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The International Style

After World War I, communication among architects was reestablished so rapidly and stylistic diffusion was so widespread that it became difficult to speak of national styles. Rather, centers of experimentation arose where architects and artists from all over now converged. Major forces in the formation the style were de Stiji art and architecture in Holland, the new experiments in German architecture, and though he never considered himself a participant, Frank Lloyd Wright. The first manifestation of what came to be called the Internaal Style took place in 1927 at the Deutsche Werkbund Weissenhofsiedlung Exhibition in Stuttgart, organized by Miles van der Rohe. The presentation included display housing designed by, among others, Mies, Gropius, Le Corbusier, and the de Stijl architect J. J. P. Oud. The actual term International Style was given prominence by an exhibition of advanced tendencies in architecture held at New York's Museum of Modern Art in 1932. The show, a collaborative effort between museum director Alfred H. Barr, Jr., architectural historian Henry-Russell Hitchcock, and architect Philip Johnson, attempted to define and codify the characteristics of the style, although the exhibition's strictly formalist approach paid virtually no heed to the underlying ideologies and individual formal vocabularies that gave rise to architecture in Europe. The first principle of the new architecture of structural steel and ferroconcrete was elimination the bearing wall. The outside wall became a skin of glass, metal, or masonry constituting an enclosure rather than a support. Thus, one could speak of an architecture of volume rather than of mass. Window and door openings could be enlarged indefinitely and distributed freely to serve both function - activity, access, or light - and design, exterior or interior. The regular distribution of structural supports led to rectangular regularity of design and away from the balanced axial symmetry of classical architecture.

Other principles involved the general avoidance of applied decoration and the elimination of strong contrasts of color on both interiors and exteriors. The International Style resulted in new concepts of spatial organization, particularly that of a free flow of interior space, as opposed to the stringing together of static symmetrical boxes that up to then had been necessitated by interior bearing walls. Finally, the International Style lent itself to urban planning and low-cost mass housing - to any form of large-scale building involving inexpensive, standardized units of construction.

Unquestionably the experiments of the pioneers of modern architecture in the use of new materials and in the stripping away of accretions of Classical, Gothic, or Renaissance tradition resulted in various common denominators that may be classified as a common style. However, the individual stamp of the pioneers is recognizable even in their most comparable architecture and can hardly be reduced to a single style.

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