barcelona Pavilion was one of several buildings by Mies included in the
survey. In it, he had distilled his large body of ideas and construction principles
into one of the most perfect examples of modern architecture. He had the freedom
to explore complex spatial relationships while maintaining a clarity, simplicity and
honesty which befitted the new era of an open society. Gone were any vestiges of
a German Imperial past, but rather a very refined sense of classical order adapted
to the ideas of the modern movement.
The hovering roof was supported by a combination of chrome steel columns and
marble planes, raised on a platform. The planes captured rather than enclosed
space, seeming to float independently of the columns. The reflecting ponds throw
light on the marble, glass and chrome surfaces, creating wonderful interplays
between the vertical and horizontal surfaces. The pieces of furniture, which he also
designed, were regal and luxurious, grouped formally to receive foreign
dignitaries. Curtis noted that it was “a demonstration perhaps of a new way of life
supposed to have a special appeal to the cultivated industrial elite.” Mies had re-
interpreted the classical Greek temple into a dynamic new expression.
Not surprisingly, Hitchcock and Johnson singled out the Barcelona Pavilion as the
piece d’resistance of the International Style. But, the essence of the pavilion
seemed to transcend history. As Henri Focillon noted, “the time that gives support
to a work of art does not give definition either to its principle or to its specific form.”
Richard Neutra, Lovell House, USA, 1929
The design, though complicated by the various projections and the confusing use
of metal and stucco spandrels, is based on a visible regularity of structure.
Originally from Vienna, Neutra had come to the US to apprentice under Frank Lloyd
Wright. In the Lovell House, one finds and intriguing combination of international
modern ideas, the organicism of Wright, and the “Health House” espoused by Dr.
Lovell. Neutra fused these ideas into his concept of “bio-realism” which stressed
the beneficial impact of a well-designed environment.
It was a large house, precariously balanced on a hillside, comprising a diversity of
functions contained within a steel-frame structure. The form of the building is
derived from the functions of the program and structural system with dynamic
projecting rooms and balconies. He used a light, synthetic skin. The glazed panels
fit tightly into the structural frame. It was probably the fullest realization of the
International Style in America.
Not mentioned in the survey, was Dr. Lovell’s Beach House, designed by Rudolf
Schindler. He used a series of planar elements from which the body of the house
was suspended. It had many of the elements of the International Style, but
Schindler expressed stated that he didn’t want himself included. He and Neutra
had both worked under Wright and had at this point established separate firms in
The two houses should be considered together, since they were both influenced
by Dr. Lovell’s desire for a clean, invigorating environment, personifying the
California lifestyle which would emerge later. Neutra and Schindler sought a
balance of sun and light and the sensitive articulation of the screens of plants
between the buildings and the general context, Kenneth Frampton noted. Neutra’s
house was more dramatic, but Schindler’s house was equally successful in
fulfilling Dr. Lovell’s desire for a healthy house.
J.J.P. Oud, Workers’ Houses, Netherlands, 1924-7
The continuous balcony carried around the curved shops underlines the simple
rhythm of windows. The downward curve of the shelter projection and the added
wall capping over the shops are purely decorative.
This building was started before Oud broke away from de Stijl. Although largely
functional in his approach, Oud introduced several dramatic elements including
the rounded ends and long wrapping balconies, which stress the horizontal flow of
the design. The units were regimental, clean and efficient. Doors, lamps, pillars
and other details were painted in primary colors. This was one of several works he
completed during this time as chief architect for Rotterdam.
He was able to translate many of the early de Stijl concepts into housing projects.
The Kiefhoek Workers’ Housing was another example, carried out on a larger
scale with a more elaborate plan that included small gardens contained within
interior courtyards. Curtis noted that Oud’s designs were “stark, abstract
prototypes … emblematic of a new order,” which fit in with the growing concern
among European architects for a standardization of housing types to meet the
growing needs in Europe.
Ludvik Kysela, Bata Shoe Store, Czechoslovakia, 1929
The window frames are light; the spandrels unusually thin. The lettering is both
unarchitectural in character and inharmonious in scale.
Kysela was one of several Czech architects included in the survey. The Bata Shoe
Story was probably the most well known example of Czech architecture at the time,
which epitomized the light, suspended glass façade. Note the way the shop
windows on the bottom flower float above the ground.
The Czech modern movement was founded in the 1920’s by the Devetsil group. It
was divided along the same functional vs. formal lines of other European groups.
Karel Teige provided the ideological center to the group, writing numerous articles
in defense of a cleaner, more refined approach to architectural design. He even
went so far as to criticize Le Corbusier for what he considered to be a regression
into monumental forms. In the Bata Shoe Store, Kysela was able to achieve one of
the purest expressions in plate glass, even if the company logo and lettering on
the spandrels are distracting.
The survey was by no means exhaustive. There was only one entry from the Soviet
Union, an Electro-Physical Laboratory by Nicolaiev and Fissenko. And it would
also appear that the International Style had yet to reach the Mediterranean
countries with only one example from Italy, an electrical house by Figini and Pollini.
But, the survey did cover most of Europe, touched on America, and even had one
Japanese example, thereby lending to it an intercontinental as well as international
style. Most importantly, the 1932 exhibition called further American attention to the
modern movement, which to this point had developed almost exclusively in Europe.
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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