The Weissenhofsiedlung (1927)
In 1932, a major exhibition of Modern Architecture was held at the Museum of
Modern Art (MoMA) in New York. The authors of this exhibit, Henry-Russell
Hitchcock and Philip Johnson called the exhibit The International Style, noting in
There is now a single body of discipline fixed enough to integrate contemporary
style as a reality and yet elastic enough to permit individual interpretation and to
encourage general growth.
The name stuck, much to the chagrin of many of the architects included in the
exhibition, who disliked the idea of their buildings fitting into a single generic style.
Yet this was the direction Modern Architecture had been heading as the search for
primary forms and rules governing their proper composition had given rise to Le
Corbusier’s Towards a New Architecture, first printed in English in 1927, and the
new Bauhaus school, completed the same year in Dessau.
Not surprisingly, all but a handful of buildings represented in the 1932 MoMA
exhibit dated from 1927. William Curtis noted that this was perhaps “the first year
of maturity of the new style, in which forms could be assumed, and problems
worked out on a basis of discoveries which were increasingly assured.” 1927 was
also the year a Competition for the League of Nations complex to was held in
Geneva; and the Weissenhofsiedlung, a major exhibition of housing ideas
sponsored by the Deutscher Werkbund, was held in Stuttgart.
1928 saw the formation of the Congrès Internationaux de l’Architecture Moderne
(CIAM), an organization committed to the redevelopment of the urban environment.
CIAM was an extension of the ideas promoted by the Weissenhofsiedlung and Le
Corbusier’s entry in the Competition for the League of Nations complex. CIAM
stressed function and economy over aesthetic principles.
The League of Nations Competition
This competition drew an international field of architects. It was a very challenging
program. The complex was to contain a giant assembly hall, lobbies a secretariat
and a wide variety of bureaucratic functions for the newly formed world parliament,
which had set itself the idealistic mission of restoring peace and order after World
War I. Probably the two most intriguing designs were those of Le Corbusier and
Le Corbusier placed the emphasis of his design on the assembly hall, with a
processional courtyard leading up to the main entry and the rear elevation
prominently expressed on the lakeside. The various bureaucratic functions of the
complex were housed in linear blocks raised above the landscape, so that one
could pass freely underneath the office buildings. The overall effect was that of “a
communal machine for enlightened, well-meaning functionaries whose life would
be daily nourished through contact with nature,” Curtis noted.
By contrast, Meyer sought a more Constructivist approach, with the emphasis
placed on the secretariat in an open-framed tower that recalled some of the
visions of the Russian avant-garde. He used a highly repetitive ordering system
throughout the complex with the only expressive element being a bulbous glass
roof over the assembly hall. Meyer intentionally played down hierarchical
associations as he saw the complex as being “an entirely open, egalitarian forum.”
Of the 337 entries, which were published in a catalog, Sigfried Giedion also noted
those by Neutra, Mendelsohn, and Polish Group Prezens. He felt that the new
program challenged conventional ideas and resulted in a victory for modernism.
However, the selection committee split over the diverse entries, declaring P.H.
Nénot’s “clumsy Beaux-Arts scheme” the winner, after disqualifying Le Corbusier’s
project on a technicality. This competition served as a catalyst for the formation of
CIAM in 1928.
League of Nations Competition,
Le Corbusier entry (1940)
League of Nations Competition,
Hannes Meyer entry (1940)
This “housing estate,” developed between 1925-27, was the most complete
showcase yet of Modern housing solutions. Mies van der Rohe was invited by the
Deutscher Werkbund to organize the exhibition, which featured designs that
responded to the pressing post-war housing needs. He broke away from the
doctrinaire views of the Rationalists to present a multi-faceted set of housing ideas
that reflected the many currents of thought being expressed at the time. The highly
expressive site plan for 21 buildings on a curvilinear sloping grade resulted in
what Reyner Banham referred to as a “terrain-sculpture.” Mies gave his apartment
block the most visible location at the top of the hill with the individual white houses
and other apartment complexes forming a rich and varied foreground. Mies had
invited leading European architects such as Hans Scharoun, Le Corbusier, Peter
Behrens, J.J.P. Oud and Hans Poelzig to design the individual houses.
Mies’ steel-framed apartment house dominated the exhibition. The long three-story
building had an imposing exterior but offered a wide range of possibilities inside,
arranging each of the 24 units differently. He treated the kitchens and bathrooms
as core elements, with the other rooms moving freely around them. The steel-
frame structure was exposed on the inside. He even suggested movable partition
walls. The exterior walls were a “skin” wrapped tightly around the structure with
ribbon windows and an articulated roof deck above.
Le Corbusier presented two solutions, both of which were also included in
Hitchcock and Johnson’s survey. One was a variation of the Citrohan house,
using different colors to express the various planes, raised on a set of narrow
columns. The other was a double house, which included two separate units in a
harmonious unified structure that was a more direct expression of The Five Points
of a New Architecture. The two structures were set in relationship to each other
on the building site.
Other individual solutions included a house by Scharoun, which was composed of
overlapping curves and projecting planes, reflecting de Stijl as well as
Constructivist tendencies. A row of small houses by J.J.P. Oud stepped to conform
to the landscape, which stressed a stern functionalism but with delicate projecting
The houses blended well together. The white cubic forms, planar elements, free
plans and machine-like details created “a conspicuous harmony of style,” which
led Alfred Barr to apply the label, The International Style. It was Barr who
introduced Hitchcock and Johnson to the modern architecture of Europe.
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Le Corbusier Houses (1927)
From The League of Nations Competition to the
Formation of the Congrès Internationaux de
l’Architecture Moderne (CIAM)
The International Style