How the International Style is Like Bagels

The Seagram Building in New York, one of the best known examples of the International Style.

The Seagram Building in New York, one of the best known examples of the International Style.

The International Style of architecture does not have many fans any more.  Its straight lines and lack of ornamentation make some people wonder if it can be called a style at all.  But I think of it the same way I think of a bagel.

A bagel is unassuming and simple: a round piece of bread with a hole in the middle—what could be less gourmet?  Ah, but in the hands of a master baker the simple mixture of flour, yeast and water is transformed into something special.  Sprinkled with sesame seeds or minced onions, then baked at just the right temperature, the humble bagel becomes a mini-masterpiece of culinary art.

It’s the same story with the International Style.  A skillful architect takes a few basic materials, like concrete, steel and glass, then combines them to create a structure so simple and unobtrusive that its beauty is exactly in its minimalism.

Homes built in the International Style are easily recognized by their rectangular geometry, smooth walls, flat roofs, and lack of ornamentation of any kind.  Exterior walls are built of concrete and glass, with steel used for support.  The interiors are open, with rational and practical floor plans.

Villa Savoye in France, another famous example of this style. Image courtesy of  Valueyou .

Villa Savoye in France, another famous example of this style. Image courtesy of Valueyou.

The lines of these structures emphasize their horizontal orientation, and the liberal use of glass combined with plain light-colored walls gives these homes an almost “weightless” feel.  Some experts jokingly call this the “architecture of almost nothing,” as the absence of any decorative elements makes it seem like these homes are trying to divert the attention away from themselves.

The architects who “invented” the International Style in 1920’s did so out of the desire to create an economical and practical housing for the working class.It is then ironic that this style mostly impressed large corporations, who built so many skyscrapers in the International Style throughout 1940’s, 50’s and 60’s that it came to personify America’s corporate power.Today, most residential homes built in the International Style are built for the rich, as its deceitfully simple construction is rather expensive to execute well.

The Farnsworth House in Plano, Illinois is the perfect example of the minimalism of the International Style. Image courtesy of  Carol M. Highsmith .

The Farnsworth House in Plano, Illinois is the perfect example of the minimalism of the International Style. Image courtesy of Carol M. Highsmith.

Architecture Blog

Starting in 2003, this blog series ran for 11 years.  Click on the images below to read some of the posts.

Dutch Colonial

Dutch Colonial

Georgian

Georgian

Folk Victorian

Folk Victorian

Greek Revival

Greek Revival

Tudor

Tudor

Mission

Mission

Craftsman

Craftsman

Queen Anne

Queen Anne