Thursday, December 9, 2010

iar 222. point : explorations.

The search for "modern" continues.

This search defines the final unit of our study: Explorations. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, artists and designers alike were searching for a new style to characterize a new century. Art movements such as post-impressionism, fauvism, cubism, expressionism, and futurism provided ample inspiration for architects and designers. A short-lived design movement known as Art Nouveau emphasized curving lines, asymmetry, dynamism, and a break from historical precedents. Victor Horta's Hotel Tassel is regarded as the quintessential Art Nouveau interior. Art Deco developed in the "era of the automobile," a world where the ideas of motion and speed were valued. It also developed in response to the "glitz and glam" of the Hollywood scene.

Art Deco and Art Nouveau were new and edgy, but to certain designers of the early 20th century, they did not constitute good design. The Bauhaus School was created in 1919 by Walter Gropius. The goal was simple: form determined by function alone, and the elimination of all ornamentation and historical references. From the Bauhaus School, International Modernism (as it was called) developed with the same goals of design. Designer practitioners included Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Le Corbusier. From the beginning, this form of modernism was criticized for lacking warmth and consideration for human needs. Many of these structures failed to take context into consideration, and their large expanses of glass trapped heat from the sun, raising interior temperatures to an uncomfortable degree. Moreover, the idea of "good design for all" was not quite the case. The reality was closer to "good design for all … who could afford it."

Modernism developed a softer, more expressive side in the works of design practitioners such as Eero Saarinen, Alvar Aalto, Hans Scharoun, John Utzon, Bertrand Goldberg, and others.

Reactions and challenges to modernism were bound to follow. The vein of Historic Preservation busied itself with restoration projects on structures such as the Louvre in Paris and Monticello in Charlottesville, VA.

"High Tech" architecture is perhaps best represented by the Lloyd building in London and the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, by Richard Rogers and Renzo Piano. These structures are famous for having their "guts" displayed on the outside for all to see. Roth describes the Pompidou center as "an immense rectangular box of glass, with all of its hardware pulled to the exterior so that the interior could be a series of huge Miesian universal spaces." He continues, "The exterior, therefore, is a maze of color-coded air ducts, electrical conduits, and Plexiglas-enclosed escalators. It is an exoskeletal building, with the skeleton made up of exposed steel members … It is architecture-as-machine elevated to the most prestigious cultural level" (Roth, 574-577).

In contrast, Regionalism sought to reintroduce the importance of context into the design of structures, demonstrated by buildings such as Hassan Fathy's market building for a new agricultural settlement in Egypt (1967).

The reactions to modernism are many. Roth discusses a long list of late-twentieth-century architectural styles loosely described as "postmodern." To give an idea of its diversity, this list consists of Late Modernism, Sculpted (Shaped) Modernism, High Tech, Megastructures, Ironic Classicism, Populist Modernism, Latent Classicism, Fundamental or Essentialist Classicism, Canonic Classicism, Creative Postmodern Traditionalism, Neoexpressionism, Deconstructivism, Critical Regionalism, and Green or Sustainable Architecture.

It strikes me that in all our units of study, the theme of each phase of design history is essentially one of uncertainty, of searching for what is proper, true, and desirable. The Theories unit introduced the various ways in which the subject of design has been approached. In the Foundations unit, the ancient civilizations of Egypt, Greece, and Rome all differed from one another in their outlook on life, which was reflected in the materialization of different design principles. Alternatives presented a struggle between classical and non-classical. The theme of "searching" is especially pronounced in the later units, namely Reflections and Explorations. The 19th century's numerous historical revivals juxtaposed with a proliferation of new building technologies created a dilemma of design. By the beginning of the 19th century, with the development of Art Nouveau, what can be called "modernism" had begun. Of course, modernism is a highly relative idea, a fact which entails a continual searching. This concept can be seen in M. C. Escher's 1953 lithograph print entitled "Relativity":

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