Modernism, Modernisation and Modernity in Australia, 1919 –1939

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Modernism, Modernisation and Modernity in Australia, 1919 –1939

Lighting the Way: New technologies, new materials, new cities.

Modernism transformed life in Australia across five tumultuous decades from 1917 to 1967 , it spans all aspect of Australian culture including art, design, architecture, advertising, film, photography and fashion. The process of modernisation has had a profound affect, changing our perspectives and the course of our everyday living.

Change is inevitable, man-made environments are changing all the time, people are getting higher, living in apartments and skyscrapers, human subconscious perspective is changing the world. Towards the end of the 19th century, newly creative forces were emerging, which looked forward and sought after innovation and originality in design. Seemingly endless reworkings of decorative design was overused and unambiguously discarded as fresh ideas along with new technologies and materials began to saturate into the beginning of the 20th century. The developed western world was seeing a new age and the birth of modernism . The term modernism and its meaning has formed much debate but it widely regarded as a shared aesthetic or ideological manifesto. As an interpretive concept, it may be applied to art, music or cultural and scientific expressions, not just design . Characteristics tend to be anti-ornamental, anti-historicism, simplistic, that form should be derived from function and use new technologies and/or materials.

Modernity marks the move from feudalism and the move towards capitalism and industrialisation. Classic Modernity started in Paris, it was a machine driven society, mass production was everywhere and when the Eiffel tower was built in 1889 to mark the 100th anniversary of the French revolution, it was a true embodiment that symbolised change and the beginning of an era. It was one of the first structures to use steel; its grand height allowed people a new perspective. Society went from being nature based to man-made, coal powered steam engines allowed transport and production factories, which allowed substantial growth for Paris, which had many departments stores and is renowned as the fashion capital of the world4. Laszlo Maholy-Nagy states, “ The forces of modernity instigated a shift, almost imperceptibly towards colourlessness, to match the grey of the big city, of the newspapers, of the photographs. Perpetual hurry, fast movement, cause all colours to melt into grey” 5

During the 1920’s and 30’s, Australia was experiencing the impact of modern technologies and idea’s from Europe and America. The emergence of the modern movement was the most significant architectural development during the inter-war period, “Styles of this period included Art-Deco, Moderne, Functionalist, Spanish Mission, Chicagoesque, Commercial Palazzo and the Classical and Georgian Revivals”6. Buildings were being constructed to heights that Australian people had never seen before. The inter-war Art Deco style also celebrated the exciting, dynamic aspects of the machine age, but in a more toned down, easy to approach way that appealed to a larger group of people on an emotional level, with the use of graphic decorative elements and modern, eye-catching materials.

So while not strictly a style of modernism, there are similarities in influence that make this a style worth including as it fuses modern technology and trends and the representation of dynamic progress. Melbourne and Sydney embraced the style as the inter-war Art Deco style came to be favoured for two distinctively twentieth century building types: the cinema and the skyscraper. In Australia, the style was also frequently used in commercial and residential interiors and shopfronts.

“Modernism, modernity and modernisation would rarely coincide as complementary phenomena in the development of the city (Melbourne and Sydney) before WW2”. Stephen, Goad and Mcnamara (2008)

The early industrialisation of...
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