“International Style” architecture emerged in Europe during the 1920’s and 1930’s. The roots are traced to the Bauhaus School in Germany, where designers explored rational, functional, and sometimes standardized building types. In contrast to the prevalent styles of the day, simple forms, clean lines, no ornamentation, and the use of concrete, steel and glass as primary building materials defined the look. Although the principles were first adopted by architects and planners in Northern Europe, the term itself, International Style, was coined by Americans Henry-Russell Hitchcock and Philip Johnson in 1932 when they curated MoMA’s first architectural show. The exhibition attracted much attention to the display of mostly foreign building models and drawings.
“The International Style is probably the first fundamentally original and widely distributed style since the Gothic,” Johnson argued. “Today the style has passed beyond the experimental stage. In almost every civilized country in the world it is reaching its full stride.”
The Bauhaus School was closed in 1933 under pressure from the Nazi regime, the school was seen as a center or communist intellectualism. The staff emigrated all over the world, many to the U.S., bringing their ideals with them. The modernist style was readily adapted to any climate zone, and since it is not beholden to historical and vernacular tradition, architects around the globe were able to implement this style in their home countries.
When I started architecture school, these International Style architects (Le Corbusier, Mies Van de Rohe, Alvar Aalto, Richard Neutra, and others) were the role models we learned from. It was just before Post Modernism swept the architectural world- my interest continued to be with the modernists. So, after many years of continuing to design in a modern style myself, it is both notable and gratifying to see how many of my clients are in fact themselves immigrants from around the world. Perhaps the interest in modern design is stronger among these adventurous emigres than for native born Americans.
Working with such a variety of foreign born clients has presented interesting opportunities and challenges. For a Chinese client, I was asked to incorporate Feng Shui principals into the design. The client had their own Feng Shui consultant who reviewed our plans and suggested some tweaks to the design. For an Indian family, we worked with Vastu principles (the traditional Hindu approach to harmony in home and architecture) to achieve a customized, unique home. Vastu principles of design were important in determining locations and layouts of the house; we collaborated closely with the client- they had a family member in India who is a Vaastu expert, who also reviewed our proposed design solutions. Working with these ancient principals provided a spiritual underpinning to the design that made itself felt throughout the process.
Recently I met with a prospective client at their house for an initial consultation. Arriving at the address, a corner property, I was confused how to enter; should I be entering on the street of the address, or go around the corner? The front of the house lookedlike the back, and from the direction I was coming, I couldn’t see an entry door. I continued driving towards the corner and finally saw the door, hidden in a corner setback of the house.
The clients, aware of the problem, stated that one of their priorities was to create more curb appeal and make clear where to enter. This moment of confusion reminded me the power and importance of that transition from street to dwelling.
Most commonly the home entrance faces directly onto some type of a public thoroughfare like a street or public path, and a visitor expectsthe entrance to be clearly signaled. Some entrances are scaled large and grand, signifying the owner’s desire for public prominence.Others might be more subtle, offering privacy for the comings and goings of the household.
Usually the entrance offers some kind of overhead protection from the elements, and whether the door is centered on the front facade or asymmetric, these type of entries make a clear statement about what might be expected when you walk through the door. There might be a double height foyer that creates a sense of having arrived somewhere special, and encourages the visitor to pause or a single story height that is more cozy.
The landscaping between street and house adds to the overall feel of the approach. A straight sidewalk with formal rows of plantings and paving focuses attention directly on the door and creates a very different feeling than a path that wanders through a more garden like design. There are however other factors that might require the front door to in fact not face the street. This was the case when I designed a house for a client who wanted to use Vastu principles, which required the entry to be oriented in a particular direction, in this case sideways to the street. (Vastu is an ancient Hindu approach to harmony in home and architecture, with some similarity to the more familiar Chinese Feng Shui.) And along with the use of a canopy and low retaining wall distinguishing the entry area, any visitor would find themselves comfortably ushered from street to this house.