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26 June, 2013
International Style Architecture
As architects, and home owners with enough money to hire them, searched for a truly American style of architecture, their quest was not conducted in a vacuum. The Prairie Style was a start but with the rise of Adolph Hitler in Europe, those who designed and built walls were also quite adept at reading the handwriting upon them. With the closure of the Bauhaus, they began to flock to America, if not in droves, certainly in significant handfuls. And with them they brought European ideas about the way that houses should be built. But these were new ideas, totally eschewing any semblance of traditional European styles. By the time they came knocking on our doors, they were calling it the International Style. And not without good reason...the world had shrunk. Regional styles were quickly becoming a thing of the past. The International Style was the first to break geographic bonds and become essentially "world class" architecture.

You won't walk up and down the streets of your neighbourhood and see one. One might even say they're rare as hen's teeth. I know of only one authentic International style home within 50 miles of here. It's a classic though, simple, unadorned, perhaps even a bit bleak; a flat, hidden roof, a band of windows, the main level on the second floor with only the entrance, garage, and service rooms on the ground floor. The design is asymmetrical, the walls are stucco and seemingly weightless as it floats above the city of Marietta from perhaps its highest point. It's not a "beautiful" home in any traditional sense of the word. It's sleek, graceful, forever modern...one might even say timeless...and totally out of place amongst its Queen Anne neighbours. Though it's undoubtedly quite efficient and practical in its design, it is not a style well suited for South-eastern Ohio. The roof is flat and holds snow and water indefinitely. As a result, they have a tendency to leak and thus need constant repair. The original casement windows leak too...warmth. Walls are thin (non-load-bearing) and if insulated; not to modern standards. Like most examples of this style, this house was built in the early 1930s so, despite its looks, it's an old house.

Although the look and feel of the International style was already in the building here in this country; when the Bauhaus boys came ashore, they brought with them a concrete conceptual ideal of European origin--the idea of the house as a machine. They contributed the rationale that machines were designed and built for specific purposes and houses were therefore machines for living. They provided shelter, flexibility, security, comfort, and convenience. They had in common with an electric dynamo or a diesel locomotive that they were not intended to be decorative. It was not just that "form followed function," but the idea that function ruled. Their only bow to art was that they not be intentionally ugly. Of course ugly, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder so there weren't many (if any) owner-built knockoffs to clutter the landscape. This was a style that the architect, more often than not, had to sell to his or her client.

Though California has more than its share of Internationals, the style, in its pure form, also showed up in other parts of the Southwest where the weather was ideal for its design features; and in the Northeast where it manifestly was not ideal. Although they were to have a profound effect on what we today term "Contemporary" housing styles; in practice, the International style would hardly have been more than a momentary "blip" on the architectural radar screen except for one man. Frank Lloyd Wright took his indigenous Prairie style and married it to the best the International style had to offer; then plopped it down overhanging a waterfall in south-western Pennsylvania. He called it, appropriately enough, Falling Water. It was a daring design for its time and would appear so even today. It looked nothing like a Bauhaus "living machine" but instead, aped the American woodland landscape of which it became a part. It soared in stone upward like the tall trees and mountains, yet hung its reinforced concrete balconies effortlessly over Bear Run like the layers of ancient rock below. Wright cemented the perfect embodiment of what twentieth century architecture should be and was to become. He made the International style American.

Contributed by Lane, Jim
25 November 2000

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