What Is Modern Architecture - Definition, Interpretation and Personal Opinion
Modernism started out as a revolutionary movement in the wake of the industrial age. It was a way of embracing the ideology of functionalism, while simultaneously rejecting tradition and history. Due to the Industrialization our methods of building evolved and made it possible to make constructions out of steel, glass, and concrete the world had never seen before. The Eiffel Tower, which impressed everybody beyond words when it was erected for the Universal Exposition in 1889, marked the beginning of Modernism.
Style icons like Le Corbusier, Frank Lloyd Wright, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, and many more, made brilliant contributions to our heritage in the name of Modern Architecture, which also answered to the names of the International Style and Functionalism, among others. Under slogans like "Less is More" and "Form follows Function" Modernists promoted ideals like simplicity in design, rationalism in use of materials, and functionalism in planning. Although some of their buildings were said to be uninhabitable, like beautiful pieces of abstract art, they were certainly symbols of the new world.
The era of Modern Architecture is said to end in the mid seventies, when it was replaced by the post modernist movement, but the impact of this epoch is still spreading its ripple effects in the world today. Rational ways of building in steel, concrete, and glass, in a sparse and simplistic style; I´d say Modernism is still very much alive and kicking.
Unfortunately, the sophisticated poetic styles of the guru´s have all but disappeared, leaving a never-ending quest for profit and self promotion, like we see in the International Finance Centre in Hong Kong, completed in 2003.
The answer to the question of WHY we build tall buildings like this seems to be: "because we can!" Modernist Alvar Aalto said about Modern Architecture: "it does not mean the use of immature new materials; the main thing is to refine materials in a more human direction." Is that what is going on when our building get higher and higher due to economical considerations?
We seem to have forgotten that the proportions of the human body should be the decisive factor in designing and building our houses. Le Corbusier knew precisely the dimensions of the human body when he designed his beautiful chapel Notre Dame du Haut in the fifties.
However, some of his other ideas were not so sympathetic, and have unfortunately been all the more influential, such as the "Plan Voisin" for Paris. He pictured high-rise apartment complexes, and he planned to level the historical buildings of the area to the ground in order to develop this new area of the city.
Our monolithic landmarks after the industrial revolution too often serve our egos and mammon, whereas in earlier times the signature buildings would be places of spiritual worship or places that served society (e.g. cathedrals or city halls). "We shape our buildings: thereafter they shape us" Sir Winston Churchill so wisely said: and this thought makes me worried about the direction humankind is headed.