International Style FURNITURE ................Modern Style

International Style
1920s - Middle 1970s

What is the International Style?

In architecture, the term "International Style" describes a type of design that developed mainly in Germany, Holland and France, during the 1920s, before spreading to America in the 1930s, where it became the dominant tendency in American architecture during the middle decades of the 20th century.

Although it never became fashionable for single-family residential buildings in the United States - despite the efforts of William Lescaze (1896-1969), Edward Durrell Stone (1902-78), Richard Neutra (1892-1970) - the International Style was especially suited to skyscraper architecture, where its sleek "modern" look, absence of decoration and use of steel and glass, became synonymous with corporate modernism during the period 1955-70. It also became the dominant style of 20th century architecture for institutional and commercial buildings, and even superceded the traditional historical styles for schools and churches.

Origins and Development

The International Style emerged largely as a result of four factors that confronted architects at the beginning of the 20th century:

(1) Increasing dissatisfaction with building designs that incorporated a mixture of decorative features from different architectural periods, especially where the resulting design bore little or no relation to the function of the building;

(2) The need to build large   numbers of commercial and civic buildings that served a rapidly industrializing society;

(3) The successful development of new construction techniques involving the use of steel, reinforced concrete, and glass; and

4) A strong desire to create a "modern" style of architecture for "modern man". This underlined the need for a neutral, functional style, without any of the decorative features of (say) Romanesque, Gothic, or Renaissance architecture, all of which were old-fashioned, if not obsolete.
 - Encyclopedia of Art and Design: International Style of Modern Architecture (online May 2016)

The International Style blossomed in 1920s Western Europe: the Dutch de Stijl movement, the work of visionary French/Swiss architect Le Corbusier and the German Bauhaus.

The term International Style came from the 1932 exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, organized by Philip Johnson, and from the title of the exhibition catalog for that exhibit, written by Johnson and Henry Russell Hitchcock.


Curtain walls

A curtain wall is defined as thin, usually aluminum-framed wall, containing in-fills of glass, metal panels, or thin stone.

The framing is attached to the building structure and does not carry the floor or roof loads of the building. The wind and gravity loads of the curtain wall are transferred to the building structure, typically at the floor line.

Aluminum framed wall systems date back to the 1930's, and developed rapidly after World War II when the supply of aluminum became available for non-military use.
- Excerpts: Nik Vigener, PE and Mark A. Brown, Building Envelope Design Guide - Curtain Walls (online May 2016)

Curtain walls

A curtain wall system is an outer covering of a building in which the outer walls are non-structural, but merely keep the weather out and the occupants in.

As the curtain wall is non-structural it can be made of a lightweight material, reducing construction costs.

When glass is used as the curtain wall, a great advantage is that natural light can penetrate deeper within the building.

The curtain wall façade does not carry any dead load weight from the building other than its own dead load weight.

The wall transfers horizontal wind loads that are incident upon it to the main building structure through connections at floors or columns of the building. A curtain wall is designed to resist air and water infiltration, sway induced by wind and seismic forces acting on the building, and its own dead load weight forces.

Curtain wall systems are typically designed with extruded aluminum members, although the first curtain walls were made of steel. The aluminium frame is typically infilled with glass, which provides an architecturally pleasing building, as well as benefits such as daylighting. Other common infills include: stone veneer, metal panels, louvres, and operable windows or vents.

Curtain walls

By definition, the curtain wall is an independent frame assembly with self sufficient components that does not brace the building structure.

Curtain wall may be comprised of multiple substrates including aluminum framing, stainless steel components, glazing, rubber gaskets, sealant, insulation and metal connections.

The vision area allows light transmittance and the spandrel areas [between windows] are designed to conceal the building floor beam structure and related mechanical elements. While the spandrel area is an opaque area, the architectural community always finds interesting ways to address the aesthetics by making the spandrel area pronounced (e.g. facade element glazing color change, material type change such as granite) or subtly blended as an all-glass facade when viewed from the exterior.

- Excerpts: Dudley McFarquhar, The Role of the Building Facade – Curtain Walls (online May 2016)

In a broader view, the international style is part of late 19th and early 20th century Modernism - the conviction that the traditional forms of art, architecture, literature, religious faith, social organization and daily life were becoming outdated in the new economic, social, and political conditions of an emerging fully industrialized world.

Bauhaus in the US

The Bauhaus lasted from 1919-1933, at which time the faculty fled to escape Nazi Germany. (School building photo) When Walter Gropius and Marcel Breuer fled, they both arrived at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, in an excellent position to extend their influence and promote the Bauhaus as the primary source of architectural modernism. When Ludwig Mies van der Rohe fled in 1938, he came to Chicago, founded the Second School of Chicago at IIT and solidified his reputation as the prototypical modern architect.

After World War II, the International Style matured, HOK and SOM perfected the corporate practice, and it became the dominant approach for decades.


In the decades separating World Wars I and II, Americans tended to prefer period houses that reflected past traditions, while European architects emphasized radically new designs that came to be known as International style architecture. Le Corbusier had stressed the idea of the house as a "machine for living."

During the 1930s these ideas were introduced into the United States by several distinguished practitioners, like Walter Gropius and Mies van der Rohe, Richard Neutra and Marcel Breurer who emigrated to escape the developing chaos in Europe.

Defining features:


Examples from Buffalo architecture:

Other examples:

Photos and their arrangement © 2005 Chuck LaChiusa
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