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.
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.
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.
Philip Johnson's Glass House - New Canaan CT
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.
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
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.
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.
From the front you can see how
clean and slick the design is. Minimal detail, beautifully proportioned.
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.
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.
Port Credit Ontario
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.
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
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.
Glass block is used to open up the interior space
of the house.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
St. Catharines Ontario
Toronto City Hall is a good example of a late
International style building. Viljo Revell of Helsinki was the
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.
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,
Green, Patricia and Maurice H., Wray, Sylvia and
Robert, from West Flamborough's storied
past, The Waterdown East-Flamborough Heritage Society,
MacRae, Marion, and Anthony
Ancestral Roof: Domestic Architecture of Upper Canada.
Toronto: Clarke, Irwin, 1963.
Pendergrast, Mark .
A History of the Human Love Affair with Reflection.
Basic Books, New York, 2003
information on Internationall architecture in specific areas within
Ontario there are some very good books listed under the About