Modern Architecture

Modern architecture is characterized by simplification of form and creation of ornament from the structure and theme of the building. The first variants were conceived early in the 20th century. Modern architecture was adopted by many influential architects and architectural educators, however very few "Modern buildings" were built in the first half of the century. It gained popularity after the Second World War and became the dominant architectural style for institutional and corporate buildings for three decades, covering practically most of the Cold War era.

The exact characteristics and origins of Modern architecture are still open to interpretation and debate.

Some historians see the evolution of Modern architecture as a social matter, closely tied to the project of Modernity and thus the Enlightenment. The Modern style developed, in their opinion, as a result of social and political revolutions.

Others see Modern architecture as primarily driven by technological and engineering developments, and it is true that the availability of new building materials such as iron, steel, and glass drove the invention of new building techniques as part of the Industrial Revolution. In 1796, Shrewsbury mill owner Charles Bage first used his 'fireproof' design, which relied on cast iron and brick with flag stone floors. Such construction greatly strengthened the structure of mills, which enabled them to accommodate much bigger machines. Due to poor knowledge of iron's properties as a construction material, a number of early mills collapsed. It was not until the early 1830s that Eaton Hodgkinson introduced the section beam, leading to widespread use of iron construction, this kind of austere industrial architecture utterly transformed the landscape of northern Britain, leading to the description of places like Manchester and parts of West Yorkshire as "Dark satanic mills".

The Crystal Palace by Joseph Paxton at the Great Exhibition of 1851 was an early example of iron and glass construction; possibly the best example is the development of the tall steel skyscraper in Chicago around 1890 by William Le Baron Jenney and Louis Sullivan. Early structures to employ concrete as the chief means of architectural expression (rather than for purely utilitarian structure) include Frank Lloyd Wright's Unity Temple, built in 1906 near Chicago, and Rudolf Steiner's Second Goetheanum, built from 1926 near Basel, Switzerland.

Other historians regard Modernism as a matter of taste, a reaction against eclecticism and the lavish stylistic excesses of Victorian Era and Edwardian Art Nouveau. Note that the Russian word for Art Nouveau, "Модерн", and the Spanish word for Art Nouveau, "Modernismo" are cognates of the English word "Modern" though they carry different meanings.

Whatever the cause, around 1900 a number of architects around the world began developing new architectural solutions to integrate traditional precedents (Gothic, for instance) with new technological possibilities. The work of Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright in Chicago, Victor Horta in Brussels, Antoni Gaudi in Barcelona, Otto Wagner in Vienna and Charles Rennie Mackintosh in Glasgow, among many others, can be seen as a common struggle between old and new. An early use of the term in print around this time, approaching its later meaning, was in the title of a book by Otto Wagner

By the 1920s the most important figures in Modern architecture had established their reputations. The big three are commonly recognized as Le Corbusier in France, and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Walter Gropius in Germany. Mies van der Rohe and Gropius were both directors of the Bauhaus, one of a number of European schools and associations concerned with reconciling craft tradition and industrial technology.

Frank Lloyd Wright's career, in which he built more than Mies, Le Corbusier and Gropius combined, parallels and influences the work of the European modernists, particularly via the Wasmuth Portfolio, but he refused to be categorized with them claiming that "they" copied his ideas. Wright was a major influence on both Gropius (founder of the Bauhaus) and van der Rohe, however, as well as on the whole of organic architecture. Gropius claimed that his "bible" for forming the Bauhaus was 100 Frank Lloyd Wright drawings that the architect shared with Germany over a decade prior to this point. Many architects in Germany believed that Wright's life would be wasted in the United States, since the US wasn't ready for his architecture. Just as many European architects saw Wright's Larkin Building (1904) in Buffalo, Unity Temple (1905) in Oak Park, and the Robie House (1910) in Chicago as some of the first examples of modern architecture in the 20th Century. It would be 2-3 decades later before the European architects would bring their version back to the United States.

Modernist architecture has been more widely accepted as an appropriate residential style in Europe, where the populace is generally more exposed to culture and art than much of the world. This level of education imparts a tendency to accept new ideas while preserving their rich heritage, which is evidenced in the mix of new and old architecture, both intentional and unintentional, that one sees in many major European cities today. Also, one could argue that the numerous modern institutional and commercial buildings that permeate European countries have adjusted their denizens to this type of design; Frank Gehry's Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, for example, has been one of the best received modern pieces in history with over ten million visitors since its opening in 1997
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