Simplicity and Structure: The International Style in Architecture

The International Style in architecture was inspired by mechanical simplicity and structure. It borrowed from Mondrian’s principles of dynamic equilibrium, basically the balancing of “unequal but equivalent oppositions.” This balance was intended to induce a feeling of “mystical harmony of humanity in the universe.” The color palette that was used in this style were basic black and white, with the structural elements like the steel beams and rails painted in bright primary colors. This contrast of bright color was set against the white and black surfaces to accent the structure of the building. When a person looked directly at a building that was designed in the International Style of Architecture, they were overcome with the impression that the flat surfaces and segments of the building could be moved at will, simply by sliding them to one side or the other. However this illusion of shift-ability was impossible, as moving any one part would cause the destruction of the whole. Another element of the International Style that was incorporated in this design was the use of continuous windows and reflective surfaces. As light entered through the glass it was reflected by black painted surfaces or mirrored surface that reflected the light back through the glass.

The interior of the International Style building was based on the use of boxes. Simple, clean lines kept the interior of the building structured, but cozy. The upper level of the building was designed to be a “universal space” for all the occupants of the building, or it could be segmented and divided into a variety of living spaces simply by sliding panels out of a wall to create room dividers that could enclose a room. When the segmentation was no longer needed, these panels could be slid back into the wall and the universal space could be reopened for entertaining. This allowed the owner of the house to create the space that best fit their lifestyle and spatial needs.

The Schroder House best demonstrated the International Style of architecture, and this architectural style became so popular around the world, that the style became known as the International Style. The Bauhaus, created by Walter Gropius, incorporated this style into its design. It advanced the style by combining two schools of thought the arts school and the crafts school. This combination started its own revolution known as the Arts and Crafts Movement, which became a popular style in the United States. The Bauhaus was made up of three major blocks intended to house classrooms, shops, and studios. All three blocks were interconnected and allowed students to travel between the different areas freely.

Another example of the International Style was seen in the work done by Ludwig Mies Van Der Rohe. His experiences with Expressionism, De Stijl (nonrepresentational style), and Constructivism helped him in his design of the German pavilion for the experimental Weissenhof Estate exhibition in Stuttgart. The goal of this project was to create a large amount of inexpensive, but comfortable living quarters for Germany during the Weimar Republic. This creation became a showcase for “all the leading architects of the day.” This project resulted in Rohe’s transitioning to a philosophy of “rationalization and standardization” as he soon discovered that these were the most effect means for achieving his architectural goals.


Janson, H.W. & Janson, Anthony F. (2004). History of Art: The Western Tradition. (6th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson-Prentice Hall.

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