international style // DESIGN HISTORY

The curvilinear, natural forms of Art Nouveau gave way to much more structured design starting in the 1920’s with the Bauhaus movement.  In the same way the Beaux-Arts style centered around the L’Ecole des Beaux Arts, the Bauhaus movement centered around the German art school of the same name.  Founded by Walter Gropius in Weimar, Germany in 1919, the school was abruptly closed in 1933 after moves to Dessau and then Berlin under pressure from the Nazis.  Because of the war many Bauhaus artists moved to other parts of Europe and America, developing a new movement grounded in Bauhaus to be known as the International Style.

The main characteristics of International Style will sound familiar to anyone with a preference for contemporary modern: rectilinear buildings, light colors, large open interior spaces (as opposed to smaller rooms), limited ornamentation and a feeling of weightless structure.  They are also structures that are outside of time and place.  A Mies van der Rohe in Chicago won’t be much different than a Mies van der Rohe in Berlin.  This is probably the most criticized aspect of International Style, and of contemporary modern design as a whole, that these structures sit outside of their place rather than celebrate and reflect it.  But that’s a discussion for another time, this is a long one, so let’s get to those comparisons!


Mies van der Rohe skyscraper + San Francisco skyscraper

Mies van der Rohe started life and his design career in Germany.  He was a member of the Bauhaus movement before World War II, acting as head of the school from 1930-1933.  van der Rohe fled to the United States during the war and became an important designer in Chicago, where he was known for his skyscrapers.  This 1922 drawing is an example of the van der Rohe style.  Our modern building is built with “skin and bones” construction.  Glass wraps around the entire structure, even at the corners and between floors. Half of the second floor is elevated on columns, leading into the main floor lobby, which was a common van der Rohe feature.



Barcelona Pavilion + Loft Bauhaus

Mies van der Rohe designed the Barcelona Pavilion for the 1929 Barcelona International Exhibition.  As implied by its name, this home features four key elements of modern architecture: open plan, piers, free façade and ribbon windows. A modern design change is that the structure sits within its surroundings instead of hovering above them.


Schindler Chace House + Glass House in the Garden

International Style also came to the United States, with some designers following the Arts & Crafts movement in Southern California.  Rudolph Schindler was on of these architects.  Austrian born, Schindler worked under Frank Lloyd Wright, drawing both Barnsdall and Hollyhock while Wright was in Japan.  Looking at his Schindler Chace house, it is hard to believe it dates back to 1922. Originally designed for two families, the influence Japanese architecture had on Schindler is clear. 

This modern design also evokes Japanese design of a building in a zen garden, but uses the more industrial exposed steel beams and concrete floor.


Van Doesburg & Mondrian Paintings + Bathroom Remodel

The De Stijl architecture, painting and furniture design movement turned away from the curves and natural forms of Art Nouveau, instead focused on, as Piet Mondrian stated, “expression in the abstraction of form and color…in the straight line and the clearly defined primary color.”  De Stijl are easily recognized by their horizontal and vertical lines and rectangles in bright, primary colors and black, white and grey.  

The tile designs in this bathroom are reminiscent of the de Stijl movement’s use of white background highlighted by primary colors, vertical and horizontal movements and that the colored blocks appear to “float” in the white space that surrounds them.


Villa Savoye + Platypus Bend House

Along with Mies van der Rohe, Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier is one of the most important modern designers.  He currently has seventeen projects in seven countries on the list of UNESCO World Heritage sites.  Le Corbusier’s 5 points of design were pilotis – reinforced concrete columns that bear the structural load to lift the bulk of the structure off the ground and allow for a free façade, or one with no supporting walls. The interior had an open floor plan, long ribbon windows and a rooftop garden.

This modern Australian home is reminiscent of Le Corbusier’s design, including the cisterns on the lower level which mimic the cylinder on the roof at Villa Savoye. Also features an open floor plan and floor to ceiling windows – although it has a pitched and not flat roof.


Unité D’Habitation + Karaka Bay House

Le Corbusier’s buildings, like the Unité D’Habitation were heavy concrete, asymmetrical structures where the mass of the structure was lifted off the ground. This contemporary home in Auckland shares these attributes, as well as windows placed back and at angles from the façade, much like Le Corbusier used in his Notre Dame du Haut Chapel.


E-1027 Table + Bijou Round Cocktail Table

Haven’t heard of Eileen Gray?  Well you’ve likely seen some of her iconic furniture designs, some of which are still manufactured today (like our example, the E-1027).  Gray was Irish-born and a fan of Charles Rennie Mackintosh.  She moved to Paris after graduating from art school and after a short time back in London, settled permanently in Paris.  While she is often known for her lacquer work and collaboration with Seizo Sugawara, she also designed furniture and was a fan of chrome details.  

While brass has been the metal of choice for interiors for the past few years, this chrome-plated table with marble top calls back to Gray’s iconic side table design.

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