Posted by Paul Malo on March 28, 2002 at 16:55:44:
In Reply to: possibly the most exciting topic ever!!! posted by Emma on March 28, 2002 at 13:44:57:
What you need is a "thesis" or a proposition that your evidence will support. Many books have been written about this subject, for we historians have a way of continually inventing new interpretations. Here's my own favored take on the subject:
The development of science caused a tension between faith and reason. The industrial revolution entailed a cultural upheaval, resulting to great social change. Awareness of change coincided with Darwin's proposition about evolution, which suggested that human progress was predictable. This belief in the possibilty and, in fact, the inevitablity of improvement in the human condition has been termed "historicism" (by Karl Popper and others). It was a major tenet of the influential German philospher Hegel, whose notion of the "dialectic" or process of change through conflict, was adopted by many twentieth-century ideologies.
I think that understanding the emergence of Modern architecture (and theories of modernism more generally) really needs to be based upon this widely shared view of "progress" as predestined, assuring advance in the human condition. Today we have learned, through bitter experience of recent history, that the notion was invalid, but we need to try to understand the mind set of the earlier twentieth century.
Related to this was a notion advanced by art historians about the "Zeitgeist," or the spirit of the times. This aesthetic proposition asserted that eary period has a distinct culture--a certain character, or world view, that is reflected in its art. The corollary was that art was to be valued to the degree that it "expressed" it's moment in history. This criterion suggested change in art was required by change in the larger culture. The more the world changed, the more art was supposed to change. This view led to the idea that whatever was new was to be appreciated, since it was interpreted as "expressing" the changing times. This rather simple-minded view still is with us, in many quarters.
Viewed this way, the modern movement in architecture began before the advent of the "International Style," which now seems to represent "High Modern" architecture. The Art Nouveau was different in its ideology, being less rational or "functional" but more superficially decorative. Nevertheless, it emerged as a "modern" movement, intending to find a new expression for a changing world. You mention the Einstein Tower; this was related to the earler Art Nouveau movement, as was the larger German and Dutch Expressionist school of architecture.
So don't look for the stylistic appearances--cubic forms and transparency, for instance, because you will encounter maverick works, like Saarinen's TWA "Big Bird" that really harkens back to Gaudi and the Art Nouveau. The theme that ties all of this together is confidence in change as valued for its own sake, as representing "progress." All of the various movements wanted to erase history and begin again, inventing a "new architecture." This was the common tread of modernism. When we ceased to believe it, we became "Postmodern."
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