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A Brief History of Architecture in the Expressionist Movement

Although many know expressionism for its evocative poetry and painting, expressionist architecture was also a subsect of the Modernist Movement. While coexisting with the minimalist rigor of the Bauhaus, this avant-garde style allowed designers to explore new, radical perspectives, gifting to the world some of the most dynamic, expressive architecture of the 20th century. 

Origins of Expressionism

Expressionism originated in the late 1800s from a small group of artists based in Germany. The artists who founded the movement felt that 19th-century impressionism – which commanded the art world – was out of touch with the social climate of the times due to the various changes that came with the Industrial Revolution. This feeling of detachment helped inspire what would soon be known as expressionism.  

Acclaimed painters like Van Gogh, Paul Gauguin, Edvard Munch and Francis Bacon all contributed remarkable works of art throughout the movement, but artists who worked with other mediums also adopted the ideals that expressionists held close. Because of the vivid colors and distorted lines and angles associated with expressionism, German cinematography, in particular, took advantage of the moody standards. 

Einstein Tower, Erich Mendelsohn, 1921

After more than 30 years of commanding the art world itself, expressionists became banned from showing and selling their work in Germany, where the majority of the artists lived. The result left many artists suppressed, eventually leading to various radical movements, including Abstract Expressionism, Pop-Art, Minimalism and in the late 20th century, Neo-Expressionism. 

Expressionism in Architecture

Expressionist architecture took advantage of the many characteristics associated with the movement’s other works of art, including distortion of form, themes of romanticism, expression of inner experience and the conception of architecture as a work of art, among others. Much of the movement’s builds featured Gothic, Romanesque and Rococo affinities. 

Glass Pavilion’s interior featuring the seven-tiered waterfall

Bruno Taut’s Glass Pavilion is one of the earliest examples of expressionist architecture. The structure was built in 1914 as a feature of the Cologne Deutscher Werkbund Exhibition. Constructed using only concrete and glass, the exterior of the pavilion showcases a vibrantly colored prismatic dome and a grand staircase. The interior of the building featured a kaleidoscope of color from the crown above it and a seven-tiered cascading waterfall.

The Einstein Tower is another striking example of expressionist-style architecture. The observatory was built by German Architect Erich Mendelsohn from 1919 to 1921 and was envisioned to hold a solar telescope. Mendelsohn designed the building to reflect the radical theories formed by Einstein – specifically his theory of motion. The structure is built with brick but covered with stucco to give it its smooth, tidal-like exterior. 

Walt Disney Concert Hall, Frank Gehry, 2003

More recent examples of expressionist-style architecture include Walt Disney Concert Hall designed by Frank Gehry in Los Angeles, the Lotus Temple designed by Fariborz Sahba in Delhi, and Zaha Hadid’s Vitra Fire Station in Weil am Rhein. 

A Brief History of the Netherland’s De Stijl Movement

The turn of the 20th century was rich with change in almost all aspects of life. Artists and architects across the globe were more inspired than ever to bring unprecedented works of art to life. Many of which originated in the numerous modernist movements that emerged during this period. Today, we’re exploring De Stijl, a celebrated Dutch movement formed partly as a reaction against Art Deco.

The History of De Stijl

De Stijl was founded in 1917 by a cohort of painters, sculptures, architects and poets in the Netherlands’ largest city, Amsterdam. The art movement is also known as Neoplasticism. However it is more commonly referred to by its traditional name, De Stijl, which says it all for its direction. Meaning ‘the style’ in dutch, nearly all of the artwork and architecture stemmed from a simple vision and philosophy. 

The principles of the movement set to ignore natural form and color. Instead it simplified compositions to only vertical and horizontal lines and palettes to only black, white and primary colors. 

Throughout De Stijl’s lifespan – from 1917 to roughly 1931 – its advocates pushed for full abstraction. However, it never reached the chimeric expressions found in other abstract movements. Artists and architects associated with De Stijl still developed their own visual language, using various avant-garde elements that ranged from basic geometrical figures to intersecting planes and unbent lines.

Much of De Stijl’s work embodied a utopian vision, and realizing that vision was unattainable was one of the resulting factors for its downfall. However, the movement’s continued fame and recognition exists today thanks to the many acclaimed works and artists who contributed to De Stijl. 

Red & Blue Chair, Gerrit Rietveld, 1923

Celebrated Works

One of De Stijl’s most well-known works came from the Red and Blue Chair. As one of the first explorations of the movement, furniture designer and architect Gerrit Rietveld first designed the chair in 1918 but didn’t fully complete it until five years later, in 1923. 

Sticking to De Stijl’s design philosophy, the Red and Blue Chair makes use of only primary colors, along with black, and is one of the most popular creations of the movement. Rietveld envisioned the chair to be mass-produced but intentionally designed it to appear man-made due to its unique, clearly defined construction. 

Another well-known work of the movement and the only architectural building which followed all of its aesthetic properties was Rietveld’s Rietveld Schröder House. Built in 1924, the house was a commissioned project for Truss Schröder-Schrader, whose original vision included a grand open space without any walls. 

The open interior of Rietveld Schröder House, Gerrit Rietveld, 1924

Rietveld delivered on Schrader’s vision, utilizing construction elements that emphasized the building’s form, including various slabs, posts and beams. Making each wall portable, he designed each room as if each was its own movable entity. The design took use of De Stijl’s emblematic color palette of black and white and looked nothing like any of its neighboring builds.

Although it might not be the most notable movement stemming from the Netherland’s, De Stijl’s presence in everything from Dutch literature and paintings to architecture and music communicates just how influential the art movement was throughout the early 20th century.

David Hovey Sr., FAIA, A Modernist Philosophy Emerges

As we continue to explore the new David Hovey Sr., FAIA catalogue raisonné, it’s a pleasure to linger over the expansive, thoughtful essay penned by distinguished architecture writer and long-time associate, Cheryl Kent. This examination of Hovey’s career entitled, “The Achievement,” provides new perspectives on his career that give us greater appreciation for what he has cared deeply about, and the impact he has made.

In speaking about Hovey’s core beliefs, Kent explains:

“David Sr. continues as CEO and a principal architect. Now in his mid-seventies, he is beginning to pull back and leave more responsibility to his heirs. Still, he continues to work every day, ‘helping’ as he says ‘wherever I’m needed.’ In 2004, Optima opened an Arizona office but it has been building in the Phoenix-Scottsdale area since 2000. Today, Optima projects routinely gross over one million square feet and sometimes more than two. Over the course of the company’s existence, it has built nearly six thousand residential units with another 950 now in the works. And the pace has picked up. In its early years, the firm did approximately one project a year; now it is likely to have projects in construction in both markets at the same time, and sometimes more than one in each.

840 Michigan was a 24-unit complex in suburban Evanston built in 1985.

“It is significant that Hovey accomplished this over decades when his design philosophy, modernism — and he does embrace it as a philosophy — was out of step with the architectural mainstream. When many architects had embraced postmodernism beginning in the 1970s arguing for conventional historical references non-cognoscenti could understand and still other architects turned to deconstructivism that no one could understand, Hovey was steadfast in his belief in the tenets of modernism, in the future, in technology, in material honesty, in structural expression, and in architecture’s ability to improve life for people. Architecture, Hovey insists, must be expressive of its time and employ the latest technology. He has made a highly successful career of well-designed housing in a modernist idiom.”

When Hovey tackled North Pointe on the site of an old warehouse in Evanston in 1990, he used a dynamic plan to include 118 townhouses with penthouses and two mid-rise condominiums.

The projects in the early years of Hovey’s career allowed him to hone his practice by continuing to take on greater challenges in location, scope, size and materials — all the while staying true to his core beliefs and principles.

Women in Architecture: Zaha Hadid

Breaking boundaries as the first woman to be awarded the prestigious Pritzker Architecture Prize in 2004, Zaha Hadid is recognized as one of the most exceptional designers in history, forging a legacy of innovation and individuality. Despite Hadid’s unexpected death in 2016, her legacy continues through the projects she designed.

Born October, 1950 in Baghdad, Iraq, Hadid studied mathematics as an undergraduate and went on to enroll at the Architectural Association School of Architecture. Hadid was advised under Dutch architect, Rem Koolhaas, who would later describe Hadid as one of the most exceptional students he ever taught.After graduating, Hadid moved to Rotterdam where she worked for Koolhaas at the Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA). In 1980, after becoming a naturalized citizen of the United Kingdom, Hadid opened her firm, Zaha Hadid Architects, which has developed high-profile and illustrious projects around the world. Hadid and her firm introduced audiences to a new way of conceptualizing modern architecture through extremely detailed sketches rather than postmodern designs.

After graduating, Hadid moved to Rotterdam where she worked for Koolhaas at the Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA). In 1980, after becoming a naturalized citizen of the United Kingdom, Hadid opened her firm, Zaha Hadid Architects, which has developed high-profile and illustrious projects around the world. Hadid and her firm introduced audiences to a new way of conceptualizing modern architecture through extremely detailed sketches rather than postmodern designs.

The front of the Vitra Fire Station shows the harsh lines of the concrete structure lined with greenery in its front.
Vitra Fire Station, Zaha Hadid, Weil am Rhein, Germany 1993

Vitra Fire Station

The very first building complex designed by Hadid was the Vitra Fire Station, eventually launching her career. One of Hadid’s clients, Rolf Fehlbaum, the president-director of the furniture design firm, Vitra, invited her to design a fire station for his design museum. Building from 1991-1993, Hadid used raw concrete and glass that defined the sculptural building. The station, famous for the dramatic effect of its sharp diagonals converging at its center, only remained functional for a short period and now serves as an exhibit space.

The front of the MAXXI Museum.
MAXXI Museum, Zaha Hadid, Rome, 2010

National Museum of Arts of the 21st Century (MAXXI)

One of Hadid’s more recent designs, the MAXXI was built between 1998 and 2010. The structure appears to be moving and flowing through space in spots, animated by Hadid’s ambition to create movement through the design. Hadid achieved this movement through curving, white walls and the placement of the building extending precariously out over five, thin pylons. Hadid explained that she wanted the design to invoke “confluence, interference, and turbulence.”

A birds eye view of the London Aquatic Center
London Aquatic Center, Zaha Hadid, 2011

London Aquatic Center

Tasked to design the aquatic center for the 2012 Summer Olympics, Hadid again turned to fluidity, this time the convergence of geometry and liquidity found in water. Hadid’s iconic design covers three stadium pools with a complex roof the shape of a parabolic arch dipping into the center that anyone would recognize. The structure was praised by critics for its success in mimicking the “floating” and “undulation” of water, as stated by Rowan Moore.

In addition to receiving the Pritzker Prize, Hadid was recognized with numerous other prestigious awards, including the Royal Institute of British Architecture’s Royal Gold Metal Award, an honor approved by Her Majesty The Queen, and the Jane Dew Prize; she was also appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire and was honored with a retrospective at the Guggenheim Museum.

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