Times & Places

The "International Style"

Modernist designers in the United States and central and northern Europe created an international language of form in the 1920s and 1930s that was widely emulated around the world in the decades that followed.

In America, Frank Lloyd Wright planned buildings using a rationalist system of geometric units, structural integrity, and commonly found materials. Every component of the interior was conceived of as part of the environment and thus played an architectural role. Spatial and sculptural relationships were more important than comfort. The same was true for individuals like Gerrit Rietveld, who, as a member of the Dutch De Stijl group, stripped away all ornament except color to create buildings and furniture that resemble lines and planes floating in space.

In Germany functionalist ideas and objects were championed. Led by innovative teachers at design schools in Düsseldorf, Berlin, and Vienna, and especially at the Bauhaus school in Weimar and later Dessau, this movement promoted straightforward, functional objects that could be produced industrially for mass consumption using innovative factory techniques like mechanically bending tubular steel and pressing glass. In general, ornament was secondary to form. Although such Germanic thinking influenced the French architect Le Corbusier, the functionalist aesthetic was particularly important in the United States, which became home to numerous foreign-born designer-architects, including Walter Gropius and Mies van der Rohe, in the 1920s and 1930s.

Adapted from

Charles Venable, wall text from the 11/18/2001 to 5/20/2002 exhibition“Art Deco and Streamlined Modern Design, 1920-1950”