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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. 

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: Minnette de Silva

Women continue to make giant strides in architecture today, contributing to some of the most celebrated designs in the world. Historically however, many trailblazing women and their designs became overlooked and overshadowed. Today, we’re spotlighting a pioneer of tropical-modern design in Southern Asia, Minnette de Silva

Minnette de Silva’s Life & Career

De Silva was born on February 1, 1918, in Kandy, Ceylon – present-day Sri Lanka. Her father, George E. de Silva, was the President of the Ceylon’s National Congress and was a well-known politician. Her mother, Agnes Nell, was an activist who pushed for universal suffrage throughout the country. As a child, de Silva attended school overseas in England, spending much of her youth away from her family. However, when home, her family would frequently visit the architecture of ancient Sri Lankan cultures, influencing her profoundly.

Because she wasn’t able to study architecture in Sri Lanka, de Silva convinced her father to allow her to attend Sir Jamsetjee Jeejebhoy School of Art in Mumbai, India. Coming into the country with no previous architecture experience forced de Silva to learn the trade through apprenticeship and additional schooling at the Architecture Academy Mumbai before she was able to attend Sir J.J. School of Art. 

After being expelled from the academy in 1942, de Silva started working under emigre architect Otto Königsberger designing prefabricated housing in Bihar, India. And not long after, through connections back home, she was admitted to the Royal Institute of British Architects, where she built relationships with some of the world’s most inspiring architects. 

The exterior façade and garden of de Silva’s Karunaratne House, 1950

After Sri Lanka’s independence in 1948, de Silva’s father insisted she come home and contribute to the growth of her home country. So, de Silva moved back into her parents’ house with no money to her name and opened her studio – one of only two studios in the world named after the woman they were owned by at the time.

While back in Sri Lanka, de Silva developed her unique architecture style, influenced by a mixture of the traditional architecture she grew up with and the modern builds she was exposed to outside of her home country. In hopes of becoming exposed herself, de Silva began designing everything she could from small cottages to luxurious villas. 

Notable Works & Achievements

Her first build was the Karunaratne House, built for family friends from 1949 to 1950. At the time of completion, the house was the first building in the country completed by a woman and received much attention and controversy. The house was an exhibition of Silva’s design philosophy. Featuring woven Dumbara mats used as interior door paneling, clay tiles fired with ancient patterns and a custom mural in the living room designed by local artist George Keyt.

De Silva’s next build, Pieris House, was another commissioned home for family friends, this time in the country’s capital, Columbo. The open plan echoed traditional Sri Lankan architecture with a courtyard incorporated into its living room, which became a hallmark of de Silva’s designs. The house also featured one-of-a-kind patterned tiles and railings lacquered in gold leaf prints. 

The traditional open courtyard of Pieris House, known as the midula, 1952

One of her later but most acclaimed builds came in 1958 for Kandy’s Public Housing Project. The ambitious project had de Silva conduct extensive research and interviews with various house seekers in the city to uncover each of their unique lifestyles. She then used the information she received to curate and design custom housing types for each family – some families even assisting her throughout the process. 

While today this approach to design is celebrated, at the time, de Silva’s prospect was suspect and left unsupported. However, she knew the ultimate success would lay in whether the homeowners felt their environments were accessible to their lifestyles. The project eventually became a huge success and quickly became a model used throughout the country, encouraging the boom of strong mixed cultural communities in Sri Lanka. 

De Silva was awarded the Gold Medal by the Sri Lanka Institute of Architecture in 1996. She championed a new, inspired vision in Sri Lanka, mixing modernism with the traditional design elements that excited her growing up. Even though few of her buildings survive today, her legacy as a pioneer of tropical-modernism remains. 

Modernism and African Architecture

Modernist design not only inspires our work at Optima but, for decades, has also inspired the work of countless other architects and movements across the world. It’s always a delight to explore how Modernist design translates through the influences of other cultures. Today, we’re delving into the rich connections between Modernism and African architecture. 

The History

Beginning in the early 20th century, the Modernist Movement traversed the world, leaving its mark on various cultures and countries. Mies van der Rohe and Le Corbusier became pioneers of the movement, and numerous other architects quickly became inspired by their unique perspectives. However, even with its momentum, the movement’s journey to African architecture was prolonged. 

From 1957 to 1966, many African nations declared independence from the European colonizers that ruled them for nearly one hundred years. With this newfound independence, many African countries became inspired by the freedom that came with Modernist design. As elected governments started forming, architecture quickly became an asset to them, and hundreds of Modernist wonders flourished, frequently overlooked by the rest of the world. 

Even though Africa’s countries had vast differences in their culture and economics, they all shared aspirations for modernity – specifically through architecture – and each created an identity of their own. And by the mid-20th century, everything from educational to ceremonial builds filled with rich cultural significance and symbolism sprouted across the continent. 

Notable Builds

One of the first builds of modern architecture in Africa belongs to Burkina Faso’s La Maison du Peuple or House of the People. After the country declared independence from France in 1960, René Faublée sought to build a brutalist structure inspired by the country’s native culture for their newly-formed government to meet. After opening in 1965, La Maison du Peuple served as a popular location for political debates and other democratic exercises. 

La Maison du Peuple, 1965, Burkina Faso

The concrete structure features vibrant colors mimicking the textures and patterns of the earth that surround it. The magnificent lanterns on its roof reflect architecture traditional to Mossi, the nation’s native people, and they also provide natural light to its 2,500-seat auditorium while serving as passive ventilation ducts. 

Found in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, La Pyramide is another example of the visionary Modernist designs that sprang up across Africa in the 1960s. Built from 1968 to 1973, it is one of the most famous Modernist buildings in Abidjan, known for being one of the first high-rise buildings in the country. Architect, Rinaldo Olivieri, aimed to capture the bustle of an African market in an urban setting through his design. 

The iconic building exhibits a traditional cascading pyramid shape. Olivieri designed the building to house residences for the country’s elite on its top and shops and boutiques at its base. The building has faced some deterioration over its 60-year lifespan, but the Ivorian Government has plans to update its architecture and make it a tourist attraction in the coming years. 

Independence Arch is another significant example of the power independence had on Modernist architecture in Africa. The concrete arch was funded and built by Accra’s Public Works Department after Ghana’s independence in 1957. Construction finished in 1961 at Accra, Ghana’s Independence Square – the second largest city square in the world – where the beloved arch shares a home with various other monuments symbolizing freedom.

Independence Arch, 1961, Accra, Ghana

The monument is made of three towering concrete arches that hold two other structures meant for government use in between their peaks. Underneath, the Eternal Flame of African Liberation, lit by Kwame Nkrumah, the first President of Ghana, still burns. 

For decades, African countries brought their perspective and culture to the movement, building some of the world’s most distinctive yet forgotten works of Modernism. Through noticing and appreciating where these styles journey, we gain a greater knowledge and understanding of the world of architecture and architecture throughout the world.

Women in Architecture: Kazuyo Sejima

As part of our ongoing “Women in Architecture” series, we’re putting a spotlight on one of the world’s most cherished architects, Kazuyo Sejima. Throughout her breathtaking portfolio of work, Sejima has exhibited her enigmatic and refined point of view and became the second woman ever to receive the acclaimed Pritzker Architecture Prize. Today, we’re diving into Sejima’s notable life, work and achievements.

The Life and Career of Kazuyo Sejima

Sejima was born in Mito, Ibaraki, Japan in 1956. After discovering her passion for architecture and design at a young age, she began her studies at the Japan Women’s University, where she completed both an undergraduate degree and a graduate degree in architecture. Following her graduation in 1981, Sejima began apprenticing with Toyo Ito – a renowned Pritzker Award-winning architect also from Japan. 

After nearly seven years working with Ito, Sejima felt empowered to launch her architecture firm, Kazuyo Sejima & Associates, in 1987. Directly after opening, Sejima convinced her long-time confidant, whom she worked with under Ito, Ryue Nishizawa, to work with her at her firm. Nishizawa gladly joined Sejima, and nine years later, the pair founded a firm of their own, Sejima and Nishizawa and Associates (SANNA). And, thanks to Sejima and Nishizawa’s visionary designs, SANNA quickly became a nationally renowned firm after only a few years. 

Sejima’s designs are frequently recognized for their vibrant materials and colors, including various types of marble, glass and metals. She also often takes advantage of organic forms and aesthetics in her work, thoughtfully exploring each design as an instrument for human experience. Sejima’s appreciation for sheer glass in many other builds allows for an abundance of natural light, helping to create a more fluid transition between interior and exterior environments. 

The exterior of Platform House I featuring its corrugated metal roof, 1987

Throughout her career, Sejima has expressed the same concern for each of her projects: the functionality of the space’s social uses and their potential for adaptation. This philosophy explains why she doesn’t consider any of her builds finished until each of its inhabitants places pieces of their lives into the space through their various actions and interests. 

Notable Works and Achievements

Sejima translated her vision and architectural philosophy into her first project, Platform House I, in 1987. Sejima built the Platform House in a Japanese suburb and took inspiration from western designs, intermixing traditional Japanese values with European elements of architecture. With her first project, Seijam set out to create a living environment built with a platonic ideal of architecture – where it would function as provisional to the residents based on their actions and lifestyle. 

Throughout the house, Sejima experimented with large spaces, positioning the building’s central living area a half level below the kitchen and a half level above the sleeping floor below. Sejima also adopted her signature use of bright materials throughout the home, utilizing floor-to-ceiling windows in the home to illuminate its interior spaces and a gleaming, corrugated metal roof to signature the movement and human interaction that occurs below it. Following Platform House I,  Sejima designed companion projects: Platform House II and III.

New York’s New Museum for Contemporary Art, 2007, Photo by Dean Kaufman

Sejima extended her vision across the world, and in 2007 she, along with Nishizawa, designed the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York City. Their design was chosen due to its adaptable atmospheres – mirroring the ever-changing nature of contemporary art. From the exterior, the building’s bold design consists of four white cubes that sit on top of one another, further symbolizing the dynamic energy of contemporary culture. After its completion, the building received praise, and Conde Nast Traveler named it one of the architectural New Seven Wonders of the World

Most recently, Sejima constructed a vibrant tribute to renowned Japanese artist Hokusai Katsushika through the Sumida Hokusai Museum in Tokyo, Japan. Sejima thoughtfully designed the building to blend in with its surrounding urban environment, making it more accessible to its visitors. Sticking to her trademark design elements, Sejima used reflective aluminum panels to cover the façade. The building’s exterior also features various slits on all sides, eliminating the notion of a “front” and “back”, and providing outdoor walkways connecting each first-floor area.

The Sumida Hokusai Museum in Tokyo, 2016

Alongside her extraordinary work, Sejima has also received numerous architecture and art awards as well as achievements:

  • Young Architect of the Year, Japan Institute of Architects, 1992
  • Prize of Architectural Institute of Japan, 1998, 2006
  • International Fellowship of the Royal Institute of British Architects, 2007
  • Pritzker Architecture Prize, 2010

Today, Sejima continues to fearlessly voice her unique architectural perspective, gifting the world with her ambitious designs. She currently teaches as a Visiting Professor at Tama Art University and Japan Women’s University. And, succeeding Zaha Hadid in 2015, she leads an architectural design studio at the University of Applied Arts Vienna.

Remembering the 1922 Art Week in São Paulo

With Optima’s love for all things modern, we take great pleasure in diving into the history of modernism around the globe, including how the principles of modernism took hold in Brazil. And as luck would have it, the country is celebrating a huge milestone in February 2022 — the 100th anniversary of the Semana de Arte Moderna that runs from February 10 through 17 — so we are taking a closer look at this pivotal moment in time.

For the people of Brazil, 1922 was a landmark year. It marked a full century of independence from Portugal – and it was also the year that put Brazilian art on the international map, beginning with an idea emerged from a group of artists to host a week-long art celebration around modernism. Dubbed the Semana de Arte Moderna — this game-changing event took the form of exhibitions, lectures, poetry readings and musical performances that brought avant-garde works and ideas to the entire country.

Today, 100 years later, we look back at the Semana de Arte Moderna of 1922 and recognize it as a major turning point in the development of modern art. At the time, however, it was greeted with mockery, anger and fear. There were stories of horrified audiences throwing objects at performers on stage, and critics fuming with negative reviews of art, music and theater they didn’t understand.

Original poster for 1922 Semana de Arte Moderna, Wikipedia

Central to the works presented during the Semana de Arte Moderna was the theme of creating work that drew upon European influences but was uniquely Brazilian. This was a radical approach in 1922, since the European centers of art and culture had a tight grasp on what was considered “art,” and the idea that Brazilian artists had voices of their own was considered shocking. 

Following the Semana de Arte Moderna, the Brazilian Modernism movement blossomed. Throughout the 1930s and ’40s, while much of the world was still in a state of flux about what exactly constituted ‘modern’ art, the country was leading the way into new styles of artistic expressions that were quickly embraced by Brazilians as a unique cultural identity. And with this new-found inspiration and energy, the modernist architecture movement took hold.

The painting A Negra by Tarsila do Amaral was part of an exhibition of her work at Semana de Arte Moderna. From Caixa Modernista, Edusp / Editoria UFMG / Imprensa Oficial, São Paulo, 2003.

In the 1950s Brazil decided to found Brasilia, a new capital city heralded as a great experiment in modernist architecture, to help develop Brazil’s interior. Led by the vision of Brazil’s most famous architect and designer,  Oscar Niemeyer, the country began to define itself by its modernist aesthetic, with buildings characterized by their use of concrete and free-flowing curves.

As we reconsider the impact the 1922 Semana de Arte Moderna had on the rise of modernist architecture around the globe, we can’t help but recognize how the forever modern principles we practice at Optima fit into a larger context. It is Optima’s pleasure and privilege to be such an esteemed and vital company.

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

Modern Museums Around the World

As lovers of great design, Optima’s appreciation for both architecture and art itself runs deep, and there’s no better place to indulge this passion than at a modern museum of art. And with modern art and Modernist architecture sharing so much in common, it’s no wonder that many of these institutions are often housed in innovative and captivating buildings. Today, we’re taking a look at some of the best modern museums around the world — from the collections they contain to the structures that define them.

Guggenheim Museum Bilbao – Bilbao, Spain

The Guggenheim Museum Bilbao is a museum of modern and contemporary art designed by Canadian-American architect Frank Gehry, located in Bilbao, Spain. You’ll recall from our Subsects of Modernist Architecture Series that Gehry was part of the Deconstructivism movement on Modernism in the 1980s. This museum, established in 1997, boasts an impressive collection of modern art, as well as site-specific installations from artists such as Jeff Koons. The building itself has been described as “the greatest building of our time” by architect Philip Johnson, and “a fantastic dream ship of undulating form in a cloak of titanium,” by critic Calvin Tomkins in The New Yorker.

Bilmuseet in Umea, Sweden

Bildmuseet – Umeå, Sweden

Bildmuseet is one of Sweden’s foremost venues for international contemporary art, a part of Umeå University and the public heart of its arts campus. The strikingly Modern building was designed by Henning Larsen Architects in collaboration with White. A living and breathing work of art itself, the building’s facade is made of Siberian larch wood that fades to a silver-grey color over time. In its lifetime, Bildmuseet was nominated in 2013 for the Swedish Kasper Salin Prize and the European Mies van der Rohe Prize and has been described as one of the world’s most beautiful university museums. 

Zeits Museum of Contemporary Art in Cape Town, South Africa

Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa – Cape Town, South Africa

Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa (or Zeitz MOCCA, for short) is a contemporary art museum in Cape Town, South Africa, and boasts the title of being the largest museum of contemporary African art in the world. The building, which was commissioned through a public/private partnership between the V&A Waterfront and German businessman, Jochen Zeitz, is actually made from a converted historic 1921 grain silo. According to Zeitz MOCAA records, “The architects, Heatherwick Studio, aimed to conserve and celebrate the original structure’s industrial heritage, while simultaneously excavating large open spaces from the 42 densely-packed concrete cylinders from which it was comprised.”

Niteroi Contemporary Art Museum in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Niteroi Contemporary Art Museum — Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

It’s no surprise that the Niteroi Contemporary Art Museum, located in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, is one of the city’s main landmarks. The futuristic building was designed by Oscar Niemeyer with the assistance of structural engineer Bruno Contarini. Thanks to its strategic design, this museum offers more than just art to admire — the tall, angled windows offer sweeping views of Guanabara Bay and Sugarloaf Mountain. Beneath the structure, architect Niemeyer also designed a reflecting pool that surrounds the cylindrical base “like a flower.”

As an artform all on its own, the architecture of these museums stands strong alongside their impressive modern art collections. 

Modern vs. Contemporary Architecture

Whether it’s in reference to decor or design, the terms modern and contemporary are often used interchangeably. While this detail may be easily overlooked, the difference between the two styles is notable, especially in the world of architecture. Today, we’ll break down the distinction between modern vs contemporary architecture, and why it matters.

Simply put, contemporary design refers to styles relevant in the present moment, whereas Modernism refers to a style defined in the past. As we’ve covered in previous posts, Modernism has an expansive history, which was most notably defined between 1900 and 1960. Contemporary design can change based on what’s currently trending, and often changes based on widespread taste. Modernism remains defined by traditions and practices from the original Modernist movement.

So why do these two styles often get confused? Firstly, Modernism is a timeless style that often translates as contemporary because even after almost a century, its elements are still beautiful. It’s why our own use of materials, natural light and structure have stood the test of time at Optima. Secondly, current contemporary design does share some similarities to Modernism. Glass and metal materials, floor-to-ceiling windows and minimal color palettes are all popular architectural details right now. Even curated residential green space, a signature Modernist feature in our projects for decades, are trending with the house plant craze. With contemporary architecture and design borrowing elements from Modernism, it makes sense that they often get swapped out for each other. 

If you want to learn how to spot the difference, it’s worth studying Modernism first so you know what to look for in true Modernt pieces and buildings (our own blog is a great resource for that). Some things to look for: open floor plans, asymmetry, large panels of windows or glass walls, lack of ornamentation and highly functional spaces. Function over form was the mantra of Modernism, and it still informs Modernist interpretations now. If the building or space includes anything trendy or cutting-edge for the year —  like some of Architectural Digest’s 11 Most Anticipated Buildings of 2020 — it’s probably more appropriately categorized as contemporary. 

Although the two styles are similar, there’s no replicating the impact and legacy of Modern architecture. Our love for Modernism inspires us to recognize and appreciate it when we see it, and we hope our readers share the sentiment.

Modern Design at Optima with Knoll

Design permeates every corner of our communities. Across our multi-family properties, we utilize furniture designed by globally renowned Knoll to craft spaces that are sleek, modern and comfortable. Not just purveyors of elegant and stunning design, Knoll also has a history entangled with our own, beginning back in 1938.

Modernist Roots

Knoll was founded in 1938 by Hans G. Knoll, a German immigrant based in the United States. Familiar with the seminal Bahaus School of Design and Modernist masters like Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, he founded Knoll on the belief that modern architects would need functional, modern furnishings.

Later, Hans Knoll engaged with (and then literally got engaged to) Florence Schust, who studied with Mies van der Rohe at the Armour Institute in Chicago, and worked in the architectural offices from Gropius and Breuer in Boston. Her understanding of Modernist architecture, and the Bauhaus and Walter Gropius himself, transformed the Knoll approach to furniture design, placing new focus on offering objects that represented design excellence, technological innovation and mass production.

The Risom arm chair designed by Knoll at Optima Sonoran Village
The Risom arm chair designed by Knoll at Optima Sonoran Village

Their strong vision attracted high-profile collaborators, such as Isamu Noguchi, who contributed to a collection of furnishings now heralded as classics in the pantheon of modern design. With a repertoire of pieces spanning including the Wassily chair, the Barcelona chair, the Tulip chair; over 40 Knoll designs can be found in the permanent design collection of The Museum of Modern Art in New York City. 

As seminal collaborators with the Modernist architecture discipline, Knoll is a natural fit for our modern residential and commercial spaces. Their executive designs embody elegance, craftsmanship and emblematic details across seating, tables and desks. The thoughtful and artistic creations of Knoll bring expansive history, elevated design and of course, comfort, to our communities.

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