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The Subsects of Moderist Architecture Part III

As part of our “Subsects of Modernist Architecture” series, we’re continuing to explore the many trickle-down pockets of Modernist design throughout the years. Picking back up where we last left off in Part II, European Modernism continued to spread globally and set the precedent for the next wave of architectural movements that emerged. Here’s what followed:

International Style

The International Style (sometimes also referred to as internationalism) emerged in the 1920s and 30s. Originated in post-World War I Holland, France and Germany, the style quickly caught on worldwide, eventually becoming the dominant architectural style in the 1970s. According to the Getty Research Institute, “the style is characterized by an emphasis on volume over mass, the use of lightweight, mass-produced, industrial materials, rejection of all ornament and colour, repetitive modular forms, and the use of flat surfaces, typically alternating with areas of glass.” 

Major figures in the International Style movement include Bauhaus Founder Walter Gropius, as well as Bauhaus Director Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Le Corbusier. Both Gropius and Mies van der Rohe were instrumental in introducing the International Style to Chicago’s architecture — leaving a lasting impact on the city’s skyline that can still be seen and appreciated today.

Nagakin Capsule Tower (1970) in Tokyo, designed by Kisho Kurokawa in the style of Metabolism
Nagakin Capsule Tower (1970) in Tokyo, designed by Kisho Kurokawa in the style of Metabolism

Metabolism

Like many subsects of Modernist architecture, Metabolism emerged in response to the post-war period in Japan. First introduced during a Congrès Internationaux d’Architecture Moderne (International Congresses of Modern Architecture, or CIAM) meeting in 1959, the movement became fully-fledged just a year later when young architects Kiyonori Kikutake, Kisho Kurokawa and Fumihiko Maki released the Metabolism manifesto during the 1960 Tokyo World Design Conference.

The style was marked by its dynamic fusion of megastructures and organic biology. Metabolism was also heavily influenced by the Marxist philosophies of the time. The architects behind the movement envisioned a more flexible form of urban planning, one where modular towers could be easily installed. They even went so far as to propose vast cities that could float on the ocean, with these modular structures as their foundation. The most successful examples of Metabolism include the site of the 1970 World Exposition, designed by Kenzō Tange, and the Nagakin Capsule Tower, designed by Kisho Kurokawa.

The Geisel Library (1968) at University of California in San Diego, designed by William Pereira in the style of Brutalism
The Geisel Library (1968) at University of California in San Diego, designed by William Pereira in the style of Brutalism

Brutalism

Brutalism, also called Brutalist architecture or New Brutalism, emerged in the 1950s in the UK during post-war construction. The word Brutalism is derived from the Swedish phrase nybrutalism, as well as being associated with the French phrases béton brut (“raw concrete”) and art brut (“raw art”). It’s easy to see the connection: the style is characterized by monolithic forms, rigid geometric styles, and unusual shape, and commonly makes use of bare or raw materials being exposed in monolithic color palettes. 

Influenced by socialism, Brutalist architecture was often employed in the UK to create utilitarian, low-cost housing solutions or government buildings. Perhaps for this reason, the style received widespread criticism and was often regarded as “cold” or “soulless.”  Nevertheless, many Brutalist structures have left a strong impression on architecture today and remain the cornerstone of universities and public institutions worldwide. 

Stay tuned for more features on the subsects of Modernist architecture.

The Work of László Moholy-Nagy

Many prominent and influential figures emerged from the Bauhaus. One of these figures was László Moholy-Nagy, a Hungarian painter and photographer, and a professor at the Bauhaus. Today, we take a closer look at his life, work and impact on the world of Modernist design.

Self Portrait (1918), László Moholy-Nagy
Self Portrait (1918), László Moholy-Nagy

The Life of László Moholy-Nagy

Originally born in 1895 as László Weisz, Moholy-Nagy grew up in Hungary. He always tended to be artistic, even in boyhood. His first dream was to become a writer or poet and he had poems published in the local paper at the young age of 16. After studying law for just two years, Moholy-Nagy enlisted in the Austro-Hungarian army in 1915 and in the field, his artistic pursuits persisted. He documented his experience through writing, crayon sketches and watercolors until he was discharged just three years later. 

After all these experiences, Moholy-Nagy abandoned his law studies to attend a private art school in 1918. He had his first art exhibition just a year later. The years that followed would prove formative for his personal and artistic life: in 1920, he moved to Berlin, where he met his first wife, Lucia Schulz — and they were married just a year later — and then in 1922, Moholy-Nagy met none other than Walter Gropius, Founder of the Bauhaus.

Architecture (Eccentric Construction) (c. 1921), László Moholy-Nagy
Architecture (Eccentric Construction) (c. 1921), László Moholy-Nagy

The Work of László Moholy-Nagy

In 1923, Gropius invited Moholy-Nagy to teach at the Bauhaus. There, he co-taught a foundational course alongside Bauhaus legend Josef Albers, and replaced the famous Paul Klee as Head of the Metal Workshop. He continued to teach at the Bauhaus for a period of five years, a time which heavily influenced his own artistic philosophy.

Moholy-Nagy’s own work spanned across a variety of mediums, including photography, typography, sculpture, painting, printmaking, film-making, and industrial design. The artist is also cited as the first to incorporate scientific equipment, like the telescope, microscope, and radiography, into his own art practice. This practice highlights Moholy-Nagy’s own open-mindedness. He was always interested in experimentation and the play between life, art and technology — particularly, how the three intersected and paved the way for social transformation and the betterment of humanity. 

His work, which often falls under the category of abstract and avant garde, was also influenced by the Constructivism movement of the early 20th century as well as the Dada artists he encountered upon moving to Germany. Thanks to his creative fluidity and pioneering methods, his work across disciplines and styles has been called “relentless experimental.”

László Moholy-Nagy, Light Prop for an Electric Stage, © Hattula Moholy-Nagy / DACS 2007. Photo courtesy of Tate.
László Moholy-Nagy, Light Prop for an Electric Stage, © Hattula Moholy-Nagy / DACS 2007. Photo courtesy of Tate.

Perhaps his most iconic work was Light Prop for an Electric Stage, completed in 1930. Referred to as a “kinetic light display,” the piece’s rotating construction included reflective surfaces from which a beam of light bounced, casting both moving light and shadow onto nearby surfaces. It’s considered a pivotal fixture in the history of Modern sculpture and perhaps best exemplifies Moholy-Nagy’s own artistic philosophy.

Meanwhile, Gropius continued to impact Moholy-Nagy’s career trajectory when in 1937, he recommended the experimental artist as the head of the New Bauhaus in Chicago (which would eventually become incorporated to the Illinois Institute of Technology as we know it today). In Chicago, he continued to pioneer new methods and experiment until his early death from leukemia at just fifty-one years old. 

His life, work and legacy live on in the, earning him the title of the “genius of all media” and an eternal place in the history of Modernist art and design.

The Folly Bench by Ron Arad

It’s no secret that we take pride in showcasing statement Modernist furniture throughout our communities, from the Wassily chair to the Egg chair to the Barcelona chair. That’s why we get excited when fresh designs are added to the mix. The Folly bench, designed by Ron Arad for Magis, exemplifies new furniture being designed in the Modernist discipline — and makes a great addition to our space at the new 7140 Tower at Optima Kierland Apartments. 

Ron Arad was born in Tel Aviv and studied at both the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design in Jerusalem and at the Architectural Association in London. He has established the design practice One Off Ltd., design and architecture firm Chalk Farm and opened his own studio in Italy, Ron Arad Studio. He’s best known for unique and sculptural chairs that meld high-tech materials with found objects. Of his own practice, he says, “Some people confuse function with being practical. You can make a chair that’s totally impractical, but it’s still a chair because it’s about sitting.”

The Folly bench, designed for Magis by Ron Arad, in the 7140 Tower at Optima Kierland Apartments
The Folly bench, designed for Magis by Ron Arad, in the 7140 Tower at Optima Kierland Apartments

Arad exemplifies just that philosophy with the Folly bench, designed for Italian design firm Magis. The sculptural form of the bench provides immediate intrigue with its dramatically sweeping, undulating curves. Despite its drama, the bench’s seat and back surfaces merge seamlessly, creating an undeniably comfortable place to sit any which way. Furthermore, the bench is molded in “nearly indestructible polyethylene,” making it available for both indoor and outdoor use.

Gracefully dotting the amenity floor in the new 7140 Tower at Optima Kierland Apartments, the Folly bench beckons as an artful installation, and a truly functional piece of furniture. 

Modernist Graphic Design

Modernism is one of our cornerstones at Optima; it informs everything from our designs to our methodologies. And though the movement is often talked about in reference to architecture, art, sculpture and interior design, Modernism also had a significant impact on graphic art. Today, we’ll dive into Modernist graphic design and its impact on visual communications.

Changes in Vienna

By the end of the 19th century, artists were growing tired of traditional, conservative forms of art. In Vienna, a group of artists led by Gustav Klimt dubbed themselves the Vienna Secession and broke away from the artistic institutions in Austria’s capital at the time. The group explored uncharted territory in form, composition and expression, sparking similar experimentations in other nearby countries such as France and Germany. Rich paint strokes and realism translated into flat color and stylistic typography, expressions that would pave the way for graphic art. 

Army recruiting poster, designed by James Montgomery Flagg, 1917
Army recruiting poster, designed by James Montgomery Flagg, 1917

The World at War

When World War I began, graphic design was already used for commercial, corporate and aesthetic purposes. Its new role would be political, used in posters and propaganda during the war. Advancements in mass color printing allowed for efficient production of messages to raise funds, encourage enlistment and boost morale. The turmoil and challenges faced in both World Wars would ultimately inspire the first wave of true Modernism within graphic design. 

Poster designed by Herbert Bayer, 1930
Poster designed by Herbert Bayer, 1930

Modern Experiments

Across Europe and in America, graphic designers took inspiration from broader artistic movements such as Cubism, Futurism, De Stijil and Surrealism. In Germany, the Bauhaus movement also had a significant impact on graphic design; thick lines, primary colors and disrupting white space were just as striking in 2-D format as they were in architecture or sculpture. Eventually, Modernist design was defined by abstract expression, bold type and primary colors and shapes. These designers approached the work objectively, emphasizing the rational over the expressive (and emphasizing the classic Modernist belief that form follows function). 

As the Nazis rose to power in the 1930s, Modernist experiments in all practices were denounced, and many artists, architects and designers immigrated to the United States. Although Modernist design was disrupted in its growth, it remains one of the most impactful movements in the history of graphic design. Even our own website has elements of Modernist designs with asymmetry, primary colors and bold typography. Every facet of Modernism inspires what we do, from architecture and sculpture, to the graphic arts. 

A Brief History of the Plaza

At Optima, we’re believers that exceptional design has the power to inspire awe and wonder, and to enhance the human experience. One such component of design, the plaza, is a perfect example of this: designed as an open, public space, plazas create hubs for community activity and human connection. To learn more about the role this seminal piece of design has in creating public space, we’re diving into the history of the plaza.

Plaza Mayor in Madrid, Spain
Plaza Mayor in Madrid, Spain

The First Plazas

From colonial cities in Spanish America to the Spanish East Indies, there were several types of plazas serving as the center of community life. The plaza mayor often referred to the space centered between several administrative, religious and government buildings. The plaza de armas, meanwhile, served as a rallying space for troops, and the plaza de toros translates, quite literally, to bullring.

Perhaps the most significant example of such plazas is the Plaza Mayor in Madrid, Spain. Dating back to 1619, the plaza was constructed during the reign of Philip III by architect Juan de Herrera. Though the plaza saw several disasters since then and was reconstructed an equal number of times, it remained (and still remains) a pivotal public fixture in Madrid. Plaza Mayor has served many diverse purposes, from being the site of a marketplace, to bullfights, to military parading ground, to public executions, to even trials during the Spanish Inquisition and crowning ceremonies. 

Evolving over time to a space of leisure, the Plaza Mayor is now the site of outdoor cafes, restaurants and, inevitably, tourists. It draws people in with yoga workshops, concerts and festivals — a far cry from its dabbles in militant history. The Spanish plaza is also related to the Italian piazza, with both belonging under the umbrella term “town square,” which includes city squares, plazas, piazzas and city greens.

The Modern Day Plaza

Following in the footsteps of Madrid’s adaptable Plaza Mayor, the modern day plaza can refer to a multitude of spaces with a multitude of purposes. Within our own portfolio, a prime example of a plaza is at Optima Signature and Optima Chicago Center. By sliding the podium of Optima Signature North and juxtaposing Optima Chicago Center to the West and South, the buildings create a dynamic plaza space, which features lush landscaping, planters and benches. Kiwi, a large-scale sculpture designed by Optima founder David Hovey Sr, adds to the visual energy of the space. 

Aerial view of the plaza at Optima Signature and Chicago Center
Aerial view of the plaza at Optima Signature and Chicago Center

Now, plazas refer to open spaces within neighborhoods that boost economic vitality, pedestrian mobility and safety as well as providing aesthetically pleasing areas. No matter the interpretation of the word, there’s always one belief at the core, and that’s gathering and celebrating community. 

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