Last edited 07 Nov 2020


The term ‘zeitgeist’ is German for ‘spirit of the age’ and refers to the general moral, intellectual, and cultural climate of a particular period in time.

Architecture is influenced by and reflects the zeitgeist, in that architectural movements and individuals have tried, predominantly during the 20th century, to create building designs that are representative of changing societies.

A prominent movement of this kind was Futurism, which developed in Italy after the First World War, when the Fascist Party led by Mussolini came to power. Futurism was predominantly artistic but also overlapped with architectural theories.

Antonio Sant’Elia was the driving force behind Futurist architectural theory. His vision embraced the post-war machine age, centred around ‘the world of work, factories and machines.’ In 1914, at a show for the Nuove Tendenze group, Sant’Elia made the definitive statement of Futurist architecture through a series of studies called ‘Citta Nuova’ and a published text distributed as the ‘Manifesto of Futurist Architecture’ later that year.

The Futurist manifesto, as conceived Sant’Elia, was to reject historicism as a constraining force on architects that held them back from finding a language that was expressive of their age. Futurists saw the pace of change becoming faster, as new technologies made possible architecture that would facilitate new and more modern ways of living.

Architects were inspired by modern innovations such as automobiles and ocean liners, and tried to incorporate features into their building designs, in what would become known as Art Deco.

Other periods of ‘zeitgeist’ that can be seen reflected in architecture include Brutalism, with its austere functionalism and social utopianism that developed in the post-Second World War period when national economies were in a state of turmoil and people began to live in urbanised areas in ever greater numbers.

Other examples include the high tech architecture of Richard Rogers, and the modernist towers of Mies van der Rohe, both of which were representative of their respective zeitgeists; a move towards computerisation and financialisation on the part of high tech, and the burgeoning urbanism on the part of modernism.

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