Saturday, November 3, 2007

International Modernism

The phrase “international modernism” was first coined by Philip Johnson to describe the architecture of the International Style Exhibition at the New York Museum of Modern Art in 1932. The phrase is self explanatory in that it refers to the fact that, during the first half of the twentieth century, modernism had found a place for itself in the newly conceived national styles across the globe.

The design of this era (per Raizman) was founded upon the use of new materials such as glass and concrete, the implementation of new technologies for production, recognition of the factors of comfort, importance of fitness to purpose, and the respect of individual expression, Visually, (per Johnson), evident was an expression of volume instead of mass, reliance upon balance instead of preconceived symmetry, and, most definitively, the abandonment of ornament.

The emergence of international modernism can largely be credited to the shared desire of nations across the world to create their own national identity within the global community. These identities were meant to demonstrate the status and power of a nation, to its citizens and to the world, at economic, technological, cultural, and political levels. Design was used as the “commercial face” of the identities, thus resulting in national styles. In order for nations to be able to “stand their ground” within the international marketplace, their style had to be one not only of function and efficiency, but of beauty and appeal as well. Thus, the successful national styles can be described as that of a “marriage of industry and art” which, in turn offers a definition to what is modern. This expanded at an international level as a marriage of “commerce and culture”. Conclusively, international modernism was a result of national identities, shaped through modern design, to offer international appeal.

The International Style, mentioned earlier, was an extreme version of international modernism with strict Rationalist principles. The public buildings designed by Mies van der Rohe (Miles if your Josh) exemplifies this style. They are essentially floating, glass boxes and technically all look the same. They demonstrate the style’s essence in that, design solutions were indifferent to location, site, and climate. There were no historical ties, nor any vernacular qualities. They could literally be built anywhere.

Frank Lloyd Wright’s theory pertaining to the relation of the interior to the exterior was in direct opposition with that of the International Style. Site and location were central to his designs, and his ability to create architecture as the manmade extension of the land played a big part his success.

So, who wins? Was the indifference of the International Style a strength, or weakness? Is a universal solution the best solution, or a limited one? Does the anonymity of the International Style undermine it origins as a symbol for patriotism and nationalism? Give your opinion and reasoning.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Art Deco & Industrial Design, II

Industrial design emerged as a response to the lack of diversity found in products like Ford’s Model T. Although the use of Fordism did much to revolutionize production, even leading to American industrialization as “the basis for prosperity and economic recovery” in other counties, as the 1920’s loomed on it became evident that Ford’s success, built on the idea of every product being the exact same, was not going to last. People had begun to opt for used Model T’s, because they were in fact the same as the new ones being produced. A solution to this problem was found by another car manufacturer, General Motors, who began to offer their vehicles in a variety of colors and to use the principle of “planned obsolescence” which hinged off the idea that new colors or styles would be preferred over older, out-dated ones. This idea, along with heavier advertising, brought about the position of the industrial designer. More than just designing a product the industrial designer was said to fill the middle ground “between advertising’s concerns for consumer appeal and planned obsolescence, humanistic concerns with progress through improved performance and social responsibility, a desire to work closely with the engineering in the organization of a product’s working parts, and individual creative expression.” Notable industrial designers include Bel Geddes, who was hired to redesign kitchen ranges to create more consumer demand and chose to tackle the issue of ease of cleaning; and Walter Dorwin Teague, who redesigned cameras for Kodak and was able to incorporate elements of design that also served functional purposes. This idea of designing products for usefulness is seen even more with the occurrence of WWII, when it became an issue of “shortages, restrictions, and the retooling of industries” to meet production needs of the war effort.

The industrial designer started out solving the problem of “how do we sell more of a product?” but developed into a person who deals with all facets of the product from the design down to the how it effects the of quality of life. What effect do you think the development of the profession of the industrial designer has had on the world today in terms of what is produced and, also, how do you think it relates or has shaped what is required of us as interior designers.

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.