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Building Styles

International (1920 - 1950)

Origins --- --- International Architecture

International Style in Europe and America --- The Glass House --

--Residential----- Hamilton Residence ---- Hamilton Residence 2 2- Port Credit --- Niagara Parkway ---Toronto

----------Commercial---Toronto Dominion Bank----- Ottawa --- Mill's Library - Hamilton

- Office Building - Guelph -- Office Building - St Catharines-

-- Residences - Simcoe- Toronto City Hall--- Royal Bank

The term International Style was coined in 1932 during the first International Exhibition of Modern Architecture at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. The term covers the main stream of architecture from the mid 1920s to the end of the 1950s. The booklet describing the exhibition outlines the style as "first, a new conception of architecture as volume rather than mass. Secondly, regularity rather than axial symmetry serves as the chief means of ordering design." The Congrès Internationaux d'Architecture Moderne (1928 - 1959) also declared that "rationalization and standardization" were what was needed to get

architecture back to its real plane which was social and economic. The architects of this movement saw themselves as part of a social revolution, the society that was to emerge from the two world wars. This is the first time in the history of architecture that the housing for common people was to be regarded, and was indeed intended, as great architecture. The major exponent of the style was Le Corbusier (1887-1965). His main contribution was the idea of modular space, the floors supported by posts and the walls and windows being an extension of the interior space. Ribbon windows and free flowing movement are the result.

International Style in Europe and America

For most of Europe and North America, the nineteenth century had been an era of material and social progress. Prior to 1914 (the beginning of WWI), there had been no major conflict in Europe for more than a century. The human life span had increased dramatically. Child mortality had been conquered, and cures had been found for the many diseases that had plagued the middle ages, Leprosy and the Plague being the two most prevalent. The world had succumbed to imperialism, but slavery was all but wiped out. Christianity had spread to the far corners of the globe, but Darwin's theories were tolerated and few people died of religious conflicts, Ireland being the exception. With all this affluence came the idea of progress. With it came consumerism and mass communication. Europeans saw themselves, particularly after WWI, as being part of a whole. The European Union was established much later, but the seed for a European identity had been sown.

While reluctant to allow the distortion that high buildings would necessarily inflict on their cities, Europeans readily embraced the new materials that went into them. Sheet glass, steel and reinforced concrete proved very popular in France, Germany and Britain. With its reflectivity, different colours and transparency, sheet glass as the skin on a steel skeleton became very popular with designers, particularly Walter Gropius who started the Bauhaus, Charles-Edouard Jeanneret better known as the social critic Le Corbusier who took to architecture after a decade of writing about it, and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe who started with the Bauhaus and Walter Gropius, then escaped Nazi Germany to continue his brilliant career in America.

It was in America in 1932 that the term International Style was coined. Philip Johnson was a critic and curator of the new Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)in New York. In conjunction with an exhibition of artwork by Cezanne, Gaugin, Seurat and Van Gogh was an exhibition of architecture in New York from 1922. The catalog for the show outlined the requirements for the new style emphasizing volume, not mass, which was possible with the new machine age materials. Sleek designs that reflected the speed of the automobile, the train and the new ocean liners replaced ornament and decoration. The following year saw the first meeting of the International Congress of Modern Architecture (CIAM), a group started by Le Corbusier. The group echoed this sentiment and clarified the need for functional zoning in city planning with high buildings surrounded by green space and cultural venues. The International Style was born and soon became the most influential form of architecture of the century.

Once the International Style became established, most cities in the western world experienced a growth in tall buildings. Commercial buildings, like the Seagram Building, the IBM Plaza, the Federal Building, were mostly black. Residential buildings like Villa Savoie, Marina City were mostly white. They were characterized by a steel skeleton with a glass skin.

The Glass House

Philip Johnson's career spanned an even greater number of years and changes than Frank Lloyd Wright's and in many ways he was as influential during those years as F.L. Wright was, but he is appreciated by a completely different set of architects and critics.

Johnson founded the Department of Architecture and Design in 1930. He named the International style in 1932,and he was the first architect to win the Pritzker Architecture Prize in 1979. The Pritzker Prize is a virtual who's who of late twentieth century architecture.

Glass House

Philip Johnson's Glass House - New Canaan CT

Toronto 1967 - 1991

The TD Center in Toronto is the largest Mies van der Rohe center in the world. Built along the same lines as the Federal Building in Chicago (1964)and the Seagram building in new York (1958), this is a complex of six buildings constructed on steel and glass.



International Style for Residences

Beginning in the 1930s, after the debacle of the First World War, the International Style rejected both Nationalism and class-driven affectations for an architecture designed for every person, in every culture, in the brave new world that was getting smaller every day. The style saw a fundamental shift in attitude, largely due to the attitudes of the founders of the style, among them Corbusier, Wright, and Johnson. Prior to this, buildings had been a series of square, occasionally rounded, rooms set up within a rectangular space. Instead, Wright planned his buildings according to axes and flow, opening up the space to make full use of sunlight and natural land features. Corbusier was trained as a painter during the Cubist era. He saw

space as a collection of geometric voids that could be manipulated according to need. Johnson was frankly besotted with glass. His designs offer the minimum structural requirements needed to support the maximum expanse of glass.As a result of the work of these and other forward thinkers, buildings began to be seen as volumes of space opening up onto bright new urban spaces. International architecture was not simply a style, but an agency in creating a new society.

People who choose the clean lines of the international style often do so because they like the philosophy as much as the look.


This unusual house was designed and built in 1958. It was much publicized because it was the first building in the world made entirely of steel framing, appropriate for Hamilton which is known as the Steel City.

The roof is a gentle segmental arch shape creating an elegant barrel vault. All of the wall surfaces are windows; there is a three foot overhang over the walls. The mullions are of steel. The house is in a woodland setting, sheltered from the road to ensure privacy.

Marken was the architect.

International House

Hamilton Ontario


Also in Hamilton is this lovely little suburban home that is in a modest neighbourhood in the west end. This can be classified as "International meets Mid-Century Modern". The awnings are awsome.


International House

Hamilton Ontario


From the front you can see how clean and slick the design is. Minimal detail, beautifully proportioned.

International House

Hamilton Ontario


Many people think that changing the direction of vents for shade and light is a new thing. This detail of the front metal awnings proves that the theory and practice were well established by 1950.


International House

Hamilton Ontario

Port Credit

The Samit-Linke House built in 1939 is indicative of the strictly unadorned but nicely balanced qualities of the International style. This building is very avant-garde for its time. The front façade is symmetrical with paired windows on either side of a simple frontispiece. The windows have simple sills, no surrounds, and no cornices or lintels. The garage is hidden from the front view, nicely tucked into the front wing. The chimney is simple and elegant with a small projection on the exterior. The building is made of gold brick with a flat roof and slight rustication on the base.


International House

Port Credit Ontario

Niagara Parkway

International Style homes, like Brutalist homes, are built for people of exceptional taste who are looking for an elegant, low-maintenance home that will reflect their forward thinking. The landscaping is generally considered part of the design: formal gardens and perennial beds are usually replaced by larger hedges and bushes of extraordinary colour. This house on the Niagara Parkway is no exception.

International House

Niagara Parkway Ontario


The International Style recognizes no boundaries. Neither does this house. Walking through it is like walking through a living sculpture. One minute you are passing through a garden under a glass canopy that curves around to a door. The next you are in an equally bright sunny hallway looking through a window that may look onto a light well, another room or outside. The house is not imposed on the land but abiding in harmony with it.

The modern style portico stretches out towards the street, creating a private garden and atrium in front of the entrance. The floor plan of the house is a U shape. The public areas of the house; dining room, living room and kitchen, compose one branch while the bedrooms are on the other. The two branches are linked outside by stone walkways or inside by an extraordinary purple hallway filled with their teapot collection.

International Residence Toronto Band Sill

Toronto Ontario


Light flows through unexpected openings, from every possible direction, by the use of skylights and interior windows. Glass brick is used to add texture and light to a north facing room and the inner hallway. They planned the house to meander, not charge, through the garden and back.


International Residence Toronto

Toronto Ontario


Glass block is used to open up the interior space of the house.

International Residence Toronto

Toronto Ontario


Two buildings in downtown Simcoe show the blending of Art Deco and International style elements. The owners of the one featured on the right have painted the buildings in bright colours to accentuate their design qualities. This example is pink with deep blue sills, a blue frontispiece, and blue horizontal bands above the corner windows supporting the central decorative stepped-back parapet on the façade.

The windows have deep blue muntin bars in a geometric pattern. The building is rectangular and streamlined, the blue bands giving the façade the appearance of speed and movement.

Art Moderne House

Simcoe Ontario


Ontario International style houses are cubist in nature with flat roofs, clean lines, straight edges, and full sheets of glass. The smooth exterior surfaces created by glass in steel frames are contrasted with variously textured blocks and poured concrete.

This house has an ornate block column on the flat front porch. The room above the garage has a fully transparent glass curtain wall, and behind it the wall with the door is a fully transparent wall as well. The design elements are held together with vertical and horizontal steel bands, cantilevered overhangs, and expanses of textured surfaces.

International House

Ottawa Ontario


A public building in the International style is Mills Library in McMaster University. The patterned brickwork on the outer wall surface allows light to pass through into the library indirectly. Side windows on the bays allow even more light in.

Midway vertically is a horizontal band of unpatterned concrete to stop the bays from looking too much like columns. The roof is slightly tapered and continues the bays.

The International style was very appropriate for public buildings that were not meant to have a heavy Classical presence or give the impression of age as in the Gothic revivals. This library allows maximum diffused light into the interior which makes it perfect for reading.

International Style Public Building

Hamilton Ontario


This low-rise office building in Guelph exhibits some of the qualities Mies van der Rohe was responsible for: a box-like shape, large expanses of window with coloured spandrels, and aluminum mullions.

The rectangle is imposed on the land rather than forming to it. The building exterior is low maintenance and the interior allows for plenty of light for the office staff.


International Office

Guelph Ontario

St. Catharines

This downtown office building makes maximum use of the city block that it inhabits. Where the Edwardian office buildings had flat façades with extravagant door and window surrounds, this building has muted openings. The second floor and all those above it are cantilevered out from the first floor, effectively obscuring all of the entrances.

The façades on all sides are uniform, with mullions acting as ribs supporting alternating glass and metal panels. There is no ornament of any kind, and concentration is needed even to distinguish the windows from the wall panels.

International Office

St. Catharines Ontario


Toronto City Hall is a good example of a late International style building. Viljo Revell of Helsinki was the architect.

Toronto City Hall


Toronto Royal Bank

Another building that sees the international style slipping into the Post Modern era is the Royal Bank Building in the financial district of Toronto.

Boris Zerafa. There is more glass in this skyscraper than any other in the world according to the Royal Bank.

Frank Gehry


International Extra Reading


Blumenson, John. Ontario Architecture A Guide to Styles and Terms. 1978

Boorstin, Daniel, The Creators, Random House, New York, 1992

Brotton, Jerry, The Renaissance Bazaar, USA: Oxford University Press, 2002.

Green, Patricia and Maurice H., Wray, Sylvia and Robert, from West Flamborough's storied past, The Waterdown East-Flamborough Heritage Society, 2003

MacRae, Marion, and Anthony Adamson. The Ancestral Roof: Domestic Architecture of Upper Canada. Toronto: Clarke, Irwin, 1963.

Pendergrast, Mark . Mirror Mirror, A History of the Human Love Affair with Reflection. Basic Books, New York, 2003

For information on Internationall architecture in specific areas within Ontario there are some very good books listed under the About page.





Modillions Balconette Paired Windows Cornice Return Cornice Return Doorway Column Fenestration Frontispiece Chimney Band Barrel Vault Mullions Column Bay Window Band Spandrel Mullion