International Style Houses in Hollywood Hills: an Architectural Overview
The International Style of architecture emerged in the 1920s, Modern Architecture was developing in Western Europe. The eminent architects Le Corbusier in France and Walter Gropius and Mies van der Rohe in Germany devised a new architectural theory, in which “form follows function.” Abandoning tradition, they created a pared-down style, devoid of extraneous ornamentation, emphasizing geometric shapes and simple lines. It was significantly different from the prominent styles of previous eras -- an architecture for the modern age.
In 1932, the Museum of Modern Art in New York City held a groundbreaking show, The International Exhibition of Modern Architecture. Accompanying the exhibition was book The International Style, by historian Henry-Russell Hitchcock and architect Philip Johnson, which identified, categorized, and expanded upon the characteristics of Modernism in architecture, and lent its name to the new style.
The availability of newer construction materials in the 1920s and ‘30s, especially concrete and steel, helped the International Style to grow in popularity. The use of steel enabled architects to design taller buildings that were clean and sleek-looking, because the walls no longer needed to be wide and thick in order to support the weight of the entire building. By contriving a steel frame, the designers were able to invent curtain-wall construction, in which they could attach non-weight-bearing walls to the frame, and include huge glass windows, which contributed to the smooth, modern look of the buildings. This soon became the standard design for skyscrapers the world over.
First International Style Buildings
The world's first International Style skyscraper was the Philadelphia Savings Fund Society Building, designed by a truly international team of architects, the American George Howe and the Swiss-born William Lescaze. The PSFS Building is a 32-story tower with a skeleton of structural steel and ribbon-like bands of windows. In California, architects began to turn away from the traditional Spanish Revival look in favor of “speed lines,” which gave the impression that solid buildings were truly moving into the future. In 1947, architect Paul R. Williams was commissioned to design the Hannah Schwartz Apartments, a modern-looking, three-story, 12-unit apartment building on Almont Drive in Los Angeles. With its flat roof, smooth surfaces, long windows, and curved balconies, the building exemplifies the International Style.
International Style architecture appears primarily among wealthier homeowners, rather than in working-class neighborhoods, where the trend was not fully embraced. The style was used in the 1950s and ‘60s for many public buildings such as schools, and International Style elements can be found in the tract houses that appeared after World War II.
Characteristics of International Style Architecture
The International Style of architecture is based upon three principles: the expression of volume rather than mass, the emphasis on balance rather than preconceived symmetry, and the dismissal of external ornamentation. This new style coincided with the existing work of Irving Gill on the West Coast, and Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright in Chicago. These American architects were already striving for simplification and clarity in their designs (although Wright declined to be designated an “international architect”).
Characteristics of the International Style include flat roofs; geometrical and asymmetrical shapes; clean, sleek lines; long banks of steel-framed glass windows; and smooth, monochromatic surfaces. The simplicity of the design adheres to the architectural philosophy of having form follow function, and also allowed buildings to be constructed more quickly, following the modern attitude that faster is better, and embracing the contemporary values of a progressive, “can-do” point of view.
A few decades later, architects began to re-introduce decorative elements into the International Style, creating a new form of architectural Post-Modernism.