Friday, April 29, 2011

US3: Exploration

“The right question to ask, respecting all ornament, is simply this: was it done with enjoyment?”                         -John Rusking

In our third and final unit, we explored design movements and events that made an impact on art, architecture, and design from the 1900’s to the present day. Designers began to experiment with forms, shapes and materials, especially before and after WWII. While trying to understand the idea of “good design for all” and “modern” design, we began to explore and analyze the World Fairs, Arts and Craft Movement, Art Nouveau, Expressionism, and everything between.

With the idea of explorations of architecture and design, we started the unit with the world fairs. In 1851, the first international fair, the Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations, eventually renamed the World’s Fair, was held in the Crystal Palace in London’s Hyde Park. The world fairs were organized so that countries could demonstrate their knowledge/advancements and capability of design to everyone, a place for countries to try and establish themselves in the world of design. The fairs’ were commemorative, collaborative, commercial, celebratory, and they were temporary. Countries worked together to provide willing travelers with a space that would entertain as well as give a brief glimpse of the world’s different styles and innovation of that time period. When it came to the actual structures that housed these events, designers had to be creative in designing a building that would hold a mass amount of people and displays, with the understanding that everything was temporary. However, some buildings and towers were left standing, giving some fairs and legacy; one of the most famous of these is the Eiffel Tower in Paris. The fairs introduced many foods and products that we still use today: automobiles, Cracker Jacks, the telephone, zippers, Pabst Blue Ribbon beer, and hundreds more. People would travel long and far to attend a fair, then take back products and ideas back home and sharing them with others. Global influences were easily recognized; the fairs also influenced the development of art and design education, and international trade and relations.

The Arts and Crafts movement was brought about due to the new technologies and innovations that were taking charge; the movement proposed the idea of reform and focused on objects that were simple in form often preserving and emphasizing the qualities of the materials used. Not only was everyone already attempting to out due everyone else in design, now there was a conflict of handcrafted vs. machine made objects. “The Arts and Crafts artist were, for the most part, resistant to making connections to industry,” (Ching). William Morris was one of the artists who lead others in rebelling against the machine, or as stated in Ching, “the dehumanization fostered by industrial production.” Morris’ very own Red House in London is a prime representation of the Arts and Crafts movement. With the help of architect Philip Webb, Morris designed the house for him and his wife. Made of red brick with a steep roof, the house has a big emphasis on the natural materials. The idea was that hand crafted objects were better, or “good design for all.” The machine enabled the middle class to be involved in design; art and architecture were no longer just for the elite. The idea of the hand crafted designs made sense to many people but its aim toward good design for everyone was a contradiction; to hand craft products, it cost a lot more then to mass produce products on a machine. The machine was accepted my most, especially because middle class was able to afford beautiful design. The Arts and Crafts movement inspired many other movements and artist such as Art Nouveau, De Stijl, the Bauhaus, Henry Van de Velde, and Frank Lloyd Wright.

The crafting process was not the main focus of all movements; by the turn of the 20th century, Art Nouveau artists had refrained from the Arts and Crafts neo-medieval look and favored organic shapes and a blend of materials. A main characteristic of Art Nouveau was the stylized, flowing curved lines that would creat connections between spaces and objects. This is seen in much of Victor Horta’s designs, especially in his Tassel House, the staircase in incorporated in to the walls, ceilings, and floors with a curving line that alternates between two-dimensional shapes and three-dimensional forms. In Germany, The Bauhaus was a school aimed to close the gap between craft and industry, unifying the arts. It differed from the Arts and Crafts movement because it embraced the machine; key focal points were functionalism and rationalism. However, the Nazis closed it down in 1933.

“In architecture, modernism is associated with a radical break with past forms,” writes Ching. All around the world designers and artist were developing new styles, forms, and meanings to the word modern. There were many contributing factors including wars and politics, as well as, machines and emerging materials. Steel, concrete and glass made a huge impact in design, making it possible to create skyscrapers and bridges. Some designers preferred handcraft and others the machine, it really depended on what the designers chose to work with and how they wanted their designs to be expressed. Evidence of modern design can be seen pre and post wars, with emphasis on different areas and ideas. The new designs were accepted and denied; criticisms of modern designs lead to more art movements and styles. At this very moment in time, the definition of modern design is debatable and is still being sought out.

Frank Lloyd Wright
I chose a few of Frank Lloyd Wright’s designs as a representation to this unit. A follower of the Arts and Crafts movement, Wright has a very well-know style that was recognized and accepted by most. He had an uncommon appreciation of the landscape and use of natural materials. Wright did not change his style for clients but challenged himself to push his designs to a great abstraction. 

Falling Water House
Wright's Home, Chicago 
Guggenheim Museum

text sources:
Ching, Frank, Mark Jarzombek, and Vikramaditya Prakash. A Global History of Architecture . 2nd ed. Hoboken, N.J.: Wiley, 2011. Print
Roth, Leland M.. Understanding Architecture:  Its Elements, History, and Meaning. New York, NY: Icon Editions, 1993. Print.