Invisible Cities and the Curtain Wall: The Last Remnant of Modernism

The National September 11 Memorial entry pavilion appears camouflaged against the backdrop of neighbouring glass curtain walls. Image © Joe Woolhead

Few of the architectural principles developed in the 20th century have been as widely accepted as the curtain wall, with the technology going from an implied feature of Le Corbusier’s Five Points of Architecture to the go-to facade treatment of architects worldwide. In this article, originally published on Australian Design Review as “Invisible Cities – The Last Remnant of Modernism,” Annabel Koeck argues that the curtain wall, initially prized for its glassy transparency, is now making buildings and even entire cities invisible thanks to its sheer ubiquity – at the expense of architectural expression.

Norwegian architects Snøhetta, based between Oslo and New York, designed the glass structure for the The National September 11 Memorial entry pavilion, which appears camouflaged against the backdrop of neighbouring glass curtain walls that define the New York skyline. Admittedly, Snøhetta’s pavilion was conceived by a very different brief, one defined by timidity and subtlety; yet paradoxically it was the curtain wall that facilitated this. Looking over the South Pool towards an array of glazed elevations that dominate the skyline it is ironic that a Modernist technique – the curtain wall – could now spell the end for architectural diversity in cities.

How Three Colleges Brought Modernist Design to the US

Entries to the Chicago Trinbune Competition, such as this one by Gropius and Meyer, may have sparked debate about modernism in the US, but lost to a more traditional design. However, a decade and a half later, for three colleges revived the debate. Image via thecharnelhouse.org

Though modernism was developed in the 1920s, and was popular among many architects by the time the 1930s arrived, in many places it took years for the style to gain favor among clients. In the , people often point to the 1922 Chicago Tribune Tower Competition as a turning point, the winning entry was actually a neo-gothic design. In this article, which originally appeared on Curbed, Marni Epstein looks at another potential turning point: three high-profile competitions in the late 1930s where modernist designs were (sometimes controversially) successful.

The Great Depression of the 1930s hit everyone, and hard—even architects and draftsmen found themselves out of work as development and construction dried up amid vanishing capital. They found a partial solution in the Historic American Buildings Survey and Historic American Engineering Record, two programs of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration that involved surveying and cataloging the country’s existing infrastructure. These programs, however, were a long way from the prestige, creativity, and financial rewards that came with new architectural commissions. The work available was limited, and what work existed was focused on the architecture of the past, not designs for the future.

BIG and Kilo Redesign Gropius’ Tableware Set

Courtesy of BIG

TAC tableware – designed in the 1960s by Walter Gropius and influenced by the Bauhaus style – has been given new life by BIG and the industrial design studio Kilo. The new tableware set features the heritage blue skylines of twelve cities, including Copenhagen, London, and New York. To check out the full set and spot the likes of Big Ben and the Statue of Liberty, head to the manufacturer’s website by clicking here.

Bauhaus Masters’ Houses Restored, Now Open to Public

The newly renovated Gropius House. Image courtesy of the Bauhaus Foundation. Image © Christoph Rokitta

The Bauhaus school of design has made an indelible mark on the world of architecture, one that is still felt almost seventy years after its closing. After moving the school from Weimar to Dessau in 1925 to avoid confrontation with the Nazis, founder Walter Gropius designed a series of semi-detached homes for the design masters teaching at the Bauhaus. This small neighborhood, nestled in a pine forest near the school building itself, was an idyllic home for the likes of Lyonel Feininger, Oskar Schlemmer, and Gropius himself. They were abandoned in the 1930s as Germany plunged into war, and suffered years of damage from military conflict and neglect. Renovations to the houses began in 1990, and now, 24 years later, the Bauhaus meisterhäuser have been completely reopened.

Happy Birthday Walter Gropius

Gropius and Seidler by Dupain 1954; Courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

On May 18th, we celebrate what would have been the 131st birthday of one of the most highly regarded modern architects of the 20th century, Walter Gropius. Gropius was the founder of the Bauhaus, the German “School of Building” that embraced elements of art, architecture, graphic design, interior design, industrial design, and typography in its design, development and production (learn more in our infographic here).

The Bauhaus existed in the years between both World Wars, greatly influencing the current of modern art and architecture. Like many modernists of the period, Gropius was interested in the mechanization of work and the utilitarianism of newly developed factories. He and Adolf Meyer designed the Fagus-Werk factory, a glass and steel cubic building that is thought to be the pioneering work of the style of modern architecture. The Bauhaus in Dessau was designed in 1925 by Gropius, who distilled his teachings into  architectural elements of the building.

Infographic: The Bauhaus, Where Form Follows Function

UPDATE: In honor of the 81st anniversary of the day the closed in 1933, we’re re-publishing this popular infographic, which was originally published April 16th, 2012.

From the “starchitect” to “architecture for the 99%,” we are witnessing a shift of focus in the field of architecture. However, it’s in the education system where these ideas really take root and grow. This sea change inspired us to explore past movements, influenced by economic shifts, war and the introduction of new technologies, and take a closer look at the bauhaus movement.

Often associated with being anti-industrial, the Arts and Crafts Movement had dominated the field before the start of the Bauhaus in 1919. The Bauhaus’ focus was to merge design with industry, providing well designed products for the many.

The Bauhaus not only impacted design and architecture on an international level, but also revolutionized the way design schools conceptualize education as a means of imparting an integrated design approach where form follows function.

Ann Beha Architects Selected to Rehabilitate U.S. Embassy in Greece

Embassy of the in Athens, Greece. Image Courtesy of OBO

Besting a shortlist of fourAnn Beha Architects has been selected by the Department of State’s Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations (OBO) to rehabilitate the U.S. Embassy in Athens’ chancery facility and campus. The mid-century facility, a protected architectural landmark, was originally designed by the famed architect Walter Gropius with the consulting architect Pericles A. Sakellarios.

Four Firms Shortlisted to Refurbish US Embassy in Athens

of the United States in Athens, Greece; Courtesy of the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations

The Department of State’s Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations (OBO) has shortlisted four design firms for the major rehabilitation of the Athens Chancery project. Protected as an architectural landmark, the mid-century modern building was originally designed by the famed architect Walter Gropius with the consulting architect Pericles A. Sakellarios.

The shortlisted firms are:

Architecture City Guide: Berlin

This week, with the help of our readers, our Architecture City Guide is headed to . The twentieth century changed nearly all cities, but perhaps none more so than . From its destruction in World War II that left few historic buildings intact to its division until 1989 that brought together the architecture of two competing ideologies into one city, ’s modern and contemporary architecture speaks to a past that seldom accompanies such recent additions. The city is filled with new and wonderful architecture that might not have found space in other cities in Europe. With that in mind, we were unable feature all our readers’ suggestions on the first go around. We will be adding to the list in the near future, so please add more of your favorites in the comment section below. Once again, thanks to all our readers for your help.

The Architecture City Guide: Berlin list and corresponding map after the break.

AD Classics: Gropius House / Walter Gropius

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons, © daderot

Home to one of the most influential architects of the 20th Century, the Gropius House was the residence of Walter Gropius and his family during his tenure at Harvard University during the mid 1900s. Completed in 1938, the Gropius House was the first commissioned project in the for the famed architect.  Located in Lincoln, Massachusetts the house is a hybrid of traditional New England aesthetic and the modernist teachings of the Bauhaus.

More on the Gropius House after the break.

Architecture City Guide: Boston

For this week the Architecture City Guide series headed to the city of including neighboring Cambridge just across the Charles River Basin. This area has an overwhelmingly large amount of modern architecture in a small radius, and our list reflects just that. What buildings do you want to see added to our list, share them with us in the comment section below.

The Architecture City Guide: Boston list and corresponding map after the break!

AD Classics: Dessau Bauhaus / Walter Gropius

© Thomas Lewandovski

Interested in creating a new form of design found at the intersection of architecture, art, industrial design, typography, graphic design, and interior design, Walter Gropius was inspired to create an institution known as the at , with an emerging style that would forever influence architecture.

Initially a school in Weimar, growing political resentment forced the move to Dessau. Gropius took this as an opportunity to build a school that reflected his hopes for the education that would be had within it’s walls. The style of the Dessau facilities hints at the more futuristic style of Gropius in 1914, also showing similarities to the International style more than the Neo-classic style.

More on the Bauhaus after the break.