To what extent did external influences shape what modernist design became in Europe in the 1920’s? Focusing on chair designs by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Marcel Breuer.
In design, external influences have always played a vital role in any given trend. In the 1920’s, an era commonly referred to as the Machine Age , modernist design followed a very focused approach: a desire to create a better world. In this essay, I will make a brief overview of the socio-economic situation of this time period, with a short introduction to the life of the two practitioners whose work I will analyse: Marcel Breuer and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. I will deliver an examination of their most famous designs, by considering three major themes: rejection of ornamentation, truth to materials, and form follows function. Finally, I will include a consideration of the influence of Mart Stam’s designs on the practitioners work. Together, this will account for my analysis of how external social and economic factors, shared experiences, and common influences, are reflected in the shared features of Breuer’s and Mies van der Rohe’s designs and to what extent they contributed to the shaping of modernism in Europe in the 1920’s. Therefore, how these came to become what could now be referred as modern design.
The term modern is very abstract and has been defined in many different ways. For the purpose of this essay, the term concerns a design perspective: an embrace of utopian ideas in a desire to create a better world; through machinery, new technologies, and the unity of the arts .
Context and life of practitioners
In the 1920’s, Europe was in a post World War 1 situation. New social and economic trends led to a reorganization of civilization: buildings, offices, streets and many cars now governed the city . The breakthrough of machinery and technological development created a desire for progress, which led to a strong preoccupation with efficiency and competence. This encouraged major advances in the design field. It is in this time that practitioners Breuer and Mies van der Rohe were in their most significant professional years as designers and architects. The shared involvements in the practitioner’s lives have significant influences in their designs. Both were associated with the Bauhaus; an iconic Avant-Garde design school in Germany. Breuer was a student who then became a teacher between 1920 and 1928, while Mies van der Rohe was appointed director in 1930 until 1933. The Bauhaus education encouraged geometrical approaches to design, material investigation, craftsmanship, and involving art in the industry. All these ideas shaped what modernism became.
It is also noteworthy to mention the recent past was a critical factor contributing to the popularity of Breuer’s and Mies van der Rohe’s designs. Prior to the 1920’s, many styles, such as Art Nouveau, the Arts and Crafts, Eclecticism, had recently been revived from the past. Struggling for acceptance in an unstable time in Europe, they had not lasted long. This should be accounted for as a big reason why the modern designs became so successful in the 1920’s; society was in need of uniformity; ‘comfort, luxury, status and security’.
Moreover, both practitioners were not only designers but also experienced in the architectural field, which allowed them to take radical steps forwards in structure and design. Both practitioners were majorly influential on the international style in architecture, which was a movement that embraced very similar ideals as modernism. By next addressing three key modernist themes, and by also examining the accompanying images, why and how modernism followed such ideals will be further explained.
Rejection of Ornamentation
As mentioned, the advance in machinery and technology had created a desire for progress, and people were now preoccupied with productivity. This is why the modernists rejected unnecessary decoration. The idea that ‘less is...
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List of illustrations
Image 1: Marcel Breuer, B 64 Cesca Chair (1928)
Available from: < http://www.knoll.com/products/product.jsp?prod_id=15>
[Accessed18 March 2012]
Image 2: Marcel Breuer, Armchair B 3, Wassily (1925/6)
Image 3: Ludwig Mies Van der Rohe, Barcelona Chair (1929)
Available from: < http://www.knoll.com/products/product.jsp?prod_id=71>
[Accessed18 March 2012]
Image 4: Ludwig Mies Van der Rohe, MR 20 (1927)
Image 5: Mart Stam, Chair W1 (1926)
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