Modernist Movements In Architecture

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The evolution of architecture seems to predominantly revolve around different architects’ artistic visions. Each style that arises in points of time. Architecture enables means to divert from the norm of its time and to create something that evokes or supports different ideas than what is commonly displayed in its period.

The Art Nouveau which is an ornamental style of architecture that thrived between 1890 and 1910 through Europe and the United States exemplifies the aesthetic, creative, imaginative side of architecture in conjunction to bland, symmetrical modernist styles. Antoni Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, Spain (1882) for instance using organic forms, African mud architecture, Gothic, Expressionist and art nouveau styles that battles against the generic classical composition of architecture in its period of erection, “His work presents much beyond the conventional styles of the nineteenth-century eclecticism of the period, thus making it almost impossible to classify his work in contemporary architectural historiography.” Gaudi utilised polygonal morphing to shape the geometric structure of architectonic forms. The use of the method involves not only creating structural and tectonic organic forms but also explicit conceptual and philosophical intention. He says “Everything comes from nature’s great book” (Bergos,1954). The use of hyperbolic Paraboloid and according to Bonet (2000), multiple layers of polygons are interpolated and extrapolated in different elevations to form the structure of the columns. This results in a geometrically varied profile of the columns. it is also characterized by its stylized towers which are crowned by ceramic covered pinnacles. The mixture of Gothic-style symbolism, naturesque imagery, and Modernist asymmetry in its Nativity Facade prominently reflects Gaudi’s original vision of sagrada familia and rthis established the template for future architects of the future to follow his eccentric artistic styles and Art Nouveau influence and redefine architecture by showing its exquisite potential.

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It is argued that architecture initially sprouted from art. The De Stijl movement, also known as Neoplasticism, that occurred between 1916 to 1931 proves this. The movement searched the purest abstraction of art, reducing the elements to basic forms and colours. This is most apparent in the Aubette Cinema and Dance Hall by Theo Van Doesburg as well as the Schroeder House by Gerrit Rietveld. As the founder of Dutch De Stijl movement, Theo van Doesburg stated “‘It is unquestionably the architonic character of the works of the most radical painters that finally convinced the public of the seriousness of their struggle, not merely to ‘influence’ architecture but to dictate its development towards a collective construction.”

He employed his perspective on elementarism and the neo-plastic style to decorate the ceiling and wall of cinema-ballroom with orthogonal composition in primary colours.

In 1926 Van Doesburg, with artists Jean Arp and Sophie Taeuber, obtained the commission to refurbish the interior of a mid-eighteenth-century building to create Café Aubette—large restaurant with a cinema and dancehalls. A painter as well as an architect, Van Doesburg used this project to explore his theory of Elementarism, which built upon the concepts of Neoplasticism developed by the de Stijl movement of Dutch abstract artists. In addition to flat planes and rectilinear configurations, Elementarism employed inclined planes and relief to activate compositions. Van Doesburg’s schemes for the interior walls of Café Aubette were based on a grid of predominantly grey planes, with vibrant panels in primary colours. Plaster was used to form a relief pattern between panels. Merging architecture and design with painting, van Doesburg also designed ashtrays for Café Aubette, and even the lettering used for the neon-lit facade and other signs.

The Schroder House is the only building that was designed in complete accordance with the De Stijl style, which was marked by primary colors and pure ideas. “The buildings is no longer a thing that exists in itself or that stands for something; rather it is in active relationship to human beings and human beings will then have to adopt an active attitude towards it in order to be able to experience its qualities. (Gerrit Rietveld, 1932, Cited in Friedman, Alice T. 1998:80)” Its facades, that avoid any kind of symmetry or established order, play this role of pure forms and basic colours. The balconies become planes that glide past lines in primary colours, creating a collage. The layout and composition of the Schröder house is fresh and playful filled with bright coloured walls, as if it has been assembled from parts of a child’s building toy. However, Gerrit Rietveld has taken aesthetic inspiration from “Maison particuliere” and the “Maison d’artiste” by Van Doesburg and Van Eesteren (1923), which enables the user to experience free and open space, through mobile planes, moveable walls, and screens that gave the new architecture its distinctive character. Opening walls and enlarging windows eliminated the distinction between interior and exterior space, creating a house which was anti-cubic, asymmetrical, active rather than passive, with no dead space or repetitions. (Van Doesburg, 1924, Cited in Naylor, C., Contemporary masterworks, 1991:451).

This De Stijl movement later influenced Cubism which developed into an art movement that replaced the rendering of appearances with the endless possibilities of invented form. Pablo Picasso popularised this movement through his artworks, for instance in his ‘Girl with a Mandolin’, 1910, oil painting on canvas. Cubism has a strong connection to the process of human vision. In Picassos painting, he organized geometric shapes and lines to portray several parts of the girl’s form which would otherwise be unseen from a single point of view. This brought about a new perspective in paintings that depicted radically disjointed elements. By developing a new approach to visual compositions of art, Cubism has changed the course of painting laws and to some extent graphic design as well. Cubism attempts to destroy form whilst de Stijl disregards form and both serve the purpose of simplifying the composition of artwork.

Modernism is commonly criticized by many traditionalist analysts as the geometrical abstraction imposed on natural and traditional landscapes of countries and their societies, and brutally abolishing the urban and cultural fabrics of history. The accusation that the oversimplification preached by geometric fundamentalism erases the diverse idiosyncratic specificities of different cultures, thus dissolving their character into the common artificial aesthetic of ‘sterility’ is often extreme and seems caught up in the clichéd generalizations of dehumanization, fragmentation, alienation and the like.


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