Architecture the 1920s & 1930s – the birth of Modernism

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Bauhaus featured image
Bauhaus featured image

The radical architects of the post-World War One years aimed for simplicity above all else. Buildings were reduced to simple geometric outlines, and prefabricated components were used to make building labour easier where possible. The style became known as modernism since these were buildings for a new era.

Theoretical School

The Bauhaus design school in Germany was at the epicentre of modernism. It was formed in 1919 by German-born architect Walter Gropius (1883 – 1969) to train artists in industrial design, but it became notable for its students’ beliefs. One of the key Bauhaus ideals was that form should follow function or that an object’s or building’s appearance should be determined by its use or purpose.

Simple Flavors

The work of famous modernist architects such as Le Corbusier, Walter Gropius, and German-born Mies van der Rohe was certainly frill-free. Buildings had flat roofs, prefabricated aluminium window frames (a cheaper alternative to labour-intensive wood), and concrete walls. The form was very harsh, with geometric elements like cubes and rectangles dominating.

Walter Gropius
UNITED STATES – CIRCA 1982: stamp printed by United States of America, shows Gropius House, Lincoln, by Gropius, circa 1982

Machines that allow people to live

Buildings had become as sleek and utilitarian as the machine, which had become a postwar icon of speed and progress. The machine was even a symbol of democracy because mass production meant that items could be created more cheaply, making them more accessible to a wider range of people.

Le Corbusier

Le Corbusier image in black and white
Le Corbusier image in black and white

The machine fascinated one of the most radical architects of the day, the Frenchman Le Corbusier (1887 – 1965), who famously remarked, “A house is a machine for living in.” He made extensive use of reinforced concrete in the construction of his structures. This eliminated the need for interior walls to support the weight of the floors and roofs, allowing for large windows and open-plan interiors. Read More >

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Gaff, J. (2000).20th century Design:  20s & 30s between the wars. Gareth Stevens Publishing.

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