Modernism as dominant style

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.

In 1932 came the important MOMA exhibition, the International Exhibition of Modern Architecture, curated by Philip Johnson. Johnson and collaborator Henry-Russell Hitchcock drew together many distinct threads and trends, identified them as stylistically similar and having a common purpose, and consolidated them into the International style.

This was an important turning point. With World War II the important figures of the Bauhaus fled to the United States, to Chicago, to the Harvard Graduate School of Design, and to Black Mountain College. While Modern architectural design never became a dominant style in single-dwelling residential buildings, in institutional and commercial architecture Modernism became the pre-eminent, and in the schools (for leaders of the profession) the only acceptable, design solution from about 1932 to about 1984.

That is not to say that the residential sector in the United States is devoid of examples from the Modernist movement. The Case Study Houses are prime examples of this. Commissioned around the mid-twentieth century, the six homes that were built have had more than 350,000 visitors since their completion, and have influenced many architects over the years. These and other Modern residences tend to focus on humanizing the otherwise harsh ideal, making them more livable and ultimately more appealing to real people. Many of these designs use a similar tactic: blurring the line between indoor and outdoor spaces. This is achieved by embracing "the box" while at the same time dissolving it into the background with minimal structure and large glass walls. Some critics claim that these spaces remain too cold and static for the average person to function, however. The materials utilized in a large number of Modern homes are not hidden behind a softening facade. While this may make them somewhat less desirable for the general public, most modernist architects see this as a necessary and pivotal tenet of Modernism: uncluttered and purely Minimal design.

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