Thursday, 23 April 2009

International File 1

Is this any use?” asked Friend.

She handed me a small, paper backed book bearing an Open University tag and the publisher’s insignia, The Norton Library.

Where did you get this? I gagged, as soon as I had regained control of my epileptically convulsing body.

Our local college library is moving out old stock. If you don’t want it, I can always give it to a charity…”


Friend narrowly escaped a clunk on the head while I clutched the volume to my quivering bosom. Quivering, that is, with concern for the poor charity shop browser who had just been deprived of the opportunity to read one of the earlier editions of The International Style by Henry-Russell Hitchcock and Philip Johnson.

Philip Cortelyou Johnson was born in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1906. At Harvard University he worked under Walter Gropius, German emigrant and advocate of the new International Style in building. In 1932 he and architectural historian, Henry Russell Hitchcock published the first version of International Style: Architecture since 1922.

The publication of this book was remarkable. Many books had been written on architecture in the course of time but all of them had been tomes on classicism and the gothic and other older styles, in short, hearkening to the past. This was the first time an historian had filled even a moderately-sized volume with essays and pictures on a style of building that had burgeoned in the preceding decade. And the book is still in print.

How does one describe the International Style? It is an essentially clean, stripped-down form of building, free from superficial ornamentation, with due attention paid to proportion and volume, typified by the work of Le Corbusier, Mies van de Roe and, of course, Walter Gropius. What is so darned special about volume in a building? isn't that what they're made for?

For answers, watch this space.

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