Summary: the Modern Movement and Characterisation of the Modernism

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The Modern Movement established in Paris and was the most significant and ethnic movement of the 20th Century. In England, this movement was fully developed in late 1920’s. Modernism was all about improving quality of life and making it easier for us by presenting new ideas and technology. A big aspect of modernism was reducing the use of extreme decorations. Many early modern designers were committed to changing society by creating a healthier and better suited design for everyone. The main aspect they concentrated on was making a practical environment that is more spacious and lighter. New materials and techniques that were introduced made this change in design possible.

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Modernism was developed in Germany by many architects and designers such as Mies Van Der Rohe and Gropius as well as many other furniture and textile designers that had a major influence. Marcel Breuer, who was most known for his furniture designs worked mainly in ‘De Stijl’ style, but began experimenting with steel and his work became classics of the modern movement. The ‘Cesca Chair’ was named after Breuer’s Daughter and remains in reproduction today. There are also cushioned versions of this chair which are available. ‘Wassily Chair’ has chrome-plated steel tubing frame and the back of it can either be canvas or leather. Breuer also designed retail stores in Zurich and Basel in 1933 for Wohnbedarf which had strong connections with Werkbund. The firm had an important role in expanding modernism as a style in Swiss design. Modern furniture and other household items were available there for the public. Karl Schmidt whom was a founder member of Werkbund and director of Deutsche of Werkstatte in collaboration with Richard Riemerschmid, a designer for Werkbund created a new factory. The main goal of this factory was to concentrate on the mass production of standard furniture and prefabricated houses.

One of the first to reject ornamentation was a famous Architect, Adolf Loos. His writings became a vital element in the development of modernism. A particular essay, ‘Ornament and Crime’ written in 1908 expresses his hatred in using decorations and strongly portrays his view of them being inadequate and that they could easily be rejected. By 1932, the Modern Movement had an international reputation. The museum of modern art in New York held an exhibition were they showed the work of Le Corbusier, Mies Van der Rohe and Walter Gropuis alongside architects from Italy, Sweden, Russia and America. In the catalogue, Henry Russell Hitchcock and Philip Johnson labelled the work as the ‘International Style’. Many architects from Europe travelled to England to practise the work and designed public, commercial buildings and domestic houses. In earlier periods, the interior was a significant aspect of a home that indicated the status of those lived within these homes. However, this changed when the modern movement become more known around the world, and the interior was no longer a reflection of how wealthy the occupied was.

The development of the Industrial Revolution had a massive influence on the modern movement. Industrial revolution began in the 18th Century and influenced agricultural societies to become more industrialised and urban. The early stages of Industrial Revolution were the introduction of modern plumbing, heating and lighting. The establishment of certain materials became very useful within design and building. For example, iron which was a substitute to wood in building and was a very stable material was used for the creation of railroad rails and engines. Iron is also very practical and low-cost and one of the major elements that were created using cast iron was stoves. They were much more beneficial than open fire places and were more efficient.

World War II had a massive impact on the modern movement. It massively reduced design work in America and within Europe; it bought design to a complete stop. Following the war, design had started to grow again as the economic health started to rise in countries. New buildings in America were being constructed due to the increase in wealth and this meant expansion of hospitals and colleges where the need for interior design was greatly needed. This lead to growth in the industry as many design companies began thriving in both Europe and America. United Kingdom began the construction of council housing as there were shortages of homes for the soldiers. Council housing was very simple but practical.

Modernism had several sub-movements. These were De Stijl, Brutalism and Minimalism. De Stijl was a movement that was founded in 1917 in Netherlands and translated into ‘The Style’. It is also known as the term ‘Neoplasticism’. It was influenced by cubist paintings which consisted of ideal geometric forms and the use of primary colours. The idea of harmony and order was indicated by the simplicity combined with the abstraction. Piet Mondrian is famous for his abstract paintings and although all his work is portrayed in paintings, his style was intended to inspire design and architecture. Composition with Red, Blue and Yellow is one of Mondrian’s abstract paintings (image on the right), which consists of different sized squares and use of primary colours that beautifully represent the simplicity and balance between the contrasting elements. Brutalism is post- World War II Style that began in 1960’s/1970’s when mainly raw and unrefined materials were used for the making of low costing housing. Brutalism is obtained from the French Term ‘Beton Brut’ and translates to ‘rough concrete’. The style mainly comprises of moulded and shaped concrete. Minimalism which is mainly an American movement emerged in late 1960’s and is represented by simple and natural forms. In Interior Design, minimalism refers to spacious rooms with minimal furniture and detail. The main elements that this style focuses on are shape, colour and texture. Colours that should be used are neutral with one bright accent colour and sharp geometric shapes and asymmetry. The feeling of freedom and simplicity and the desire for pure organisation is the main purpose of this style.

Modernism became the most dominant movement in the 20th Century for architecture and design. The style is characterised by neutral colours, flat roofs, irregular compositions and absence of ornamentation and mouldings. The modern movement was all about exploring the new techniques and materials that developed and dramatically changing design from the traditional. Many designers and artists were influencers for this style to arise.

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