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History of Architecture (AP313) | Term Paper | 2014

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Explain modernisation, modernity and modernism with
respect to the advent of modern architecture

Term Paper for History of Architecture (AP131)

Shivika Gulati
Roll Number: 02016901611
Sushant School of Art and Architecture
PAPER
The word modern, first recorded in 1585 in the sense "of present or recent times,"
has travelled through the centuries designating things that inevitably must become
old-fashioned as the word itself goes on to the next modern thing. The word
modern comes from the Late Latin modernus, which is derived from Latin modo in
the sense "just now,"
[1]
the English word modern (first recorded at the beginning of
the 16th century) was not originally concerned with anything that could later be
considered old-fashioned. It simply meant "being at this time, now existing," an
obsolete sense today. In the later 16th century, however, the word began to be
contrasted with the word ancient. Modern was being applied specifically to what
pertained to present times and also to what was new and not old-fashioned.
Etymologically speaking, three basic levels of meanings are associated with the
word modern. In the first and oldest sense it means present, or current, implying
as its opposite the notion of earlier, of what is past. A second meaning of the term
is the new, as opposed to the old. Here the term is used to describe a present time
that is experienced as a period, and which possess certain specific features that
distinguish it from previous periods. This term began to be used in the seventeenth
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century. During the course of the nineteenth century another level of meaning
became important. The notion of modern then acquired the connotation of what is
momentary, of the transient, with its opposite notion no longer being a clearly
defined past but rather an indeterminate eternity.
Modernity, as a result of these meanings, is what gives the present the specific
quality that makes it different from the past and points the way toward the future. It
is also described as a break with tradition, and as typifying everything that rejects
the inheritance of the past. By the eighteenth century, modernity became a
condition that couldnt be pinned down to a set of fixed attributes. It was in the
nineteenth century that modernization also gained ground in the economic and
political fields. In the urban environment, modernity became more than an
intellectual concept. On the whole then, a distinction could be drawn between
modernization, modernity and modernism.
[2]

The term modernization is used to describe the process of social development, the
main features of which are technological advances and industrialisation,
urbanisation and population explosions, the rise of bureaucracy, an enormous
expansion of mass communications systems, democratizations, and an expanding
world market.
Modernity refers to the typical features of modern times and to the way that these
features are experienced by the individual: it stands for the attitude toward life that
is associated with a continuous process of evolution and transformation, with an
orientation toward a future that will be different from the past and the present. The
experience of modernity provokes responses in the form of cultural tendencies and
artistic movements.
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Modernism, in its broadest sense, is the generic term for those theoretical and
artistic ideas about modernity that aim to enable men and women to assume
control over the changes that are taking place in a world by which they too are
changed. The suffix -Ism is a derived word used in philosophy, politics, religion or
other areas pertaining to an ideology of some sort.
Historically, Modernism describes a series of reforming cultural movements in art
and architecture, music, literature and the applied arts which emerged in the three
decades before 1914.
Embracing change and the present, modernism encompasses the works of thinkers
who rebelled against nineteenth century academic traditions, believing the
"traditional" forms of art, architecture, literature, religious faith, social organization
and daily life were becoming outdated; they directly confronted the new economic,
social and political aspects of an emerging fully industrialized world.
There were two important art movements originating in France that had an impact
on modernist thought: impressionism and symbolism. Impressionist paintings were
characterised by visible brushstrokes, open composition, emphasis on light in its
changing qualities (often accentuating the effects of the passage of time), ordinary
subject matter, the inclusion of movement as a crucial element of human
perception and experience, and unusual visual angles with some famous
impressionist painters being Claude Monet, Eduard Manet, Pierre Auguste Renoir
and Edgar Degas. Symbolism, on the other hand, was largely a reaction against
Naturalism and Realism, movements which attempted to objectively capture reality.
It was marked by a belief that language is expressly symbolic in its nature and that
poetry and writing should follow connections that the sound and texture of the
words create.
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The period prior to the First World War saw many social, political, and economic
forces at work that would become the basis to argue for a radically different kind of
art and thinking. Chief among these was industrialization, which produced
buildings like the Eiffel Tower (constructed in 1889), which broke all previous
limitations on how tall man-made objects could be. Industrial urbanisation brought
with it many problems and changes in the ways in which people lived their lives.
With the invention of the telegraph offering instant communication at a distance,
the experience of time itself was altered.
These developments began to give a new meaning to what was termed
'Modernism- it embraced disruption, rejecting or moving beyond simple Realism in
literature and art. Modernism, while it was still "progressive" increasingly saw
traditional forms and traditional social arrangements as hindering progress, and
therefore the artist was recast as a revolutionary, overthrowing rather than
enlightening.
However it was not until after the Second World War that it gained mass popularity,
after modernist planning was implemented as a solution to the previous failure of
architecture and design to meet basic social needs.
It is then that Modernism truly manifested itself in architecture as the prominent
figures of the movement Le Corbusier, Walter Gropius, and Ludwig Mies van der
Rohe - had established their reputations and the dream of the urban utopia.
During the 1930s as much as 15% of the urban populations were living in poverty,
and slum clearance was one of the many social problems of this
decade.
[3]
Modernist planning was a popular idea, and used as a solution to these
problems. But the movement could not adequately comprehend and cater for the
social dynamics of family and community, and a result, many modernist buildings
were pulled down in the seventies.
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The central theme in the Modernist architectural theory was the representation of
the space-time continuum. Architecture was seen as a representation of the
worldview and an expression of the space-time structure of the physical and
experiential reality.
Students at the Bauhaus school of design were taught purity of form and to design
for a better world by Walter Gropius. The phrase form follows function became the
modernists slogan. Modernists believed that ornament should follow the structure
and purpose of the building. Family life and social interaction was at the centre of
the modernist dream for a planned environment. The vision was for trouble free
areas by mixing blocks with terraces to create squares, zoning services and
amenities, all interlinked by roads. The modernists planned for zoned areas where
residential and commercial amenities were distinct and separate. In his
introduction to Modernism in Design, Paul Greenhalgh outlined key features in
modernist design including function, progress, anti-historicism and social
morality.
[4]
Le Corbusiers famous Villa Savoye in Poissy, France is a prime example.
It shows no reference to historic architectural design; the pioneering plan was a
progressive leap for the late 1920s. The form clearly follows the intended functions
of the residential building, bearing no unnecessary ornament, and the open space
surrounding the structure as well as the open plan interior lends itself to the ideals
of social living and communication. The modernist ideals were not applied to social
housing until 1937, when Maxwell Frys Kensal House in London applied the
principles of the movement to a social housing scheme. It was a success and is still
popular with its residents today. It then became the prototype for other social
housing projects to follow the example of modern living.
Many projects of the modernist era were initially successful, and the public came to
associate this strong aesthetic with prosperity and progress. In the post war era, the
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ambitions of the modernists and their strong sense of social responsibility in that
architecture should raise the living conditions of the masses.
[5]
seemed progressive
and promising.
However, modernism has had its fair share of criticism. Jane Jacobs, author of The
Life and Death of Great American Cities, in her book accused Le Corbusier, one of
the pioneers of the movement, of an inhumane planning process that did not
properly consider those who were to live in the planned developments. She claimed
the modernist aesthetic to be dull, and her writing promoted the street, in particular
the pavement, as a place where a community can meet, socialise, and control their
privacy.
[6]

Not all modernist social housing projects were as successful: many were
demolished from the 1970s due to large-scale failure. The ultimate example of the
failure of the modernist utopia is the now infamous Pruitt Igoe urban housing
development in St. Louis, Missouri, completed in 1955. The development was
planned according to the modernist principles of Le Corbusier, and comprised of 33
11 storey high rise blocks made up of small individual apartments. There were
communal areas including large corridors, outdoor spaces around the blocks, and
communal rooms for activities such as laundry, intended to increase the social
interaction amongst the community.
However by the late 1960s, the project's recreational galleries and skip-stop
elevators, once heralded as architectural innovations, had become nuisances and
danger zones. Large numbers of vacancies indicated that even poor people
preferred to live anywhere but Pruitt-Igoe.
[7]
Poverty, crime and segregation of the
community were major problems for the residents of the development. It was
suggested that the modernist style was to blame for these social problems.
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Le Corbusier noted the positive force technology had played in peoples lives with
revolutionary inventions such as the car and the telephone, and declared the house
should be a machine for living in. They utilised glass, steel and concrete in their
designs, which allowed them the opportunity to create buildings of radical design,
such as the skyscraper, which would not have been plausible were it not for these
materials. He and the other modernist architects believed that a for a home to
provide its function it should have the purity of form of a well-designed machine.
[8]

The pioneers of the movement held a firm belief that in creating a better
architecture, a better world would ultimately follow.


REFERENCES
1. Mifflin Company, H, 2000. The American Heritage Dictionary of the English
Language. 4th ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company

2. Heynen, Hilde (1999). Architecture and Modernity: A Critique. London: The MIT
Press. 10-13.

3. Jeremiah, D. (2000). Emergency, Economy and Modernisation: 1940-1953.
In:Architecture and Design for the Family in Britain, 1900-70. Manchester:
Manchester University Press. pp. 123-163.

4. Greenhalgh, P (1990) Modernism in Design, London: Reaktion pp.1-24

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5. Henket, H,J. (2002). Modernity, Modernism and the Modern Movement. In: Henket,
H & Henyen, H Back from Utopia: The Challenge of the Modern Movement.
Rotterdam: 010 Publishers. p.10

6. Henket, H,J. (2002). Modernity, Modernism and the Modern Movement. In: Henket,
H & Henyen, H Back from Utopia: The Challenge of the Modern Movement.
Rotterdam: 010 Publishers. p.11.

7. Von Hoffman, A. Why They Built the Pruitt-Igoe Project. Available:
http://www.soc.iastate.edu/sapp/PruittIgoe.html. Last accessed 06 May 2010.

8. The Open University. The Machine Age. Available:
http://www.open2.net/modernity/. Last accessed 6 May 2010.