oh modernism, who art thou?
27 February 2011
What is modern architecture? Some state it evolved during the 19th century with the industrial revolution and exploded onto the scene at the turn of the 20th century. Perhaps its roots go back even earlier. Early pioneers who are now considered architectural giants forged through tradition and conflict to make their statement about their ideals, philosophies and opinions of how architecture relates to the human condition and how it can affect and improve our lives. It started as a movement, an ideology, but ultimately evolved into a style…perhaps now a caricature of itself. Early modernist Philip Johnson coined the moniker “International Style” back in 1932 at the International Exhibition of Modern Architecture at the MOMA. Over the years its machine aesthetic developed as form followed function and the ornament and detail of the past turned into clean, but sometimes austere buildings that fill our cities and country sides. In today’s age, we find ourselves adding assorted adjectives to it as we yearn to transform ambiguity into the particular. [Soft modernism…Bauhaus modernism, regional modernism, romantic modernism, desert modernism, contextual modernism…feel free to add your own].
Now over a century later we use the term “modern” in many contexts, sometimes a reference to the early movement, sometimes as a style, and sometimes just to speak of today. Do you ever think about the use of the word “modern” today? What does the term evoke when spoken in reference to design? When you stand in front of a (conservative) group of people to present your “modern” design for their facility, do they cheer or jeer? How could a simple word create so much confusion or fear?
As a start I looked up its basic definition which is simply “of or pertaining to present and recent time; not ancient or remote.” Of course a secondary definition addresses my point where it states “of, pertaining to, or characteristic of contemporary styles of art, literature, music, etc., that reject traditionally accepted or sanctioned forms and emphasize individual experimentation and sensibility.”
Great…now we have to define contemporary; it muddies the water too. It is defined as “existing, occurring, or living at the same time; belonging to the same time, of the present time; modern. Isn’t this circular reasoning? At some point the term began to take on a life of its own and now is often perceived as a cousin in style to our friend modern. Hey…all the taste of modernism without all the baggage, at the same low price. What a deal!
Modernism, modernist, modernistic…these too have loaded meanings and misunderstandings. All I want to know is if modern is a truly a century old, what do we call architecture that is made today?
I am confused, what do you think?