Saturday, 16 May 2009

International File 2

Several posts ago, I wrote about the International Style, a building trend that emerged in the early twentieth century. Just to recap, an International Style building was defined by the presence of regular features in favour of symmetrical, transparent walls that give a sense of volume and activity within, and an absence of superficial ornamentation.

One hundred years ago, there emerged a need for architecture that reflected the new, more democratic nature of life. The idea of people entering buildings through grand, elevated entrances, their arcane activities shielded by classical hauteur, was set aside. By 1926, architect Walter Gropius had build the flagship building for the Bauhaus School of Art in Dessau, Germany. It is still standing today.

You will see no elevated entrance stuck in the centre of an ‘imposing’, symmetrical fa├žade. Instead, the school is a group of rectilinear buildings with thin planes of glass and concrete for walls. The administration building has strip windows, while the students’ living quarter has a ‘checkerboard’ arrangement of windows. Meanwhile, the workshops have entirely transparent walls, allowing people outside to see the buzz of activity within.

This ideal, that transparency should be elevated to the metaphorical, ie, everyone aware of what everybody else is doing, has not exactly been our legacy, this in spite of a plethora of modernist buildings. The CCTV camera has replaced the pane of glass to enable the powers-that-be to scrutinise us for the wrong reasons. But recently, we have gotten our revenge and are now watching them, closely. Whether any good will emerge from this anticipated new accountability by bankers and politicians, remains to be seen.

No comments: