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The Synthesis of Art and Architecture

Art and architecture share a rich, timeless connection rooted in their design, creators and intended meaning. Both forms of expression become envisioned and constructed through similar principles, visual elements and ambition to engage with one’s senses. Today, we’re exploring this essential relationship and what happens when the two worlds collide. 

David Hovey Sr., FAIA, Optima’s CEO and Founder, says it best when describing the linkage between art – in particular, sculptures – and architecture, saying that “architecture is about function, as well as aesthetics, while sculpture is really just about aesthetics.”

Architecture is traditionally informed by functionality first, with aesthetics coming into play as with a significant role. Art, on the other hand, is commonly guided by aesthetics, without any burdens to deliver an object or outcome that is functional. However, both forms of expression are typically influenced by similar social and political factors that affect the environment surrounding the work or structure. 

Centuries-old cultural movements, including the Renaissance, where art imitated life and vice versa, demonstrate the linkage between art and architecture. However,  it wasn’t until the Avant-Garde movements of the late 19th and early 20th centuries that the integration of the two took a new meaning. 

This integration between the disciplines quickly became a core characteristic of modernism and modernist design, and is distinctly present in the work of some of the greatest architects and artists of the time period. Because artists use their art as a tool to shape emotions, modernism emerged as an expectation in which art and architecture would provide a new value when combined. 

Oscar Niemeyer’s Oscar Niemeyer Museum exhibits the synthesis of art and architecture, displaying bold geometric forms, sculptural curves and vivid murals in a functional structure, reminiscent of a human eye.

The Bauhaus Movement was one of the first to introduce this idea, encouraging the unification of all arts and coupling aesthetics with the technology of the time. Notably, this ideology was cultivated through Le Corbusier’s use of painting and sculpture within his established concepts of architecture. Le Corbusier also argued that it was of equal importance to architects, painters and sculpturists to contribute constructive collaborations to the world by designing and creating in harmony with one another. 

Along with Le Corbusier, various other artists throughout the past century have tried to synthesize art and architecture throughout their work, particularly Oscar Niemeyer, Mies van der Rohe and Zaha Hadid. Today, architects and artists continue to collaborate and integrate their disciplines more than ever, exploring and expanding the dynamic relationship shared between the two.

Women in Architecture: Charlotte Perriand

A trailblazer for women designers, Charlotte Perriand always found a way to reinvent her work with the ever-changing aesthetics of interior design and architecture in the 20th century. She forged herself as a leader of the avant-garde cultural movement, which influenced new perspectives and values in the design world. Today, as part of our ongoing “Women in Architecture” series, we’re exploring the life of this exceptional designer and some of her most celebrated creations. 

The Life of Charlotte Perriand

Perriand was born in Paris, France in 1903. She lived with her mother, who was a talented seamstress, and her father, who worked as a tailor in the city. Because of the lively energy of her surroundings, Perriand found a deep appreciation for city life but also relished her frequent visits to her grandparents’ home in the French Alps, where the natural environment was peaceful and calm. 

At a young age, Perriand discovered a passion for the arts. As her talents continued to flourish, Parriand’s mother encouraged her to push herself by attending École de l’Union Centrale des Arts Décoratifs in Paris. From 1920-1925 she studied under the renowned artist and decorator Henri Rapin, who helped bring her unique ideas to life. 

During her time at École de l’Union Centrale des Arts Décoratifs, Perriand learned to incorporate popular aesthetics such as ornate patterns, warm materials like wood and soft textiles like cotton. Dissatisfied by the status quo, Perriand pushed her interests and fed her curiosity by enrolling in classes made available through large department stores that housed their own design workshops. Encouraged by the reactions to her creations that incorporated glistening surfaces, reflective metals and blunt geometric forms, she began to submit her work to expositions throughout Paris. Perriand’s most notable entry at the time was Le Bar sous le toit, or Bar in the Attic, at the prestigious Salone d’Automne, in1927. This installation of furniture, finishes and a built-in bar reflected the current machine-age landscape and displayed a bold design featuring nickel and other metals. Emboldened by the reactions of her peers, Perriand quickly began embracing these taboo materials in her work, conveying exciting new interpretations of modern design. 

An initial sketch for Bar in the Attic, Charlotte Perriand, Paris 1927, courtesy of Intérieurs Fig. 40
An initial sketch for Bar in the Attic, Charlotte Perriand, Paris 1927, courtesy of Intérieurs Fig. 40

Career and Achievements

After the success from Bar in the Attic, Perriand had a difficult time discovering what her next move should be in the art world. She took advice from a friend, jewelry designer Jean Fouquet, and immersed herself in the intensive literature of Le Corbusier. Dazzled by his work, Perriand reached out with her portfolio for a position at his atelier. After a hasty dismissal, she showed Le Corbusier her acclaimed Bar in the Attic project, which caused him to reverse his decision and hire her on the spot. 

The Grand Confort, designed by Charlotte Perriand, Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret
The Grand Confort, designed by Charlotte Perriand, Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret

While working for Le Corbusier and his cousin, Pierre Jeanneret, Perriand contributed to the design of some of their most celebrated furniture pieces: the basculant sling chair (known as LC1), the Grand Confort (LC2 and LC3) and the chaise lounge chair (LC4). However, her impact reached far beyond furniture; Perriand brought to life the trio’s vision of modern luxury as Equipment for the Home for the 1929 Salon d’Automne, which included an entire apartment set with a bold kitchen and bathroom. 

Perriand left Le Corbusier’s atelier in 1937 after ten years of extraordinary growth and accomplishment. Her expertise led her across the world, but she eventually traveled back to the French Alps, where her roots enticed her to work on her largest – and final – project, Les Arcs. Composed of three different structures and built over a nearly-20 year period, Les Arcs brought to life a new style of living with an open-plan interior and an exterior integrated into the surrounding natural environment. 

Les Arcs, designed by Charlotte Perriand, courtesy of Matthew Rachman Gallery
Les Arcs, designed by Charlotte Perriand, courtesy of Matthew Rachman Gallery

The bedrooms of the famous ski resort were built with minimal design elements. Thoughtful design was instead prioritized in communal spaces, like the great rooms, where windows opened to vibrant sunlight and views of the pristine natural surroundings. 

Throughout her illustrious career, Perriand preferred to look to the future instead of reflecting on her previous work. And on this life journey,Perriand established herself as a fearless forward-facing designer who was eager to reinvent her design philosophy over and over.  

Women in Architecture: Jane Drew

As part of our ongoing “Women in Architecture” series, we’re spotlighting another luminary in the field: Jane Drew. As the spearhead of the Modernist Movement in London, Jane Drew prevailed as a determined leader in a male-dominated profession, as she changed the lives of many by directing her career to explore the intersections of architecture and wellness.

The Life of Jane Drew

Drew was born on March 24, 1911, in Thornton Heath, Croydon, in South London. Her father was a surgical instrument designer and founder of the Institute of British Surgical Technicians, and her mother was a school teacher who greatly encouraged Drew’s interest and appreciation for art and nature. 

After graduating high school, Drew began her study at one of the most prestigious and competitive architectural schools in the world, the Architectural Association School of Architecture in London. Following five years of study, during which she married fellow architect James Thomas Alliston, Drew propelled herself into the architecture world working for Joseph Hill. During her employment, Drew was introduced to Bohemianism, which fostered her musical, artistic, literary and spiritual pursuits and had a lasting impact on her career. 

Following her divorce in 1939, Drew became heavily involved in the International Congresses of Modern Architecture (CIAM), introducing her to Swiss architect Le Corbusier. Eventually, under the guidance of the CIAM, Drew became a principal founder of the Modern Movement in Britain alongside Henry Moore, Elizabeth Lutyens, and her future husband, Maxwell Fry. 

A housing complex in Chandigarh, India, designed by Jane Drew

Inspired by the abundance of talent surrounding her, Drew’s illustrious architectural career blossomed in the 1940s. She opened her firm at the beginning of the decade and only employed female architects, giving them a unique platform for professional and creative pursuit. Due to constraints posed by World War II, much of Drew’s work was limited to London. However, in 1944 she was appointed as the assistant town-planning advisor to the resident minister for the British West African colonies, which would change the trajectory of her career forever. 

Career and Accolades

Alongside the great heartbreak, World War II brought to London came new opportunities, especially for Drew and her husband, who had established a new firm in London: Fry, Drew and Partners. In 1947 she began designing a series of new schools in Ghana and Nigeria. With cultural appreciation in mind, Drew and Fry worked around the unique topography to incorporate native motifs and create a new architecture style for the new nation, now known as Tropical Modernism. 

In 1951, Indian Prime minister Pandit Nehru approached the couple in hopes they would develop the new capital of the Indian state Punjab, Chandigarh. The couple eagerly accepted his offer and began working with Le Corbusier to create their most celebrated architectural work. The couple experimented with new forms of design in the country and discovered methods to integrate schools, health facilities, and swimming baths into housing structures, affecting the future of housing designs throughout India.

Mfantsipim School, Cape Coast, Ghana, Jane Drew, 1947

Drew’s triumphant accomplishments didn’t stop there; she garnered even greater acclaim during the latter half of her career. Some of her most renowned works included designing the interior of London’s Institute of Contemporary Arts building (an organization that she helped establish), the School for the Deaf in Herne Hill, London, and buildings for the Open University in Milton Keynes, England. 

Drew continued her involvement in architecture after her retirement in 1973 and served on the Council of the Royal Institute of British Architects, of which she was a lifelong fellow. And, shortly before her death in 1996, she was awarded Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire. 

Throughout her distinguished career, Drew’s passion for conscious design prevailed through her modern work. With every new project, Drew took away an abundance of new knowledge, forever shaping her future work and fashioning the process of thoughtful decision-making that remains in architecture today. 

A building at the University College, Ibadan, designed by Jane Drew

Eileen Gray’s E-1027 Reopens to the Public

Previously, in our Women in Architecture Series, we highlighted the streamlined, industrial style of the modernist designer and architect Eileen Gray, which you can read here. Of her many projects, Gray’s French Riviera villa, E-1027, remains most notable. Over time, the grandiose structure fell into ruins, but following an extensive restoration project, Gray’s Villa E-1027 has reopened to the public.  

In its prime, one of the property’s most beloved visitors was Le Corbusier. Following his death, the villa experienced neglect from numerous tenants for years. However, the property was purchased in 1999 by the French agency, Conservatoire du littoral, to oversee its protection and preservation. Later, in 2014 they established the Cap Moderne Association to manage the rehabilitation. After six years of comprehensive restoration work, the E-1027 villa mirrors the original design that was completed in 1929 by Gray and her husband, Jean Badovici. 

The project aimed to restore both the exterior environment and the interior fixtures of the villa. Inside, new built-in and free-standing furniture and artwork reflect the villa’s original lived-in state from nearly a century ago. Visitors are invited to consider how Gray pioneered an interpretation of modernist warmth with welcoming internal fixtures that contrast the villa’s sometimes cold, concrete structure. 

A large room is filled with a bed, chairs, rugs, and artwork. All pieces are designed to look like the lived in style of the 1920's.
The interior of Villa E-1027, Photo by Manuel Bougot

On the exterior, vibrant blue awnings covering the outdoor walkways offset the villa’s bright white walls. The “house by the sea” is intended to be a living organism within the structure’s larger atmosphere. Surrounded by lush greenery and landscaping on its north and south-west sides and built on pilotis just above a plunging cliff into the sea, the villa successfully fulfills Gray’s goal of being harmoniously integrated into its environment.

Timed tours of this modernist wonder are currently available for small groups looking for a getaway. You can learn more about E-1027 and how to visit it on Cap Moderne’s website here

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.

Modernism and Japanese Architecture

In the same way our own practices at Optima are rooted in and inspired by Modernist design, so too is the work of other architects and designers across the decades, and across the world. One of the joys of our industry is seeing how design translates through the lenses of other cultures and countries, and Modernism and Japanese Architecture have a truly fascinating connection.

The History

The Modernist movement began in the early 20th century, pioneered by architects such as Walter Gropius, Mies van der Rohe and Le Corbusier. Le Corbusier, who traveled extensively during his lifetime, drew inspiration from traditional Japanese homes, sukiya-zukuri. Influenced by teahouses, sukiya-zukuri typically includes modest spaces designed with natural materials such as wooden columns and earthen-plaster. Pillars support the structure of the home, which allows for sliding screen walls to filter natural light into the rooms and blurs the barrier between outdoors and in. Le Corbusier used similar designs across his work, creating a connection between Japanese and Modernist architecture that only continued to grow.

An example of a sukiya-zukuri home
An example of a sukiya-zukuri home

In the 1930s, Japanese architects such as Junzo Sakakura and Kunio Maekawa collaborated with Le Corbusier, further fusing the two styles. Sakakura eventually rose to the chief of staff of Le Corbusier’s atelier in Paris, working on projects such as the 1932 Swiss Pavilion, which included sliding windows and open space for nature to flow in and out. The progress made from these collaborations impacted both Modernism and Japanese architecture — then and now.

1932 Swiss Pavilion
1932 Swiss Pavilion

Influences Today

Japanese influences are apparent across many executions of Modernist design. Intentional materials (whether they consist of wood, stone or metal), open floor plans and clean, minimalist spaces are present in both practices. Green space or gardens is also a huge similarity; and one we incorporate across all of our Optima projects. Through noticing and appreciating where these styles originate, we gain a greater knowledge and understanding of the world of architecture, and architecture throughout the world.

The Work of Le Corbusier

Modernism is an approach that has roots going all the way back to the 1920s. Modernist architecture was pioneered by the inventive and contentious Le Corbusier, a Swiss-French architect, urban planner, painter and furniture designer. To better understand Modernism, we’re diving deep into his life, and highly controversial work.

A Controversial Figure

Born Charles-Eduoard Jeanneret-Gris, architect Le Corbusier built chiefly with steel and reinforced concrete, paring design down to its simplest, elemental geometry and form. He developed his famous theory of modern form and minimalist materials when envisioning affordable, prefabricated housing to help rebuild communities after World War I. His vision for prefabrication was only the tip of a strong, nearly utopian, approach to urban planning and architecture.

The Villa Savoye in Poissy (1928-1931), designed by Le Corbusier
The Villa Savoye in Poissy (1928-1931), designed by Le Corbusier

His architectural philosophy was groundbreaking and completely contrary to the dominant narrative of the 1920s. Once he established his ideas, he shared them by publishing the seminal L’Espirit Nouveau (1920), where he revealed his famous “five points of architecture.” Three years later, he published Vers une architecture (Towards a New Architecture) (1923), in which he espoused a new, modern architecture informed by applying principles of cars, planes and ships to buildings. Le Corbusier embraced the conflict that arose to his ideas head-on, making bold declarations such as “a house is a machine for living in” and “a curved street is a donkey track; a straight street, a road for men.”

Chair designed by Le Corbusier at Optima Camelview Village
Chair designed by Le Corbusier at Optima Camelview Village

Form, Function, Furniture

Le Corbusier also designed furniture, his approach following suit to his approach to architecture. His furniture, co-designed with Pierre Jeanneret and Charlotte Perriand, utilized tubular steel that projected a new rationalist aesthetic. Le Corbusier broke down furniture into three types: type-needs, type-furniture and human-limb objects. His rational approach was not without romanticism, as he said, “Certainly, works of art are tools, beautiful tools. And long live the good taste manifested by choice, subtlety, proportion and harmony.” 

At Optima, we employ Le Corbusier furniture in our communities, like those in each of the three building lobbies at Optima Old Orchard Woods in Skokie. The furniture functions just as the artist would’ve wanted — as bold, artistic statement pieces, and as functional, rational furniture.

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