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What Does the International Style Mean to Us Now? Essay (Critical Writing)


Understanding the International Style of Design

The International Style (in architecture and graphic design) is most succinctly defined as the aesthetic paradigm, simultaneously aimed at ensuring the high functionality of the industrially produced life-enhancing commodities and endowing them with much artistic value. Hence, the essence of the paradigm’s conceptualization of the creative process, in general, and the role of a designer, in particular, “The artist had to function as a sort of mediator between formal invention and standardization, between personal style and the appropriate form for the Zeitgeist (or ‘spirit’ of the times)”.1 The style’s most distinctive characteristics are concerned with emphasizing the spatial integrity of architectural/graphic designs, prioritizing balance over symmetry in the latter, and ensuring the aesthetically “clean” looks of completed projects. The International Style (initially known as Bauhaus) originated in Germany during the early 20th century. Its introduction and sub-sequential proliferation were predetermined by the dramatic rise of humanity’s industrial capabilities that took place through the historical period in question and the fact that this particular development had a powerful effect on the aesthetic discourse in the West. The International Style has reached the peak of its popularity through the 20th century’s 1930s-1960s. Among the style’s most notable promoters can be named Walter Gropius, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Le Corbusier, Frederick Kiesler, and Raymond Hood.

As it was implied earlier, the affiliates of the International Style are driven by both the considerations of functionality and artistic finesse, which partially explains the common indications of a particular architectural/graphic design belonging to the aesthetic model in question. These include the abundance of rectangular/geometrically congruous shapes, uncluttered interiors (in buildings), the complete absence of any applied ornamentations, and the extensive usage of unconventional/”industrial” materials (such as reinforced concrete, glass, and steel). Villa Savoy by Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret (as seen in the photo below) stands out particularly exemplary in this respect.

Villa Savoy by Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret

As one can infer from observing it, the designers strived to make sure that their creation radiates the spirit of “industrial modernity”, which at the time (the early 1930s) defined the discursive realities of Western living. Because the very notion of “modernity” has been traditionally viewed to convey the message of cosmopolitanism, it comes as no surprise that there is a strong universalist quality to Villa’s design, in the sense that the latter does not seem to be adjusted well to correlate well with the surrounding landscape.

Current Controversy

Even though it did not prove too challenging for the International Style to attain a full architectural legitimacy, it never ceased sparking a public controversy. What has been suggested earlier provides a partial answer, in this regard – the discussed style does not appear to be contextually sound. After all, the style’s strong reliance on rectangular forms/shapes, as the main design-elements, stands out as opposed to the most fundamental principles of how the works of nature come into being materialized. The controversial reputation of the International Style is strengthened even further by the fact many people cannot help deeming it overly mechanistic/machine-like, which in their opinion is utterly inconsistent with the very term “aesthetics”.

What Areas in International Style Continue to be Successful?

To understand better the phenomenon of the International Style’s popularity, it will come in handy referring to Hume’s definition of aesthetics. According to the philosopher, this notion is synonymous with what he used to refer to as the “delicacy of taste” – the category suggestive of the refined workings of one’s sensory apparatus, when “the organs are so fine as to allow nothing to escape them, and at the same time so exact as to perceive every ingredient in the composition”.2 In other words, it is specifically by comparing/contrasting the socially constructed conventions of beauty and ugliness, extrapolated by a particular work of art, that we can form our aesthetic opinion of the latter. In its turn, the formation of such an opinion, on our part, is reflective of the currently dominant sociocultural discourse that delineates how we perceive the surrounding social/natural environment and our place in it. In this regard, de Saussure came up with the enlightening observation, “Through the functioning of the receptive and co-ordinating faculties, impressions that are perceptibly the same for all are made on the minds of speakers”.3 That is, the aesthetic appeal of the International Style cannot be discussed outside of its adherents’ strive to “conquer space”, as something that has the value of a thing-in-itself. And, such a psychological predisposition, on these people’s part, has a strong “eurocentric” (object-oriented)

quality to it. As Bower pointed out, “In a variety of reasoning tasks… (Westerners) adopt an ‘analytic’ perspective. They look for the traits of objects while largely ignoring their context”.4 This explains the quintessence of the style’s aesthetic distinctiveness and provides us with the clue, as to why it was specifically throughout the mentioned historical period that the International Style used to be perceived conveying the strong messages of “good taste” and “progressiveness”. After all, back then the collective West enjoyed an undisputed dominance in defining the qualitative subtleties of the aesthetic discourse on this planet. It must be noted that the International Style continues to enjoy much popularity with people even today. However, nowadays, it is being increasingly perceived as connoting “stylishness” rather than “functionality”. The dramatically amplified popularity of the Bauhaus style in the modern watchmaking industry substantiates the validity of this suggestion.

What Areas Failed to Continue/The Shortcoming that Caused the Failure

As of today, the International Style is no longer deemed universally appealing – especially in the domain of architectural design. Such an eventual development appears to have been predetermined by the rise of “post-modernity”, as the discourse largely inconsistent with the artistic ideals of “industrial modernity”. This simply could not be otherwise because the International styled architectural design draws on the idea that it is namely the uninterrupted continuation of rationale-driven scientific/industrial progress that benefits humanity more than anything else does. During the late 20th century, however, this idea has effectively ceased being perceived representing an undisputed truth-value – not the least due to the discursive legitimation of “multiculturalism” in the West. The reason for this is that, despite its progressiveness/unconventionality, the International Style is quintessentially “eurocentric” and as such, it is ill-suited for addressing the aesthetic anxieties in more and more people around the world.

After all, the share of Westerners/Whites in the world’s population continues to shrink rather rapidly. And, as psychologists are well aware of, the aesthetic aspirations in most non-Westerners are “context-oriented”. Because it is specifically the non-contextual/object-oriented quality of the style’s architectural extrapolations that used to contribute towards ensuring their visual distinctiveness more than anything, there is nothing too surprising about the fact that, as time goes on, the emotional appeal of the International Style in architecture continues to weaken. There can be very little doubt that the observed trend, in this regard, has been brought about by the very essence of the current demographic/political dynamics in the world, suggestive of the ongoing “decline of the West”. The logic behind this suggestion has to do with the fact that the peculiarities of one’s aesthetic stance reflect the perceptual/cognitive workings of his or her psyche5, which in turn cannot be discussed outside of what accounts for the morphogenetic structuring of the concerned person’s brain.


In light of what has been said earlier, it will be appropriate to conclude this paper by stressing out the importance of assessing the discursive significance of just about any style of design in conjunction with what is used to account for the particulars of the overall aesthetic climate at the time. In their turn, these particulars are defined by the thoroughly objective social, economic, and cultural factors – something that once again exposes the sheer erroneousness of some people’s belief in the possibility of “pure art”, completely detached from the sociobiological aspects of the affiliated individuals’ living.

The above-mentioned consideration should be kept in mind by just about anyone who aspires to succeed in conceptualizing the “International Style for Interface Design”. I believe that this conclusion correlates well with the line of argumentative reasoning, deployed throughout the paper’s entirety.


Bower, Bruce. “Cultures of Reason.” Science News, 157, no. 4, (2013): 56-58.

Hardt, Michael. “Aesthetics, Semiotics & Design.”

Hume, David. “Of the Standard of Taste” Essays Moral, Political, and Literary. Edited by Eugene F. Miller. Indianapolis: Liberty Classics, 1985.

“International Style.” Saussure, Ferdinand de. Course in General Linguistics. New York: McGraw-Hill Book, 1916.


  1. “International Style.”, 11.
  2. David Hume, “Of the Standard of Taste” Essays Moral, Political, and Literary, ed. Eugene F Miller (Indianapolis: Liberty Classics, 1985), 11.
  3. Ferdinand de Saussure, Course in General Linguistics (New York: McGraw-Hill Book, 1916), 13.
  4. Bruce Bower, “Cultures of Reason,” Science News, 157, no. 4, (2013): 56.
  5. Michael Hardt, “Aesthetics, Semiotics & Design.”, 15.
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"What Does the International Style Mean to Us Now?" IvyPanda, 30 Nov. 2020, ivypanda.com/essays/what-does-the-international-style-mean-to-us-now/.

1. IvyPanda. "What Does the International Style Mean to Us Now?" November 30, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/what-does-the-international-style-mean-to-us-now/.


IvyPanda. "What Does the International Style Mean to Us Now?" November 30, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/what-does-the-international-style-mean-to-us-now/.


IvyPanda. 2020. "What Does the International Style Mean to Us Now?" November 30, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/what-does-the-international-style-mean-to-us-now/.


IvyPanda. (2020) 'What Does the International Style Mean to Us Now'. 30 November.

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