Culture and Recreation


When did modern architecture begin?

The term “modern architecture” is used to refer to the architecture that turned away from past historical designs in favor of designs that are expressive of their own time. As such, it had its beginnings in the late nineteenth century when architects began reacting to the eclecticism that was prevalent at the time. Two “schools” emerged: art nouveau and the Chicago school.

Art nouveau, which had begun about 1890, held sway in Europe for some 20 years and was evident not only in architecture and interiors, but in furniture, jewelry, typography, sculpture, painting, and other fine and applied arts. Its proponents included Belgian architects Victor Horta (1861–1947) and Henry Van de Velde (1863–1957), and Spaniard Antonio Gaudi (1852–1926).

But it was the Chicago school that, in the rebuilding days after the Great Chicago Fire (1871), created an entirely new form. American engineer and architect William Le Baron Jenney (1832–1907) led the way. Four of the five younger architects who followed him had at one time worked in Jenney’s office: Louis Henry Sullivan (1856–1924), Martin Roche (1855–1927), William Holabird (1854–1923), and Daniel Hudson Burnham (1846–1912). Burnham was joined by another architect, John Wellborn Root (1850–1891). Together these men established solid principles for the design of modern buildings and skyscrapers where “form followed function.” Ornament was used sparingly, and the architects fully utilized iron, steel, and glass.

By the 1920s modern architecture had taken firm hold, and in the mid-twentieth century it was furthered by the works of Walter Adolf Gropius (1883–1969), Le Cor-busier (Charles-Édouard Jeanneret; 1887–1965), Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (1886–1969), and Frank Lloyd Wright (1867–1959). For practical purposes, modern architecture ended in the 1960s with the deaths of the aforementioned masters.

Examples of modern architecture include Chicago’s Monadnock Building (1891), Reliance Building (1895), Carson Pirie Scott store (1904), and Robie House (1909); New York City’s Rockefeller Center (1940), Lever House (1952), and Seagram Building (1958); as well as Taliesin West (1938–59) in Arizona, Johnson Wax Company’s Research Tower (1949) in Wisconsin, and the Lovell House (1929) in Los Angeles.


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