Trabeation | Why Buildings Look Like They Do, pt.8 – Abstraction



Inventive structural systems are the lynchpin of many great buildings. But there would be no need for advanced systems without imagination. Architects are creative and that’s why buildings don’t all look the same. The twentieth century has been especially innovative and it all began, in many ways, with the Modern Movement. The term refers to a new direction in arts and architecture in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries.

An abstraction is the essence of something—a simplified representation. To abstract is to subjectively transform by stripping away the superfluous. Abstract painters like Picasso, Matisse, Klee, Kandinsky, and Boccioni took real subjects and ideas and simplified them to their basic elements. With modernism painters simplified their subject matter, and architects made building elements more primitive—that is, they left the bare-bones essentials. Modernists stripped ornament from their work and therefore the meaning associated with it.

By the beginning of the 20th century abstraction was to emerge with power in Germany with examples like Peter Behren’s AEG Turbine factory, Walter Gropius and Adolf Meyers Shoe factory and the Glass Pavilion by Bruno Taut. And in France Swiss French architect Le Corbusier’s was perfecting the Modern style. His Villa Savoye, completed in 1931, is a notable example of abstraction. His columns became simple, undecorated, functional elements that held up the building—they were called pilotis. Stairs were replaced with ramps, and individual windows became strips of glass called ribbon windows. Adolf Loos distilled his buildings down to un ornamented geometric shapes. Walter Gropius founded the Bauhaus, a school for modernism in Germany. His work, including the building in Dessau finished in 1926, was stripped down and bare—stucco, concrete, and massive areas of glass.

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