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The International Style

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Week 13 - The International Style

Whereas the more decorative forms of Art Nouveau evolved into Art Deco, the cleaner, more "form-should-follow-function" streams developed into the various streams of European Modernism, which in turn became the International Style. Bauhaus in particular led directly into the International Style, not just stylistically but also physically - most of the designers from the Bauhaus moved to the US and continued to develop in an increasingly generic, minimalist way.

The first exhibition in which the term was first used was in 1932 at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. "The International Style" Exhibition consisted of photographs of buildings from around the world - white, minimalist structures with flat rooves, large sheet-glass windows, clean lines and shining, functional chrome fittings.

International Style designers shunned unnecessary embellishment. If it didn't serve a purpose, it was gone. This 'machine aesthetic', although looking superficially like some aspects of Art Deco, was philosophically at the other end of the spectrum. While Deco revelled in aecleticism, the latest fads and fashions, the International Style was seen as pure - in pursuit of perfect forms.

Definition of International Style: A 20th-century style of architecture and design marked by its almost austere geometric simplicity.
Ref: webpages.marshall.edu/~bruggemann1/glossary2.htm

This week's tutorials:


Remember this chair from the Bauhaus?

Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (1886-1969)

After migrating to the US, Bauhaus Director Mies van der Rohe is said to be the founder of the International Style.

Not every client was happy with Mies van der Rohe's minimalist buildings though. Perhaps it was the fury of a woman scorned, or perhaps anti-communist, xenophobic McCarthyism - being considered Un-American was a dangerous accusation in the US at this time. Whatever the cause, it's an odd story...


Le Corbusier (Charles-Edouard Jeanneret, 1887-1865)

Figurehead of European Modernism, Le Corbusier is also seen as one of the founding fathers of the International Style. Le Corbusier was a Swiss Architect and Town Planner who lived in Paris and wrote various books that became manuals of the International Style.

Although he's most commonly associated with designs that can look somewhat generic - flat, white boxes, he also designed some quite unique buildings such as the Notre Dame Du Haut.
Google Image Search for Le Corbusier

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Charles Eames (1907-1978) & Ray Kaiser Eames (1912-1988)

Husband and Wife design super-duo, they defined a style now called "Eames Era".

From buildings to chairs to lamps to exhibitions - the range of designs by the Eames is diverse and prolific. They even became film-makers in their later years.

Kem (K.E.M.) Weber (1889-1963)

One of the first 'Moderne' designers in the US, German-born Weber followed the principles of the Machine Aesthetic. Born Karl Emanuel Martin Weber, he shortened his name to Kem (perhaps to sound less German) when he moved to the US during WWI.

Eileen Gray (1879-1976)

An enigmatic and original designer and architect whose wide variety of styles throughout her career varied from ornate lacquered pieces in her early work to stark, minimalist furniture that epitomised the International Style.

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Scandanavian Design

The Scandanavian countries of Sweden, Finland, Denmark


Alvar Aalto (1898-1976)

Finnish architect and designer. His early work was influenced by neoclassism, but then he later adapted the symbolism and functionalism of European Modernism. Some of his chair designs have become classics, and are still produced today.

Bruno Mathsson

Designer of the famous "Grasshopper Chair"

Ingvar Kamprad (1926-living)

International Style has taken over the whole world. Ingvar Kamprad opened his company Ikea in Sweden in 1958 and now has over 150 branches (in most western industrialised countries) and employs over 40,000 people. According to one recent source, he's now the richest person in the world, overtaking Bill Gates after the slide of the US Dollar in 2004. eg:

Some recommended online resources:
Google.com image search for International Style

Contextual factors to consider:

  • WWII had led to shortages of materials in many countries.
  • Rising Internationalism cause by television & other forms of media, as well as improved long-distance travel and freight.

Some key technical innovations:

  • Modern plastics, contruction methods

Meanwhile, in Fine Art:

  • European Modernism develops into Abstract Expressionism and Minimalism

Next Week: Revision & Tutorial Presentations

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