Architecture / Style / International Style


  • 1920-1945 (Blumenson)
  • 1915-1945 (Whiffen)
  • 1930-1990s (Baker)
  • 1930-1990s (Baker)
  • 1940-1970 (Roth)


In February and March 1932, the Museum of Modern Art in New York City displayed its first architectural exhibition, entitled simply “Modern Architecture.” As its catalog stated, the exhibition was intended to prove that the stylistic “confusion of the past 40 years… [would] shortly come to an end.” Photographs and drawings of works by architects then practicing in similar styles in 15 countries were grouped under the termInternational Style.” In a book published by the organizers of the exhibition the same year, published by the organizers of the exhibition the same year, this new term was used as the title –The International Style: Architecture Since 1922. (Poppeliers, 92)

The International Style is based on modern structural principles and materials. Concrete, glass and steel were the most commonly used materials. While Chicago School architects merely revealed skeleton-frame construction in their designs, International School architects reveled in it. Their rejection of nonessential decoration was perhaps the major difference that distinguished the International Style from the Art Deco. Ribbon windows were a hallmark of the style, as were corner windows, in which the glass was mitered without any corner support. Bands of glass became as important a design feature as the bands of “curtain” that separated them. These strips of windows and solid planes helped create a horizontal feeling, another important aspect of the style, even in high-rise buildings. Here again the International Style differed from Art Deco, which frequently used setbacks, piers and other devices to create a sense of verticality. International Style designers viewed a skyscraper essentially as floors of office space stacked on top of one another. (Poppeliers, 92)

Artificial symmetry was studiously avoided in the International Style. Balance and regularity, however, were admired and fostered. A tripartite expression of base, shaft, and capital – the norm in high-rise construction of the Chicago School – was never used in International Style. Mundane building components such as elevator shafts and compressors for air conditioning became highly visible aspects of design. The cantilever and ground-floor piers were often used in International Style structures. (Poppeliers, 92)

Rohm and Haas Building, Philadelphia, Pietro Belluschi (1965)

Leading Examples

Lowell Beach House (1926, R.M. Schindler), Newport Beach, California. Displays remarkable force in its advancing and receding planes and its contrasts of solids and voids yet retains a careful sense of balance. The first floor is essentially an outdoor living space, protected from the elements by the second floor. (Poppeliers, 93)

Farnsworth House (1949-51, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe), Plano, Illinois. A small-scale International Style design in the architect’s later, more personal idiom. (Poppeliers, 95)

Hoover House (1919, Arthur B. Birge Clark), Stanford University, Stanford, California. Has sculptural forms, arched openings and an intimate relation of the landscape that reflects California mission design, but its cubistic forms and strong horizontal emphasis link it to the International Style. (Poppeliers, 94)

Fallingwater (1936, Frank Lloyd Wright), Bear Run, Pennsylvania. Evokes the tenents of the International style in its horizontal planes and dramatic cantilevers of reinforced concrete. The overall design and siting, however, mark it as an individual work of genius and one of Wright’s most admired designs. (Poppeliers, 95)

Sources Cited

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