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Architecture of Le Corbusier, Gerrit Rietveld and Frank Lloyd Wright Essay

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Updated: Nov 15th, 2021

Architecture as well as art, in addition to being influenced by epoch characteristic, is associated with certain names that made a particular architecture movement remembered. The architecture of the 20th century can be distinguished among others due to several factors such as the rapid technological development, the growth of the cities, the need for building, and as a major factor for Europe in the middle of the century, intensive post-war restoration processes.

For that matter, there were many architecture movements that did not have distinct borders between them, where some of the movements existed together at the same time. In that sense, there were names by which certain movements were associated. In regards of the aforementioned, this paper contrasts the architecture of three leading architecture pioneers of the 20th century, Le Corbusier, Gerrit Rietveld and Frank Lloyd Wright.

Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959), is a well-known American architect, the founder and the leading master of school of the organic architecture, and a large figure in architecture history. Already in Wright’s first works, under the influence of Henry Richardson, Sullivan’s symmetric layouts received intense-expressional romantic decision. The romantic tendencies were amplified in his creativity in 1893, when he built a series of private country houses, so-called “Prairie Houses” in which the principle of “organic architecture” was developed.

The main principle of such architecture is the inseparability of architecture from environment, as well as implying the idea about the space continuity. In “Prairie Houses”, the central kernel – a big room with a fireplace which opened to a living room, a dining room and a hall, a feature that had something in common with ancient traditions of American dwelling with a family hearth in the centre.

When building and decorating these houses, Wright applied materials and designs contrasting in colour and texture, and at the same time using their specific properties. The most considerable and interesting among Wright’s “Prairie Houses” were Willits House (1902), the Martin House in Buffalo, New York (1904), and the house that ended this series Robie House in Chicago (1909).

In 1909 Wright travelled to Europe where there were exhibitions of his works, and his monograph was published. Wright’s works made a big impact on the rationalistic direction in architecture which started to be formed those years in the Western Europe. In the mid-thirties, the second period of Wright’s blossoming began. The success was brought by two constructions: Kaufmann’s residence in Pennsylvania, constructed in 1935 and known in history as “Falling water”, and Johnson and Son Administration Building in Racine (1936-39).

As Robie House became the crowning achievement of the Prairie Houses, Kauffman house amazed with the extraordinary mastery with which it was embedded into the environment. It can be considered as one more brilliant example of organic architecture. The system of ferroconcrete consoles hanging over each other, which acted as the extension of the rock ledges over the stream, was organically combined with a romantic landscape.

In the course of time, Wright’s individualism was amplified. Considering the internal space of an architectural construction as its essence, and the external shell as its derivative, Wright developed the concept of designing from inside to outside, which was used in a building Guggenheim Museum in New York City.

Although not considered as a domestic architecture, Wright specialization, this was one of Wright’s most interesting and considerable products. The powerful plasticity of this construction, similar to an abstract sculpture, did not allow with its large scale to be dissolved in the thicket of the skyscrapers of Manhattan.

From the middle of the 20s of the 20th century, practically all main architectural forces of Western Europe, in one way or another, united on the basis of the general program of the functionalism. The slogan “the Form follows function” became the basic thesis of this direction which defined the shape of the cities for several decades.

The theoretical and artistic basis of the functionalism was formulated by Le Corbusier. In his articles during the 20s he persistently demanded clearing of the centre of the cities from transport, increasing the areas of green plantings and the use of free system of building.

Le Corbusier (1887 – 1965) is a French architect of a Swiss origin, the founder of international style in architecture, an artist and a designer. Le Corbusier is one of the most well-known architects of the twentieth century, where his place is among the pillars of modern architecture. He reached his popularity thanks to his expressive constructions in the style of functionalism, as well as his talent as a writer-publicist.

In 1927 Le Corbusier formulated five main principles of the ideal home:

  1. No ground floor, with the house raised on columns called “pilotis”;
  2. A flat roof, which would be used as a garden terrace;
  3. An open floor plan, with partitions slotted between supports;
  4. Horizontal windows on all facades provide the best illumination;
  5. Free composition of the exterior curtain walls (Janson and Davies).

Thus, the ferroconcrete construction reduced to two basic elements becomes the constructive basis of such building. These five architectural principles and the constructive layout became not only a stylistic feature of the new architecture, but also a guide to architectural creativity up to the end of the 20th century.

Corbusier’s art aspirations are most fully reflected in the country houses of rich patrons near Paris such as Villa Savoy in Possy-sur-Seine (1928) Villa Savoy became the higher achievement of the aesthetics of purism, directed to rational mathematical organization and the steadiness of the form.

Villa Savoy accurately embodied such receptions of modernist architecture, as the geometrical forms deprived of a decor, white smooth facades (with which contrasts polychromatic interior), the use of internal frame. Looking at Villa Savoy, “we can see most of the elements called for in his “Five Points”: the pilotis, the raised living space, the ribbon windows, and the flat-roof terrace, which is protected behind the enormous cylindrical wind-screens that look like ocean-liner smokestacks.” (Janson and Davies). All these reasons promoted that this building became the original manifesto of the architecture of “international style”.

Gerrit Thomas Rietveld (1888 – 1964) – a Dutch furniture maker and a self-taught architect, was a participant of the art group “Stijl”. Rietveld was one of the founders of the style of Neo-plasticism. A serious influence was made on Rietveld by Charles Mackintosh and Frank Lloyd Wright. In 1918 Rietveld got acquainted with Theo van Doesburg, Piet Mondrian and other young artists with whom they all became together known as «De Stijl”.

Their style which received the name Neo-plasticism appeared close to Rietveld’s views. They used elementary designs from horizontal and vertical elements and the minimum palette of colours – the primaries were red, dark blue and yellow with the addition of black and white. The same year Rietveld created one of his most known designs – the “Red-Blue” chair. “One of the more uncomfortable chairs ever made, its emphasis was on spiritual aesthetics, employing flat planes and primary colours to implement” (Janson and Davies). Later the chair was shown at Bauhaus exhibition. The house of Truus Schröder (Schroder House) became one of the first architectural works of Rietveld. The house continues the development of Neo-Plasticism: the rectangular forms, a traditional for the works of “Stijl” palette where both white and grey walls and the vertical lines executed in primary colours.

The country house was constructed according to the “plastic” architecture of Doesburg, as well as the influence of Mondrian and Wright. “On the facade, we can find Mondrian’s “floating” rectangle and lines. Even the Wright-like cantilevered roof appears to float”(Janson and Davies). It was elementary, economic and functional; not monumental and dynamical.

The radicalism of Rietveld was shown in the second floor’s layout, where except for the bathroom and the toilet on the second floor there were no internal partitions. Internal decor was done using the same colours, as the external walls. The Schroder House was constructed in a residential area and strikingly differed from standard residential buildings surrounding it.

It can be seen through the works of the three architects, that they implemented different techniques and directions, sometimes varying the style through their career. Wright’s “organic architecture “, and Prairie houses, intersected with his works on Neo Plasticism with Rietveld. Rietveld on the other hand also added his views when constructing his most famous works. Le Corbusier’s works can be more individual in that sense, and more influential to some extent. His “five points” made a big influence for decades especially in Europe.

The architecture of the 20th century can be characterised not only with new styles and new building technologies, but also with new building materials and the designs made of them: ferroconcrete, cement with various fillers, steel, concrete, foam concrete, glass, and polymers. The applications of new materials also contributed to the occurrence of new styles and distinctions between them. In that sense, the differences between various styles only contributed to the architecture of the 20th century, which in itself prolonged the styles of the 18th century and took advantage of the new technologies.

Works Cited

  1. “. 2008. Wright House. Web.
  2. “. 2008. Great Buildings Online. Web.
  3. Janson, H. W., and Penelope J. E. Davies. Janson’s History of Art : The Western Tradition. 7th ed. Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2007.
  4. Lind, Carla, and Frank Lloyd Wright. Frank Lloyd Wright’s Prairie Houses. Pomegranate, 1994.
  5. VOLK, JOYCE. ““. 1989. The New York Times. Web.
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