Twentieth century architecture speaks to what is 20th century architecture and define 20th century architecture.
20th Century Architecture was affected by some ideas that first appeared in the nineteenth century and others born of modern times and conditions and was completely new. Factors that are noteworthy are, technological changes that affected construction and design, increased professionalism of architects, modern corporate base for construction and architectural developments elsewhere that were reinterpreted in the North American context.
During the twentieth century buildings were greatly increased in size and the increase in scale in public and commercial structures was due partially to the wide spread application of such building techniques as the structural steel frame and the passenger elevator which were first introduced near the end of the nineteenth century. The manufacture and installation of these systems were improved and to them was added reinforced concrete which greatly liberated modern design.
These techniques freed the architect from the confines of the load bearing wall and a multitude internal supports thus allowing a freedom of internal plan and exterior design allowing an almost unlimited expanse of windows. An ever expanding list of manufactured materials allowed architects freedom of expression with the use of decorative cast concrete, terrazzo and linoleum flooring, flexible polished metal, glass bricks, shiny black Bakelite and new plastics were now generally available.
Coupled with the improved training and increased professionalism of architects these advances on their own did not bring a change of style. While architecture elsewhere in the world underwent it’s most significant changes in centuries much of North American architecture remained tied to tradition. One is struck by the survival of history based architectural styles right into the middle of the century. We see the persistence of history in the Beaux-Arts, Edwardian Classicism, Modern Classicism, Art Deco, Modern Gothic and the various revival styles which are still popular today.
This persistence may be explained by two major influences, the Arts and Crafts tradition of England and the Ecole des Beaux-Arts of France.
In twentieth century architecture the move away from the historic derived styles to what we now call modern architecture was an intellectual approach that had its roots in the nineteenth century. In Europe certain architects attempted a radical break with the past arguing the irrelevance of historicism. Other architects attempted to reaffirm the architectural styles that had infused Western culture for the previous two thousand years. In the end the abstractionists won out and after the Second World War the modern styles such as Internationalism, Expressionism, Brutalism and later Post Modernism were the accepted norm.
The term modern architecture initially implied strictly functional planning which was understood as the honest expression of materials and the end of ornament. This translated into soaring steel and glass towers and sleek open plan houses.
By the second half of the century the effects of the economy were felt in the construction industry which resulted in massive commercial developments in the midst of older smaller scale neighbourhoods. In the 1960s and 1970s the proliferation of tall steel and glass towers of predictable cubic proportions and smooth finishes evoked a negative reaction. There had been a noticeable decline in the quality of urban development and issues such as the preservation of historic architecture, energy conservation and planning for livable urban communities became of public concern
Architects then rejected this “cookie cutter” concept and responded to the need for a sense of privacy, individuality and human scale by designing buildings that used more varied massing and highly textured materials. New approaches in Europe known as English Brutalist and Dutch Structuralist movements caused North American architects to produce buildings with highly dramatic spaces and sculptural shapes. These buildings are also called Expressionist.
During the 1980s and 1990s concerns for the environment and the economy grew while the dream of a utopian future dimmed. North America now with the rest of the developed world is now in the process of re-examining traditional values not just for architecture but for society in general. The Post-Modern trend in architecture reflects the attempt to use older, humanistic ideas in new ways.