International Style Architecture Guide |
How International Style of Architecture Is Still Shaping Functional Aesthetics Today

How International Style of Architecture Is Still Shaping Functional Aesthetics Today

How international was International Style of Architecture?

Cissy Wang
Written by –
Cissy Wang
on August 22nd 2019
Cissy is a fresh graduate from CUHK with a major in English and Comparative Literature. Her writing gears towards the poetics of space in social, cultural and urban spaces. "In libris libertas" has always been her motto.

“Space and light and order. Those are the things that men need just as much as they need bread or a place to sleep.” — Le Corbusier


Austere white walls, asymmetrical cubic shapes and large expanses of glass stripped of all extraneous ornamentation and decoration that lead to an extreme blurring of interior and exterior space — all of which characterize the International Style of architecture. To put this into perspective, how does International Style become a dominant tendency in Western architecture during the middle decades of the 20th century? How International was the International Style of Architecture? Keep reading to discover more.


The term “International Style”derived from the title of the eponymous catalogue entitled The International Style: Architecture since 1922 written by architectural historian Henry-Russell Hitchcock and the architect Philip Johnson for the architectural exhibition Modern Architecture: International Exhibition held at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1932 to showcase new style of architecture which emerged after the end of World War I by leading European architects of the day.

International Style: Installation image of Modern Architecture: International Exhibition at MoMA, 1932 |
Installation of Modern Architecture: International Exhibition at MoMA, 1932 | image source

Notable among these architects included Walter Gropius and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe in Germany and the United States, J.J.P. Oud in the Netherlands, Le Corbusier in France, and Richard Neutra and Philip Johnson in the United States.

International Style: The International Style: Architecture Since 1922, by Philip Johnson and Henry Russell Hitchcock |
image source

The architectural style originated in Holland, France, and Germany in the 1920s and ’30s was particularly widely disseminated through different parts of the world in the post-war era immediately following the World War II when the world tended towards a lot of reconstruction and rehabilitation for millions of displaced people. As with the method of International Style, it is often called minimalist modernism, which has been adopted unequivocally on every inhabited continent and became a global symbol of modernity both before and after World War II.

Iconic Examples of International Style of Architecture

Arguably one of the most prominent design movement int the 20th century, International style is seen as transforming the skylines of every major city across the globe with its simple cubic forms that continue to redefine highrise living for the post-war generation. Ahead, let’s take an architecture tour on some iconic International Style buildings progressive and structurally rigid in style.

Bauhaus Dessau School, 1925-26, by Walter Gropius

International Style: The Bauhaus School, Dessau, Germany, 1919, by Walter Gropius |
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In 1919, German architect Walter Gropius founded the Bauhaus school, a school where the earliest modernist principles of architecture blossomed in response to industrialization and mass production. The Bauhaus was originally located in Weimar and moved in 1925 to a new building in Dessau designed by Gropius. It is worth noting that the campus prominently features an asymmetric pinwheel plan, with dedicated areas for teaching and glass curtain walls, which wrap around corners and provide views of the building’s interiors, and its supporting structure.

International Style: German-American architect Walter Gropius |
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Together let us desire, conceive, and create the new structure of the future, which will embrace architecture and sculpture and painting in one unity and which will one day rise toward Heaven from the hands of a million workers like the crystal symbol of a new faith. — Walter Gropius

Villa Savoye, Poissy, France, 1929–31, by Le Corbusier

“The house is a box in the air,…” — Le Corbusier, Précisions

International Style: Le Corbusier with his model for Villa Savoye, 1928 |
Le Corbusier with his model for Villa Savoye, 1928 | image source

Designed by Le Corbusier in 1929 and completed in 1931, Villa Savoye is the embodiment of modern architecture in the 20th century, and the key building in the development of International Style of architecture that celebrates and reacts to the new machine age.

International Style: Villa Savoye, Poissy, France, 1929–31, by Le Corbusier |
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The house occupies the smiling town of Poissy, the outskirts of Pairs, perfectly realizing Le Corbusier’s architectural manifesto of “Five Points of Architecture” elucidated in his treatise Vers une architecture (1923) which he viewed as a universal system that could be applied to any architectural site within the forms, layout, materials, and siting of the Poissy. To this end, the villa was in a sense a machine designed to maximize leisure in the machine age, thus represents the way Le Corbusier conceived of a dwelling as “a machine for living.”


“The house should be a machine for living in.” — Le Corbusier

Lake Shore Drive, Chicago, 1949-51, by Mies van der Rohe

International Style: Lake Shore Drive, 1949-51, by Mies van der Rohe |
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The 860-880 Lake Shore Drive towers by Mies van der Rohe are two twin skyscrapers on the Chicago skyline — exemplars of the International Style and widely recognized as one of the 20th century’s most iconic residential projects. Consisting of two 26-story rectangular condominium buildings at cross axis towards one another, the glass-and-steel tower connected by a covered walkway mark the “spirituality of this specific place.”

The Glass House, New Canaan, Conn., 1949, by Philip C. Johnson

Owned and designed by celebrated American architect Philip Johnson, the Glass House is an International-style building conceived “for viewing the surrounding landscape”.

International Style: The Glass House, in New Canaan, Connecticut, by Philip C. Johnson |
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Johnson built the 47-acre estate for himself in New Canaan, Connecticut, which is considered one of the first most brilliant works of modern architecture with its perfect proportions and its simplicity. Exterior-wise, it is a steel-frame structure, and all of its walls, windows, and doors are made of glass.

nternaional Style: The Glass House in New Canaan, Connecticut, 1948-1949, by Philip Johnson |

Now the residence is operated as a historic house museum by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.


“There’s already a very sophisticated irony at work … kind of wit—as if he’s playing along with modernism, all the while preparing for whatever’s next.” — Philip Johnson

Seagram Building, New York City, 1958, by Mies van der Rohe

International Style: Seagram Building, New York City, 1958, by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Philip Johnson |
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The Seagram Building located in Midtown Manhattan at the heart of New York City is a 39-story office and retail structure designed by Mies Van der Rohe and Phillip Johnson and constructed in 1958. Functional, simplistic, and unadorned, flaunting amber-toned windows and public plaza, the 38-story building on Park Avenue helped usher in a new era of simple, straightforward skyscrapers, and is also regarded as a masterpiece of functional aesthetics.

Final Thoughts

Undoubtedly, International Style for architecture spread through most parts of the world for corporate buildings, offices, interiors, and furnishings of multinational companies in such a way like no other architectural style, providing an aesthetic rationale for the austere, anti-ornamental, ultra modernist style new architecture that became the status symbols of American corporate power and progressiveness at this time. In its attempt at freedom from superfluous ornament and detail, it attracted criticism as too s stultifying and formulaic, eventually leading to the neo-eclectic postmodernism the late 1970s and early ’80 against modernist architecture and as a renewed exploration of the possibilities of innovative design and decoration which tried to account for the locality. At any rate, the legacy of International Style will continue to reign supreme for many years to come.

So there you have it, a complete guide to International Style for architecture.


Did we miss someone out? Let us know in the comments, we always love to hear from you!


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