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Week 8 - European Modernism

Modernism's basic principles are to challenge and change, to improve upon or reject the past. Individualism is important, as is innovation.
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"Modernist designers sought ideal forms for the products and architecture they created – forms that would have a universal appeal, and that would transcend individual differences in taste, regardless of the user’s social position. In this way design was envisaged as a unifying force, helping to create a fairer, socially just world, and producing timeless objects unaffected by the vagaries of fashion."

Over the following weeks, we will go into more detail on regional developments of Modernism - Dutch De Stijl, Italian Futurism, Russian Constructivism and German Bauhaus. A few other regional styles of European Modernism that we won't be covering seperately include:

Czech Cubism

In Prague, the influence of Art Nouveau on Modernism was particularly obvious. For example the Hodek Apartment Building by Josef Chochol, (or Chocol) built just before WWI:

British Modernism

The Design and Industries Association (DIA) was established in London in 1915 to persuade manufacturers and designers to adhere to principles of ‘good design’, and is still in existence today. www.dia.org.uk

The chair to the right was designed by Ernest Race out of aluminium, a new material at the time. This was an example of Utility Scheme furniture, a government-sponsored style resulting from wood rationing during WWII that initially met with some resistance from the buying public.


Berthold Lubetkin (1901-1990)

Russian Suprematist architect who moved to Britain in the 1930's, where he formed the company Tecton and did his best known works. His distinctive works were influential in the development of the International Style decades later.


Reminiscent of Malevich's "Architecton" models?

Modernism in France

Le Corbusier (Charles-Edouard Jeanneret)

Swiss Architect, Town Planner and Artist who lived in Paris and had a great impact on European Modernism and the development of the International Style (covered in International Style week in more detail). Early in his career, he started to develop principles of functionalism that would be defining characteristics of Modernism, such as his "Five Points of Architecture" in 1927.


Villa Stein was one of his ground-breaking early works in 1927. Note how out-of-place this 1920's car looks next to the modern white box type of house.

Another early work: greatbuildings.com/buildings/Ozenfant_Studio.html



Another technological development that impacted on furniture design at the time was the development of plywood, and the possibility of moulding it into solid, curvaceous planar forms: bentply.com/modstock.html

The increasing amount of time available for leisure also impacted upon design. The Seaside holiday in the UK became very popular, and Modernism even had it's impact in seaside resorts such as Brighton: braggs1.fsnet.co.uk/architecture.htm

Contextual factors to consider:

  • WWI had a huge impact in Europe. So many soldiers died that there was hardly a family in Europe who had not lost someone. This was the machine age - but those machines had caused much devastation in the war. The confidence of the old empires was dented, nostalgia was replaced with a desire for a new, different future.
  • Fine Arts were very significant to the development of the applied arts at this time. Cubism had developed into Dada (anti-art art) and other forms of European Modernism, a number of which were also design movements. A leading figure in the Modernist Fine Arts Movement was Marcel Duchamp who declared everyday objects to be works of art in his "readymade" pieces such as "Fountain" in 1917 (a urinal), and represented movement in pieces such as "Nude Descending the Staircase" in 1912.

Some key technical innovations:

  • New materials and processes were developed - plastics, metal alloys, plywood.

Meanwhile, in Fine Art:

  • Expressionism evolves into Dada and Surrealism
  • Cubism evolves into Suprematism, Constructivism, De Stijl, Futurism and Bauhaus
  • Modernism is also used as a Fine Art term, including all of the above.

Next Week: Dutch De Stijl & Italian Futurism

retrokat.com quite nice sites

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