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The History of Western Architecture After World War II
03 Dec 2009, 16:53

The History of Western Architecture

After World War II.

Initially, the leading interwar architects of modernism, Gropius, Mies van der Rohe, Le Corbusier, Wright, and Aalto, continued to dominate the scene. In the United States, Gropius, with Breuer, introduced modern houses to Lincoln, Mass., a Boston suburb, and formed a group, The Architects Collaborative, the members of which designed the thoroughly modern Harvard Graduate Center (1949-50). Mies became dean of the department of architecture at the Illinois Institute of Technology at Chicago in 1938 and designed its new campus. Crown Hall (1952-56) marked the apogee of this quarter-century project.

Not all the immigrants remained in the United States. Aalto, whose work first appeared on the American scene in the Finnish pavilion at the New York World's Fair and again in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Baker Dormitory (1947-49), returned to Finland. The European who might have contributed most was Le Corbusier. The United Nations buildings at New York City, for which he was a member of a 10-man commission headed by New York architect Wallace Harrison, is a token of the new forms he might have suggested for American cities. His plan for rebuilding Saint-Dié, Fr. (1945), was the inspiration for many city-planning proposals made after mid-century.

Beginning with private houses by Hood, Lescaze, Edward Stone, Neutra, Gropius, and Breuer during the 1930s, American Modernism gradually supplanted the historical styles in a range of building types, including schools and churches; for example, Eliel Saarinen's simple, brick Christ Lutheran Church (1949-50) at Minneapolis, Minn.

After World War II, big industry turned to Modern architects for distinctive emblems of prestige. The Connecticut General Life Insurance Company hired one of the largest modern firms, Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill, to design their new decentralized headquarters outside Hartford, Conn. (1955-57). Lever Brothers turned to the same firm for New York City's Lever House (1952), in which the parklike plaza, glass-curtain walls, and thin aluminum mullions realized the dreams of Mies and others in the 1920s of freestanding crystalline shafts. Designed by Eliel Saarinen's son Eero, the General Motors Technical Center (1948-56) at Warren, Mich., was compared with Versailles in its extent, grandeur, and rigorous conformity to an austere, geometric aesthetic of Miesian forms. The Harrison and Abramovitz's tower for the Aluminum Company of America at Pittsburgh (1954) advertised its own product, as did Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill's Inland Steel Building at Chicago (1955-57). Perhaps the most chaste of all was the Seagram Building (1954-58) at New York City, designed by Mies and Philip Johnson. Wright alone avoided the rectilinear geometry of these office buildings. In 1955 he saw his Price Tower rise at Bartlesville, Okla., a richly faceted, concrete and copper fulfillment of the St. Mark's Tower he had designed more than 25 years earlier.

About 1952 there was a significant shift within Modernism from what had come to be called Functionalism, or the International Style, toward a monumental Formalism. There was increasing interest in highly sculptural masses and spaces, as well as in the decorative qualities of diverse building materials and exposed structural systems. Wright's Guggenheim Museum is a manifestation of this aesthetic. Those who had focused their attention on the rectilinear portions of Le Corbusier's Savoye House and Unité d'Habitation apartments at Marseille (1946-52), tended to ignore the plastic sculpture on the roofs of those buildings; to such people, Le Corbusier's highly individual buildings at Chandigarh, India (begun 1950), and the cavernous space in the lyrical church of Notre-Dame-du-Haut at Ronchamp, Fr., seemed to be examples of personal whimsy. Pier Luigi Nervi in Italy gave structural integrity to the complex curves and geometry of reinforced-concrete structures, such as the Orbetello aircraft hangar (begun 1938) and Turin's exposition hall (1948-50). The Spaniard Eduardo Torroja, his pupil Felix Candela, and the American Frederick Severud followed his lead. Essentially, each attempted to create an umbrella roof the interior space of which could be subdivided as required, such as Torroja's grandstand for the Zarzuela racetrack in Madrid (1935). Mies constructed rectilinear versions of such a space in Crown Hall and in his Farnsworth House at Plano, Ill. (1946-50), while Philip Johnson allowed a single functional unit, the brick-cylinder utility stack, to protrude from his precise glass house at New Canaan, Conn. (1949). Other designers used curvilinear structural geometry, best indicated by Matthew Nowicki's (1910-49) sports arena at Raleigh, N.C. (1952-53), in which two tilted parabolic arches, supported by columns, and a stretched-skin roof enclose a colossal space devoid of interior supports. In 1949 Nowicki had challenged Louis Sullivan's precept, form follows function, with another, form follows form, a dictum that freed architecture from programmatic expression. Hugh Stubbins' congress hall, at Berlin (1957), and Eero Saarinen's Trans World Airlines terminal at John F. Kennedy International Airport, New York City (1956-62), were outstanding examples of these dynamically monumental, single-form buildings the geometric shapes and silhouettes of which were derived from mathematical computation and technological innovation. International competitions for the opera house at Sydney (1957) and a government centre at Toronto (1958) were won by the Dane Jørn Utzon and the Finn Viljo Revell, respectively. Both architects were exponents of the new monumentalism.

These designs posed problems in structural engineering and in scale, but many architects, such as the American Minoru Yamasaki in the McGregor Building for Wayne State University at Detroit (1958), attempted to make structure become decorative, while the decorative screen, as used by Edward Durell Stone at the U.S. embassy in New Delhi (1957-59), offered a device for wrapping programmatic interiors within a rich pattern of sculptured walls.

Mexico and South America broke their bonds to French, Spanish, and Portuguese academic design during the 1930s. Le Corbusier's influence became partially strong in Brazil, where the Brazilian Oscar Niemeyer and other architects designed the Corbusier-inspired Ministry of Education and Public Health at Rio de Janeiro (1937-42). Brazil's Lúcio Costa, Affonso Reidy, and Niemeyer; Mexico's Felix Candela, Juan O'Gorman, José Villagran Garcia, and Luis Barragán; and Venezuela's Carlos Raúl Villanueva were the vanguard of Latin-American architectural modernism. Whole communities such as Caracas and São Paulo essentially were rebuilt during the 1950s, and new cities, such as Brasília, the capital of Brazil, and "university cities," such as those of Mexico and Venezuela, were conceived and erected. In Mexico there was avid support for modern design in buildings such as the Presidente Juárez housing at Mexico City (1950) by Mario Pani and Salvador Ortega. In Colombia, after World War II, enormous strides were made in thin-shelled reinforced-concrete construction. In Brazil, dramatic complexes were erected from concrete by Reidy, such as the school and gymnasium at Pedregulho housing at Rio de Janeiro (1953) and Rio's Museum of Modern Art (1960-67).

After 1959, office buildings for administrative headquarters of large corporations followed the 1955-57 suburban-campus model of Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill's Connecticut General Life Insurance Company or, if urban, the towerlike form, often with strong structural expression (Torre Velasca, Milan, by Belgiojoso, Peressutti, and Rogers, 1959) or the slab form, usually emphasizing glazed walls (Mannesmann Building, Düsseldorf, by Paul Schneider-Esleben, 1959), but they rarely achieved an urban composition such as the 1962 Place Ville-Marie, built at Montreal by the Chinese-born American architect I.M. Pei.

Air transportation, trade exhibitions, and spectator sports summoned the often awesome spatial resources of modern technology. The stadiums for the 1964 Olympics at Tokyo by Tange Kenzo, Rome's Pallazzi dello Sport done by Nervi (1960), Eero Saarinen's Dulles International Airport at Chantilly, Va. (1958-62), and Chicago's exposition hall, McCormick Place, by C.F. Murphy and Associates (1971) are examples of the colossal spaces achieved in reinforced concrete or steel and glass. International exhibitions seldom offered comparable architecture. At the New York World's Fair (1964) the Spanish pavilion by Javier Carvajal and the Japanese pavilion by Maekawa Kunio were buildings of merit. There were also several notable examples at Montreal's Expo 67: the West German pavilion by Frei Otto, the U.S. pavilion by R. Buckminster Fuller, and the startling Constructivist apartment house, Habitat 67, by the Israeli Moshe Safdie, in association with David, Barott, and Boulva, whose 158 precast-concrete apartment units were hoisted into place and post-tensioned to permit dramatic cantilevers and terraces.

World's fairs continued to provide a setting for occasionally distinguished examples of modern structures that demonstrated innovations in building technology.

The architecture of South and Southeast Asia as well as of Japan has been decisively influenced by Western architects, particularly Le Corbusier. The leading figure in Japan was Tange Kenzo, whose many powerful buildings of rough concrete include the Peace Centre, Hiroshima (1949-55), and St. Mary's Roman Catholic Cathedral at Tokyo (1965). His disciples included the so-called Metabolism Group, led by Kikutake Kiyonori, Maki Fumihiko, and Otaka Masato. Their work, characterized by a dynamic science-fiction quality expressive of fluidity and change, culminated in the Osaka Expo 1970, with constructions such as Tange's giant space frame, known as the Theme Pavilion, and Kikutake's Landmark Tower. (see also Index: Japanese art)

Much significant architecture in the postwar period was sponsored by cultural centres and educational institutions, such as Berlin's philharmonic hall (1963) by Hans Scharoun. Louis I. Kahn, in his design for the Richards Medical Research Building (1960), gave the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia a linear programmatic composition of laboratories, each served by vertical systems for circulating gases, liquids, and electricity. Paul Rudolph's art and architecture building (1963) at Yale University in New Haven, Conn., gathered its studios, galleries, classrooms, and light wells on 36 interpenetrating levels distributed over six stories. The Morse and Stiles colleges (1962), also at Yale, were designed by Eero Saarinen and set a new standard for multiple-entry urban dormitories. Even the traditionalist campuses of New England preparatory schools gained modern architecture, such as the art building and science building at Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass., by Benjamin A. Thomson (1963) and the dormitories at St. Paul's School in Concord, N.H., by Edward Larrabee Barnes (1965).

The innovations in educational architecture were international. In England, distinctive educational architecture arrived at Hunstanton Secondary School, Norfolk (1949-54), by Peter and Alison Smithson. An example of what became known as the New Brutalism, this building was influenced by Mies van der Rohe. Most New Brutalist buildings, however, owed more to Le Corbusier's late work--for example, the gray concrete masses of Denys Lasdun's University of East Anglia, Norfolk (1962-68)--while James Stirling's History Faculty, Cambridge (1964-67), brought a neo-Constructivist element to the Brutalist tradition. Canada gained the Central Technical School Arts Center by Robert Fairfield Associates (1964) and Scarborough College by John Andrews, with Page and Steele (1966), both at Toronto. Italian innovative educational architecture is exemplified in Milan's Instituto Marchiondi (1959) by Vittoriano Viganò. Led by disciples of Le Corbusier, the Japanese built Waseda University (1964), which was designed by Katsuo Ardo, and Maekawa Kunio's Gakushuin University (1964), both in Tokyo.

Some of the new educational settings proposed solutions to what was undoubtedly the mid-20th century's greatest problem, its urban environment. The high-rise, dense campus at Boston University by José Luis Sert and the skyscraper towers of MIT's earth-sciences building (1964) by I.M. Pei, as well as Harvard's behavioral sciences building (1964) by Minoru Yamasaki, were imaginative single buildings responding to urban circumstances. The Air Force Academy at Colorado Springs, Colo., and the Chicago Circle Campus of the University of Illinois (1965), both by the firm of Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill with Walter A. Netsch as the principal designer (1956), and the Salk Institute for Biological Studies at La Jolla, Calif., by Louis I. Kahn (1966), all offered intimations of a new city built around a cultural, educational centre. (see also Index: urban planning)

No comparable concentration of intensive, harmonious urban architecture was achieved for cities, even though, after 1955, the building of new cities produced some remarkable examples such as Vällingby, Swed.; Brasília, the new capital of Brazil; Cumbernauld, in Scotland; and Chandigarh, in India; and some remarkable renovations of old cities, as in Eastwicks in Philadelphia (Reynolds Metals Co.; plans by Constantinos Doxiadis, 1960) and Constitution Plaza in Hartford, Conn. (Charles DuBose, with Sasaki, Walker & Associates 1964), and New York's Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts (1962). By this time, however, it was beginning to be felt that the application of Modern movement principles had caused visual damage to historic cities and had also failed to create a humane environment in new cities. It was at this moment that the postmodernist era began. (A.B.-B./ D.J.Wa.)

Copyright 1994-1999 Encyclopædia Britannica


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