The Reverse Diaspora

Zonnestraal Sanitorium by Jan Duiker

“The architect who builds in the international style seeks to display the true character of his construction and to express clearly his provision for function. He prefers such an organization…as will increase rather than contradict the prime effect of surface of volume.” Henry – Russell Hitchcock and Philip Johnson

The loftiest goals of Modernism were to create a new type of building, free from rhetoric, regionalism, ornamentation, and anything else that would betray it’s true form as a building for all nations. Basically they sought to cut the bullshit out of the equation. However, the residue of beauty was inescapable amongst the Functionalists. No matter how hard they tried to express brute uncompromising built structures they betrayed themselves with aesthetic proclivities.

The vocabulary of the International Style shows the aesthetic framework of the Modernists. Along with Le Corbusiers’ Five Points other common themes include the use of white stucco or plaster, and almost always a flat roof. These two things, in hindsight, clearly seem to be non-rational solutions in building. White stucco, cracks and crumbles over time, needing heavy maintenance to keep it proper. And the flat roof, of course is illogical in that besides shelter the function of the roof is to shed water. Of course these things like white walls and flat roofs are lies to enhance the idea of rationality. A flat roof conveys a severity of purpose. In a spiritualist way it is also an abstract reduction of what a roof is. However, I have a lot more to say about the rhetoric of flat roofs, and will save it for another post.

The International Style was trying to accomplish a building vocabulary of standardization that could be used all around the world, and was not encumbered by nationalist dogmas and traditions. The only way this could be done was to strip if of all applied decoration, use economical standardized materials of the latest technology, and program the building towards strictest logic, avoiding sweeping grand statements deemed unnecessary. What they attempted to do here was destroy the boundaries of spoken language and nationalism and unite all countries towards a worldwide community: A Reverse Diaspora contrary to the Tower of Babel: One building pulls us apart, and a new philosophy brings us together!

But alas, just like any utopian aspiration, (like Communism for example), other complex forces in the world (like greed {nay}, and free will {yay}) diminish lofty overarching visions and keep the world in a constant state of paradox: order and chaos….

Lange House by Mies Van Der Rohe.

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