Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Compare/Contrast: International Style vs. Organicism

Compare / Contrast: International Style vs. Organicism
The International style in architecture was a phase through the modern movement that emerged in Europe and the United States during the 1920s. Philip Johnson coined the term International Style at an architectural exhibition held at the Museum of Modern Art, New York City in 1932. At this time architects working in the International style gave a new kind of emphasis to the expression of structure, lightening of mass, and the enclosure of dynamic spaces. Characteristics common to identify would include such things as; simplification of form, a rejection of ornament, adoption of glass, steel, and concrete as preferred materials, and the industrialized mass-production techniques implying a machine aesthetic. Important figures included Walter Gropius, Le Corbusier, and Ludweig Mies van der Rohe, also known as “The Big Three.”
From the International style came forth a branch of architecture highly representative of form and function. Known as Organic architecture (organicism), it promoted the harmony between man and nature through the design integration of its site. The buildings, furnishings, and surroundings became part of an interrelated unified composition. It is the outward expression of a belief that architecture and society grew from a natural order. The spaces become a coherent whole expressing the marriage between the site and the structure. The refined proportions, unique materials, and the placement in nature, should blend interior and exterior spaces together. Frank Lloyd Wright was one of the first architects to represent this kind of connection. His style was based on a spatial conception of interpenetrating planes and abstract masses. Wright believed that every building should grow naturally from its environment.

An example of Organic architecture can be seen through the works of Richard Nuetra, an architect who had a working relationship with Wright. His design of the Kaufmann house (1946-47), Palm Springs, was comprised of a series of horizontal planes resting on horizontal planes only balanced by transparent walls. Unlike the International style, the materiality here loses its importance. The elegance is a maintained harmony with nature through its use of patios and porches, making the surrounding landscapes appear to be part of the houses themselves. It’s the experience of the weightless space enclosed behind the stone walls that creates an environmental harmony, functional efficiency, and human enhancement into the expression of everyday living. These relationships are found within themselves. Nuetra, like Wright specialized in extending architectural spaces into a carefully arranged landscape. Many dramatic viewpoints across the site connect the flat-surfaced, industrialized residential structure to its existing site.

In contrast, an example of the International Style can be seen through Mies van der Rohe’s, Barcelona Pavilion (1928-29), Spain. The single story building serves no real functional program, but rather the building serves itself as an object on display. It rests as an exhibit where the spatial integrity of the volume is held by planar forms of glass and concrete. The contemporary construction forms a plan, asymmetrical and fluid, with a continuous flow of space. The wall partitions are made of both transparent and opaque glass with columns arranged on a low travertine polished marble podium. The low flat roof is supported by delicate metal supports. The entire volume channeled space between separate vertical and horizontal planes. This unlike Organic architecture placed a greater emphasis on the elegance of the materials, eliminating any needed decoration. The pavilion is often noted to be of a classical serenity.

A style promoting the elegance of materiality and simplistic use of spaces, creates a rhythm that equalizes forces and serves as an exhibit itself, serves the International style of architecture. A style promoting the functional harmony between man and nature, through the design integration of its materials placed within the landscape, serves as an Organic style of architecture.


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