Sunday, February 25, 2007

Emergence of Modernism

"In art, architecture, and design it became increasingly evident that the traditions that had served past ages were no longer relevant to this modern world."(Pile, 323) Some of those traditions which architects were doing away with included the revivialism found in the Eclectic Movement. After the eclectic movement ran its course, it was a relief to find a new frontier of design through Modernism. The four people who were the forerunners of this movement included Frank Lloyd Wright, Mies van der Rohe, Le Corbusier, and Walter Gropius. All these designers stirved for originality through geometric forms straying away from the excessive decoration of previous styles such as the Victorian Era.(104) In particular, Frank Lloyd Wright is credited for the earliest successes of this movement through creating the Prarie-style house form. In this style, the long horizontal line creates emphasis accented by short verticals while the interior plan was very open. FLW had many commonalites among his designs including of square skylights, hanging light fixtures, and stained-glass windows of geometric form, commonalites which would surface later in European art and design a few years later. (Pile, 325) In fact, Wright himself expressed that he was the only inventor of modernism insisting others were just imitators.(Pile, 326) Also, Wright's was the first in the modernist movement to have a house plan which was so open and centered around the chimney, and yet the Farnsworth House by Mis van der Rohe was completely open and situated around a central island. The book even makes other allusions to the fact that this imitation may be true when it compares FLW's Gale House to Robert van't Hoff's Dutch huis ter Heide in Utrecht. So my question: Was Frank Lloyd Wright the only inventor of modernism and the other European designers just imitators? Or did the other prominent designers such as Mies and Le Corbusier have original ideas despite their knowledge of FLW's designs published in De Stijl?(Pile, 327)
Photo taken from:

The Emergence of Modernism

“Modernism is the name given to the new forms that appeared in all of the arts- in painting, sculpture, architecture, music, and literature. Four men are regarded as pioneers in the modernism in design. They defined new directions with such clarity and force that they can be thought of as the originators of the ‘modern movement.’ (Pile 323)”

In the emergence of modernism, four men really stand out as the “instigators” of the movement: Walter Gropius, Ludwig van der Rohe, Le Corbusier, and Frank Lloyd Wright. These men paved the way for architects and artists by manipulating forms and lines into ideas that had never before been possible. Thanks to newfound technology (such as reinforced concrete) and yet another wave of displeasure with gaudy decoration, simplicity and abstraction became all the rage. But throughout this movement, another movement has really begun to take off- one that Pile neglects to really mention in his account of the emergence of modernism. For the first time in the history of design, notable designers are also women.

One such designer would be the indisputable genius of Eileen Gray, who is noticeably absent in Pile’s account of modernism. She gets her start doing lacquer screens and furniture as an apprentice, and quickly moves to furniture and rug design. One particularly famous piece would be her cigarette table (seen above), which is still commonly featured in design magazines. Her long and successful career culminated with her house, E.1027- which inspired Modernist pioneer Le Corbusier so much that he not only bought a neighboring lot, he fixated and eventually occupied E.1027! He even attempted to add his own touch to the house- eight massive murals done in Gray’s “style.” Naturally, Gray was horrified.

This is not to rant on Pile for not including women designers in his analysis of the Modernist movement, or even to chastise Le Corbusier for degrading Eileen Gray’s already acclaimed design. Rather, it is to pose a question. In a profession so markedly dominated by women (the profession of interior designer, not architect), how many will actually be remembered or celebrated? Will future movements be marked solely by achievements in architecture as well, or will interiors and their designers also be able to create and define future movements without being incorporated into architecture? Furthermore, where will women be in the scheme of all of this?

This blog is intended for the interior design students in the college of design at the University of Kentucky. It was created with the intent to present students with information, providing them with a channel for contemplation and discussion.