What is Modernism?

Modernism is a more socially informed way of building spaces and items for living according to need and function. It could be best deemed as a cluster of design ideals, beginning at the start of the Twentieth Century, which stemmed from an aversion to the ornate excesses of the recent Victorian style, and a reaction to industrialisation.

It is generally recognised that Modernist design formally established in Europe in 1919, with the opening of the Bauhaus School of Design in Germany. The school incorporated the combination of arts and craft disciplines and innovators such as Walter Gropius, Mies Van Der Rohe and Le Corbusier. Frank Lloyd Wright, an American of this time, who derived much of his inspiration from the open living spaces of Japanese homes, also held huge influence on the following century of architects.

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The philosophies and practice of these people and many others, evolved, traveled and in post WW2 became the defining philosophy for many architects and designers, thus this era is loosely dubbed Mid-Century.

Many extraordinary examples of public and domestic Mid-Century Architecture can been seen worldwide, Australia is no exception. Touched by freshness of the Modernist ethos, combined with the post-war boom time economy, suburbs, cities and costal regions became the location of many ‘Modern’ structures and interior design.

Examples of Australian domestic Modernism vary from the heritage listed houses of Harry Seidler and Robin Boyd, to classic 1960s pastel pre-fab tract housing – still sighted in the tea tree scrub of coastal towns to this day.

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Modernist public buildings range from university faculties to suburban pools to the premier architectural icon of Australia – The Sydney Opera House.

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Attributes that denote Modernist Mid-Century homes and design may be:

  • Use of the natural elements to regulate temperature, air-flow and efficiency of the home’s energy use eg: Solar Passive Design.
  • Flat or single angled rooflines.
  • Floor to ceiling windows.
  • Clean lines and open plan spaces.
  • Specific attention paid to the site pre-construction and the building’s placement within the block eg: The front of the house does not have to face the street.
  • Split-levels and sunken living areas.
  • Uninterrupted Indoor/outdoor areas.
  • Lack of decorative and ornate styling such as ceiling roses, iron lacework etc.
  • The use of new materials and technology from the era eg: laminate, stainless steel, large scale glass panes, plastics, concrete and also natural and textural surfaces of interest such as wood paneling, slate, shag carpets, woven curtains.

In Modernist furniture simple shapes, functionality, mass production, geometric forms, new textile design and the use of ‘modern’ materials such as stainless steel, are at the forefront.

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As definitions and design theory within the 20th Century are endlessly debated, we’ll be inclusive and encompassing of all variations which may be titled Mid-century. From the pastel kitsch of 1950s domesticity, to the stark concrete monsters of Brutalist Architecture, the aim is to appreciate and discuss all.