Even though Bauhaus, a German design school 3 (Operated from 1919-33 By founder Walter Gropius, then by Hans Mayer and Ludwig Mies der Van Rohe) which had profoundly influenced arts and architecture had been more concerned with social aspects of design; nonetheless, International style soon became a symbolism of Capitalism. To every (well, most of) architectural students or architects, living in the world of Le Corbusier would be like a trip to Narnia (whether you like it or not). We’ve heard so much about him, his creation and his legacy.
His works stand today, still looking as “modern” as he intended to. Thus, proving that the concept of never be “out of style” in his modern buildings true. Whether do you agree with his theory or not, you have to give the man some credits, remembering that he had achieved all of what seems today as “normal” in the first half of the 20th century and most of the buildings nowadays inevitably had some of his influences more or less. According to his manifesto, “a house is the machine for living” in the sense that should have been governed by calculations and “standards”.
Le Corbusier was fascinated with the idea of “mass production” (remembering that this was in the early 20th century), factories fascinated him with their simple forms and pure functions as with automobiles which were mass produced and designed to fit a certain standard. To achieve the utmost perfection, there must be a certain standards which derives from various calculations and experiments, Le Corbusier believes that all humans have a certain standards and are physically the same, he went further to the point of “objectifying” his name from “Charles-Edouard Jeanneret” to Le Corbusier, “Le” means “the”.
The reason that his buildings are all so minimal is because he believed in the true pure primary forms, which he believed that “they can be clearly appreciated”. Gothic buildings, are not true architecture, “the styles are a lie”. Nevertheless, architectures from the past that he did admire were the pyramids, Pont du Gard and also the Parthenon all of which he stated, to have been derived from some standards and precise calculations.
Thus, it almost all of his buildings, the simple pure geometrical forms became the most recognizable feature of his architecture as eventually what we recognize in most modern building nowadays. Playtime – A Film by Jacques Tati Besides from moving to a little town in Northern India called “Chandigargh” where his “Radiant city” had been made into reality, a film by Jacques Tati, “Playtime” offer you quite a good idea of what would it be like if his creation and principles were made into reality. The film displays the struggle of an out-of-town man hoping to meet up with a man in Le Corbusier’s version of Paris.
Here, the director’s point of view towards Corbusier was clear, that it would be a blunt, grey, boring society where everything, everywhere and everyone would sort of look the same. The modern standards and mass-produced society would erases identity to the point that we only recognize it’s Paris by the old French lady selling flowers at the street corner. I personally admired Le Corbusier who came up with all of these things that today, seems ordinary. We have to admit that without some of his theory, the world would be different today.
However I think that the radiant city is a bit too far, hence, I agree to Tati’s viewpoint presented on the film. At first glance, it looks aesthetically pleasing with everything in order, nice modern high rises and the glass and steel structure but as we watched the film, I started to feel the coldness, lack of warmth in the society, in the environment. It leads to the point of becoming a bit haunting, when Hawaii, New York and London would practically look the same and we couldn’t distinguish the nationalities of people without hearing them speak various languages.
I do appreciate Le Corbusier for his contribution to today’s architecture, his theory was inspiring and I do appreciate and admire his creation of the human’s standard, however, his creations should only be kept in a decent scale. As shown in Playtime, the “Radiant City” lacks warmth and identity; to the point that it was so honest that in return I felt that it decreases some of my imaginative thoughts. We do value our freedom of choice so why should we set against our individuality and become some sort a mass-produced product.
Mies van der Rohe, to us architects (or to-be-architects), is the name that cannot be forgotten. To those not so familiar with the topic, he is more recognized for his famous saying, “Less is more”and indeed, that is what he strived for, minimalistic, simplest, the “least as possible” forms. Mies was unarguably one of the masters of modernism; he has such character and charisma that someone as “bourgeois” as Adolf Hitler asked him to design the Nazi building for him. Mies was one of the modernists, those that prefer the glass box, the simplest of forms and the use of honest materials.
Like many architects of his time that worshipped the “international style”, Mies had written a rule amongst his followers, basically to be as far away from the ornamented, decorative architectural elements that remind him of the bourgeois as much as possible. To understand this fully, these architects avoids the ornaments of the previous style because their ideal design was the house for the “working class”, where everything supposed to be functional, representing the true purpose of the materials.
The idea of the “worker” house is that it would be pure, simple and functional, intentionally made for the workers, and above all of the things, non-bourgeois. However, this idea of making the “worker house” for the workers is quite ironic, when Mies fled Germany to create a new era in the U. S. he did bring over his famous style, and many of his “modernist” buildings are well known and are still the landmarks until today. Still, his intention was the same; functional, houses for the working class but Mies had somehow got over boarded and forgot his true intention as he design more and more buildings.
To explain this, Mies had became more and more well known that most of his clients are the wealthy people instead, in the other word, it was the bourgeois themselves who were living’s in Mies’ non-bourgeois buildings. Mies was famous for his small details and his preciseness, to the point that in the order to achieve that ultimate minimalist effect, it would actually takes more time and money to make his creation looks absolutely flawless.
For example, his famous “Fransworth House”, needed extra money and labor to construct his flawless, steel floated foundation; the pieces and bolts needed to be cut and grinded to perfection, resulting in a more expensive piece, that only, the bourgeois were able to afford. Another one of his famous building, the Seagram building in New York also exemplify similar contradictory, first he uses bronze-tinge glass, to suit the liquor company, yet it’s a kind of “decoration”, but Mies got away with this saying, “bronze is a natural material”.
Also, his well known use of “I beams” on the side of his buildings was a sort of “decoration” as well, since all of the steel beams inside needed to be cast in concrete to prevent fire, Mies felt the need that his structure needed to express the “true materials” thus, he stuck the I beams on the exterior of his building as for it to scream, “hey, look at me, I’m here inside the concrete”. Zaha Hadid, love her or hate her, you have to give the woman some credits since she was the first woman to receive the Pritzker Price and is arguably one of the most influential architect of today.
But what is the architecture of today? What is the style of the future? I believed that most of us would recognize the flowing, organic buildings of Zaha Hadid but few would be able to label the style in which many claimed to be the style of today’s architecture, the “Parametric” style. Known as “the great new style after modernism”, parametric style is all about “articulation” along with the idea that society is made up of differences, different forces influences us in different ways, shaped us into different forms and therefore sparks different reactions.
It is a also a reaction to oppose the mass produced idea of “Fordism”, which leads on to the word “Post-Fordism” which Zaha’s partner, Patric Schumacher uses to describe the style. Despite the almost random “freeform” of Zaha’s buildings, the different curves represented the different forces of society and as you travel through her buildings, these forces changed, shaping/ manipulating us as we moved through it.
The key to achieve these almost impossible forms is the use of the computer program to generate formulas and calculate to the exact pieces that will, when constructed together, create that free form, flowing buildings. Thus, this represent a contradiction, the forms of Zaha’s buildings might seems flowing and free, because it was all about the differences in each building that in a whole, flow together in harmony, just like the society that made up of differences but as a whole operates as one.
Yet, when it comes to the way her buildings are to be built, in involved one of the most complicated, precise and laborious process as each piece of her buildings are unique and different, meaning that if one piece doesn’t exactly followed that pattern, in other word, if that piece does not come as perfect as planned, the whole system will fail and a building will not be complete.
To just give you a better idea of how notoriously laborious the creation of Zaha’s buildings are, once an engineer has to make 7000 sections of a particular building in the order to understand the structure because it is indeed, different at 7000 points of the building. Master Plan of Singapore I appreciated her contribution to the architectural world; she has really brought the parametric into the light, and made it quite well known.
I like the flow and the free form of her buildings since it has never been done in the past before, However, I felt that the complexity involved in the creation of her buildings works against her as it sparks the question; Do we really need to do this after all? Since her curves and free forms does not contributes to the main functions of the building after all, do we really need to go through all of this troubles in the order to get the aesthetics and the meaning of the building just right?
Perhaps, good architecture is not only about inventive, exciting forms but also more importantly, the experience of the building and how it uses specific context of the site, the environment and the habitants to create an “experience”. Nevertheless, like I said before, it is non-arguable that Zaha has become such an influential part of today’s architecture and thus, deserves all of the credits she received.
Then came along architects like Saarinen, who dares to break through the straight lines and play with curves successfully, what is particularly interesting is that these curves are not random, they are a part of the concept, they do have a purpose, they’re not for ornamentation. Then there’re also Louis Kahn, whose architecture used the past as inspiration not abandoned it, I’ve found his concept to be inspiring as a person who is also fascinated with history.
I like how his building does not only occupy people nor that it’s a machine, for example, the National Assembly Building in Dhaka, Bangladesh, which fully reflected on the Bangladesh identity, I feel that a good building should does that, it needs to care, about the context, about the occupants. Another one of my favorite, Alvar Aalto, I liked how he purposely captured the Finnish spirit in his work, how he uses local material in the order to goves out a cultural ambience which build a connection between his architecture and occupants.
Thus these elements does have meanings, they do exhibits a sort of function like the ripple ceiling in the Viipuri Library, which were there for acoustic but also became a dominant aesthetical features and ultimately, the identity of the architecture as well. I’ll admit that I do prefer this new style that the international style as I feel that it requires more creativity, more exploration and the outcome is much wider in terms of concepts and of course, the aesthetics.
I’ve mention before that besides from the “white gods”, those that claimed themselves modernist were basically conforming, copying from the BOOK, I think that architecture is about inventing, always creating a better way, learn from the old to improve the new. I admired these people to dare break the restriction of the modern architecture, dare to invites curves back into architecture, to me, that shows the ability of a great architect; the ability to always think of the future without abandoning the past.
Joedicke, Jurgen. A History of Modern Architecture. London, 1963. Print.
Philip Jodidio. 100 Contemporary Architects, 2 Vol. London: Taschen, 2013. Print.