Last edited 30 Oct 2020

International Style


[Seagram Building by Mies van der Rohe]

The International Style was born in western Europe in the 1920s from the innovative work of noted architects Le Corbusier in France, and Walter Gropius and Mies van der Rohe in Germany.

Striving to create a new modern form and functional theory of architecture, these architects abandoned tradition to create a pared down, un-ornamented style that emphasised geometric shapes, viewing it as architecture for the modern age.

Utilising new construction techniques and materials, buildings of the International Style were starkly different than those of previous eras, and not just appearance-wise. Flat roofed, asymmetrical and with bands of windows set into a rectangular form, International Style buildings were a dramatic departure from past eras.

Many European architects came to the United States in the period preceding World War II, bringing their new ideas about modern design with them. In the 1930s, American architects began experimenting with the International Style, building upon the early-20th century American trends like the Commercial, Bungalow and Prairie styles, and the development of skyscrapers.

The influence of the International Style continued long beyond its period of popularity. By creating a new philosophy of architecture dedicated to the pure functionality of form, the International Style had a lasting impact on modern design. Strict observance of the International Style design elements gave way to the development of various modern forms and styles, but the new way of looking at the design of buildings remained.

Pure examples of architect-designed International Style buildings are somewhat rare, but many buildings of the era between 1930-1950 show its influence. Many schools built at the mid century show the basic design principles of the International Style. While the International Style was popular in Europe for residential design in the 1920s and 1930s, it was less commonly used for houses in the United States.

Wealthy followers of the avant garde in architecture commissioned prominent architects to design International Style homes, but the style was not much embraced for more ordinary working class house construction in the USA. However, the design principles of the International Style of functionality and open floor plans could be seen in the tract homes that developed in the post-WWII years.

It is a style that is still in widespread use for tall buildings in cities around the world. It was epitomised by the Twin Towers of New York's World Trade Centre.

Some of the identifiable features of buildings in the International Style include:

This article was written by PHMC.

--Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission

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