Modern Historicism


Developing in the first decades of the 20th century and continuing into the 21st century, Modern Historicism emphasizes the importance of history by using attributes and/or elements from past styles or periods within a modern framework. Modern Historicism looks to and uses the past in a variety of ways to express a diversity of themes in the context of contemporary life and requirements.

1. The Historic Preservation Movement recognizes the importance of the past and seeks to save it by protecting and maintaining historic structures and sites.
2. Reinterpret the Past: Designers and architects may focus on a particular style or aspect of the past, especially as individual styles come in and out of favor. Uses the past in a variety of ways to express a theme, symbolism, or monumentality.
3. Saving the Past: 4 types: Preservation, Rehabilitation, Restoration, and Reconstruction.
4. Historic Preservation Approach – Preservation planning identifies significant structure or areas to be preserved, rehabilitated, or restored.
5. Suburban Modern – due to the war a housing shortage of housing becomes a problem, therefore, many countries respond by building public housing and suburbs.
6. New Urbanism – Designers begin to create small towns with place identity, greater density, and an emphasis upon pedestrians instead of automobiles.
7. New Formalism – takes the International Style in another direction by turning to the past for inspiration.
8. Regionalism – Designers begin to consider the surroundings or locales of their work.
9. New Classicism – Some architects deliberately return to classicism to better understand Modernism.

Now I know that was a little confusing but look at the photos below:

Furniture in Modern Historical rooms in public and private buildings may be antiques or period styles of modern manufacture arranged for modern use. In contrast are period rooms in museums, which strive to replicate historic furnishings and arrangements. A piece of furniture may be a loose interpretation, adaptation, reproduction, or new invention of a new period style.

1. Period Styles: Period styles may define pieces unknown in the precursor period, such as computer desks, file cabinets, television cabinets, coffee tables, and tea carts.
2. Reproductions: Reproductions, a term that was imprecisely defined in the first half of the 20th century, now are considered furniture, textiles, finishes, and decorative arts that copy a historical object or document as exactly as possible in scale, form, an details using modern production methods.

Symbols and Motifs:
Modern Historicism features period elements, details, and motifs derived from past styles, such as pediments, columns, pointed arches, flowers, ogee arches, pagodas, birds, leaves, medallions, arabesques, and shells.

Decorative Arts:
Modern Historical interiors display numerous decorative period accessories including paintings and prints, clocks, screens, mirrors, shelves and brackets, ceramics, glass, and metalware. Accessories may be antiques, reproductions, or modern pieces in traditional or modern styles. Plants and flowers are in integral part of many rooms. Decorations, designers, and homeowners use accessories to support the room’s concept, make a statement about the clients, owners, or themselves, or personalize a space.

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Organic and Sculptural Modern

1930’s-Early 1970’s

Organic and Sculptural Modern, inspired by sculptural forms or abstracted living organisms, rejects the hard edges and geometry of the International Style. It seeks total unity within the design or scheme through harmony with nature and a human touch. Following World War II, the style becomes extremely popular in furniture and the decorative arts, whereas the few examples in architecture and interiors are limited to individualistic examples.

Organic and Sculptural Modern represents a deliberate move away from geometry and hard edges toward asymmetrical, expressionistic designs that are still dependent upon functionalism and mass production.

1. Organic architecture has roots in primitive vernacular forms and a specific architectural language, which can also be seen in Art Nouveau.
2. Look for buildings with these characteristics: an asymmetrical composition overall, a dark, curved roof overhang, white, sculptural concrete facades, irregularly sized and shaped windows with deep reveals that filter light within, and the building to be sited on a high plateau with surrounding plantings.
3. Examples of Organic and Sculptural Modern define a surprising variety of public buildings, including large corporate headquarters, government complexes, airports, and museums.
4. Architects exploit reinforced concrete in a variety of curvilinear or parabolic shapes that move and undulate in biomorphic and sculptural forms.
5. Many roofs have curving shapes made possible by reinforced concrete or the use of a cable-hung system.
6. Also look for these characteristics: Natural stone building material, along with ochre concrete and russet-painted steel, natural light to penetrate from all sides, a cantilevered terrace projecting horizontally, building integrates with the site to become one with nature, and an organic architecture to emphasize asymmetry.

Furnishings and decorative arts convey some of the best representations of the abstract, biomorphic, and sculpural character. Organic furniture is often of new materials in fluid or free-form shapes that suit the human frame.

1. These are mass-produced but often offer a variety of choices for chair or table legs and bases, colors, and finishes for individuality.
2. Distinctive Features: Characteristic fluidity of line, rounded forms, free-form, biomorphic shapes, and lightness are made possible by new materials, such as fiberglass, and new construction techniques, such as molding and laminating.
3. Materials: fiberglass, plastics, aluminum, polyester resins, and plastic foams.
4. Seating choices expand substantially during the period, with more variety and experimentation.
Look for these details: a contoured seat and back, a curved from to emphasize the human body, molded shell, flexible and swivel tilt bases, and a metal base to visually separate the piece.

Symbols and Motifs:
Common motifs include amoeboid and kidney shapes, spheres, parabolas, atoms, molecules, rockets, satellites, flying saucers, abstracted and stylized fruit, flowers, plants, and objects of daily life.

Decorative Arts:
Architects and furniture designers produce decorative art objects with organic forms and patterns in glass, ceramics, wood, and metal. Decorative objects often have rich textures emulating the textural contrasts of interiors. Forms include bubbles, abstracted flowers, and stems in transparent glass. Ceramics display organic shapes influenced by sculpture, abstract patterns, and bright colors.

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Geometric Modern

Geometric Modern continues the design language and many of the ideas of the Bauhaus and International Style through work of the originators and their followers. Key characteristics include functionalism, geometric forms, little applied decoration, and new materials and technologies.

Remember, during the 1930’s and 1940’s, the world of design is in turmoil. The rise of Fascism in Germany and Italy and the militaristic expansion of Japan through much of East Asia stifle growth. World War II brings more world involvement and greater destruction across the globe than WWI. So, World’s Fair Exhibitions take refuge in the United States where a futuristic and streamlined look becomes the major outlet for creative expansion.

1. Geometric Modernism defines both public and private architecture because it is economical, easy to construct, and adaptable to a variety of building types and user/client needs.
2. Walter Gropius, Marcel Breuer, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, and Le Corbusier both defines and dominates the style.
3. New Brutalism develops, which is a modern architecture composed of bold concrete in geometric forms.
4. The corporate office building is a new building type by Geometric Modernism. They take two forms: a high-rise, glass box in an urban context OR an expansive single or group of buildings set within a campus-like landscape.
5. Look for these attributes: glass curtain wall facade with bronze grid and no ornamentation, straight edges define the corporate glass box, main entry at plaza/street level, base raised on columns, and a granite plaza in front.

The lighter scale, airiness, and visual weight of Geometric Modern furniture eminently suit modern rooms, whether residential or commercial. Furniture often has a machine aethetic, blending with the hard-edged geometry of the architecture and interiors.
1. Many pieces are multi-purpose or modular for flexibility.
2. Knoll, Inc. and Herman Miller begin aggressively marketing good design.
3. “Good design is good business.”
4. Manufacturers and designers, like the Herman Miller Company and Florence Knoll, increasingly strive to create or produce office furniture that suits modern offices and aids the process of work. Therefore, suits of office furniture, room dividers, and storage systems are important.
5. Characteristics include: slender metal or wooden legs, lightness, man-made materials, and a machine aesthetic.
6. Common materials: rubber, plywood, foam rubber, aluminum, and plastic laminates.

Symbols and Motifs:
Modern buildings have no motifs or references to the past. Geometric shapes are the dominant motif, with architectural details spotlighted.

Decorative Arts:
The Modern style is sleek and simple with no ornament, and extends to the decorative arts, including clocks, glassware, dishes, cutlery, vases, and other accessories. Most commercial spaces have few decorative accessories, while houses have more that are usually in bright colors to coordinate with color schemes. Plants are a common feature in homes.

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Scandinavian Modern

1900’s – 1960’s

Scandinavian Modern refers to a specific architecture and design from Denmark, Sweden, Finland, and Norway in the early 20th century. Although adopting elements of Bauhaus and International Style modernism, expressions are simple, functional, often minimal, yet incorporate a concern for the individual and an emphasis upon natural materials.

Remember these facts:
1. Scandinavian designers and architects are less concerned with design theory than practical and social humanitarian matters.
2. Common to Scandinavian design are simplicity, human scale, modesty, practicality, elegance, and excellent craftsmanship.
3. They carry traditions of the environment or landscape, respect for materials, and natural materials.
4. National Romanticism and Neoclassicism dominate architecture
5. A spare and stripped down appearance defines the style, although classical ordering and some classical elements, such as columns, may appear.
6. Common attributes to look for: a copper roof, uneven brick facade, irregular grouping of buildings, administration offices around a courtyard, stairs to courtyard.
7. Common building types include railway terminals, churches, libraries, town halls, houses, and public housing.
8. Plans may be simple or interlocking rectangles.

Now please enjoy some photot below to better understand the Scandinavian Modern style:

Scandinavian furniture ranges from totally handmade to completely mass-produced, with varying increments between the two. As the countries industrialize, especially after World War II, furniture design evolves as a collaborative effort between designers, artisans, and manufacturers, a concept that arises from strong craft and cabinetmaker organizations.

1. Furniture designers view themselves as artists to industry. They do not feel compelled to incorporate machine or industrial imagery into their work.
2. Furniture can be categorized into three categories: designs inspired by traditional forms which are simplified, furniture designed by architects for their projects to achieve total unity, or experiments with new materials and construction techniques.
3. Types: well known for their lounge and dining chairs and storage units
4. Features: translates modern design concepts into wood with clean lines, practicality, and a modest approach.
5. Relationships: Furniture relates to interiors in form, material, and concept.
6. tubular metal, wood, and plywood are popular materials (plywood because it can easily be bent and shaped).

Now check out some Sveet (sah-vah-e-e-tah) photos of Scandinavian furniture:

Symbols and Motifs:
Purely modern expressions often have no or minimal applied ornament or decoration, so there are few motifs, except stylized foliage and plants, associated with them. National Romanticism adapts and stylizes Scandinavian plants and foliage for decoration.

Decorative Arts:
Designers create beauty in everyday objects in ceramics, glass, metal, and wood. Architects, such as Aalto and Jacobsen, design lighting, glass, and other decorative objects either for specific interiors or mass production.

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Art Deco, Art Moderne

1920’s – Early 1940’s

Art Deco is a worldwide style with a diversity of expressions in all the design arts, including architecture, interior design, furniture, decorative arts, graphic design, book arts, fashion and film.

Art Deco architecture develops from the application of stylized and abstracted geometric, floral, and figural decoration to classical and modernistic forms.

Art Deco Concepts:
1. designs reflect a coordinated and integrated approach for total unity
2. some have classical elements (like columnns) and others reflect a more Modernist approach with simple geometric forms
3. Interiors reflect a variety of design approaches: such as: classically inspired with lavish ornament, architecture with verticality, stepped lines, and profuse stylized ornament.

Art Moderne Concepts:
1. During the 1920’s with the advent of Art Moderne, buildings, interiors, and objects show influences from trains, automobiles, and airplanes.
2. Forms become simplified, sleek, and efficient.
3. Surfaces are smooth and corners rounded.
4. Horizontality is emphasized through shape and with contour lines.
5. Ornament is kept to a minimum so as to not disturb an aerodynamic appearance.

But I find the best way to understand architecture is through photos.

Art Deco and Art Moderne manifest in several types of furniture. High-style French furniture is usually custom designed to suit a particular space for a wealthy and sophisticated clientele who see interiors as settings for social rituals.
Elegance, individuality, excellent craftsmanship, and expensive materials define these furnishings.
Art Moderne furniture, usually mass-produced and sometimes created by a designer, has streamlined, geometric or biomorphic forms, simple contours, and no ornament.
Types: new to the period is the cocktail cabinet to hold liquors, barware, and glasses and the coffee table.
Relationships: repeats architectural and interior character in form and motif

Symbols and Motifs:
Natural motifs include stylized flowers and garlands, banana leaves, stylized water fountains, feathers, doves, deer or antelopes, elephants, greyhounds, exotic animals, human figures, sun rays and sunbursts. Geometric motifs that are machine-inspired include circles, spirals, squares, rectangles, diamond shapes, chevrons, lightning bolts, parallel lines, and striped bands. Female figures appear as spotlights in wall murals and decorative arts objects. Other exotic motifs derive from the Ballet Russes, Egypt, African art, and Oriental influences.

Decorative Arts:
Designers and consumers choose from a variety of decorative accessories for both Art Deco and Art Moderne rooms. Common accessories include fabric covered, painted, or lacquered screens,
wood, metal , or Bakelite clocks,
ceramic, glass or metal tea, coffee, and cocktail services,
mirrors in wooden or metal frames,
wooden and metal sculptures,
african masks,
Native American baskets and pottery, and posters, prints, and paintings.
Artists, designers, and traditional manufacturers produce ceramics, glass, and metalwork.
Unless intended for mass production, the work of artists consists of individual, high style examples of Art Deco/Art Moderne.
Manufacturers adapt high-style designs for mass production to appeal to consumers.

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International Style

The International Style broadly refers to a modern architectural style arising in Europe in the 1920’s, and in the United States and rest of the world from the 1930’s onward. The style gets its name and identity from Modern Architecture: an International Exhibition, a 1932 show at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City organized by Alfred Barr, Henry Russell Hitchcock, and Philip Johnson.

Johnson and Hitchcock classify architecture as International Style by three broad principles: emphasis upon volume rather than mass, regularity arising from standardized elements rather than axial symmetry, and emphasis on proportions and materials rather than arbitrarily applied ornamentation.

Things to REMEMBER:
1. arises from theories, forms, technology, and construction methods developed during the late 19th and early 20th centuries by individuals, movements, and design schools
2. particular importance is for the German School, the Bauhaus, and Walter Gropius
3. Another significant contributor to the International Style is Le Corbusier. He believes in a radical architecture as a tool for social reform and suggests new solutions for houses and urban planning. Design characteristics: rejection of the past, decorative ornament, adoption of functionalism, machine precision, and universal form – not individualism.
4. Types: Commercial buildings include exposition pavilions, stores, and banks
5. Architects place buildings that take advantage of the sun, smooth white stucco with large expanses of windows, simple and unornamented facades, and flat roofs.
6. motto “A house is a machine for living in” – Le Corbusier

Furniture and decorative arts follow the concepts and language of design established earlier by the Bauhaus designers and others. Many pieces are by architects. Designs are simple and functional with no applied ornament or references to historical styles. Anonymity, geometry, and hygienic industrial materials are key features. Many pieces incorporate tubular or flat steel for structural support. Upholstered pieces exhibit an extensive use of black, brown, or natural leather to coordinate with the stark interiors.

Symbols and Motifs:
There is no vocabulary for motifs because buildings are usually unadorned. Some architects include unique architectural details that are a part of the building structure, such as those on the Villa Savoye.

Decorative Arts:
Decorative accessories are limited to a few, usually functional pieces, such as bowls or ash trays. Designs, which reveal a machine aestheic, are simple, geometric, and unornamented.

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The Bauhaus


The Bauhaus, an innovative German school of art and design, strives to unite art, craftsmanship, technology in an aesthetic expression that reflects modern industrial life.

Founded in 1919 by Walter Gropius, the school uses a foundations course and workshop experiences to train students in theory and form, materials, and methods of fabrication.

Although the school has no architecture department until it moves to Dessau in 1925, commissions by Gropius afford opportunities for collaboration in keeping with teh goals of the school. Buildings are simple, functional, and industrial. Devoid of any applied ornament, they often appear asymmetrical and three dimensional, such that one must experience the building from all sides.

1. Types: schools, offices, and government buildings.
2. Architects orient buildings so that they recieve the most sun exposure to take advantage of natural light.
3. Structures sit on flat plains of grass. SHUN TREES…SHUN.
4. The most important construction materials include steel, glass, and reinforced concrete, sometimes a brick masonry applied on the face of the concrete.
5. Exteriors are plain, simple, and unornamented.
6. Windows may be fixed in grid patterns.
7. Entry doors are often recessed and integrate into the overall building composition.
8. Roofs are mainly flat.


Unornamented and radically different from other examples, Bauhaus furnishings suit Bauhaus concepts of the modern home. Designs stress simplicity, functionality, excellent construction, and hygienic industrial materials.

1. Furniture is lightweight and space saving.
2. Standardization of form and interchangeable parts are key design considerations.
3. Furnishings are movable to support flexible arrangements.
4. Leading designers are: Marcel Breuera and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe.
5. Designs, of of metal, are simple and functional with no applied ornament or historical style.
6. Steel in tubular components or thin strips or sheets takes precedent over wood.

Symbols and Motifs: There is no vocabulary for motifs because buildings are generally unadorned. Some architects include unique architectural details that are a part of the building structure.

Decorative Arts: After 1923, the metals workshop produces many ash trays, tea and coffee services, kettles, dresser sets, and pitchers in brass, bronze, and silver. Forms are simple and geometric with no applied ornament.

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