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International style

Updated: Feb 9, 2023

I mentioned in an earlier blog about Bletchley Park, a particular architectural style called the ‘International style’, so I thought I’d tell you more about this style, as it doesn’t seem to be very well known.

The international style began around the 1920s, but it wasn’t really a coordinated movement, it just so happened that many new buildings of the time were of a very similar style. This style of building was mainly geometric forms, with an open interior layout, and lots of glass, steel and reinforced concrete. I would imagine that this type of building would have been a wonder to behold, with so much glass.

The three main principles which this style focused on were:

1. Expression of volume rather than mass

What we interpret this as, is that this style focused more on the volume – using glass to create large light spaces whereas the mass would create the large space, but perhaps have smaller windows and ‘heavy-looking’ materials like brick walls etc. It would seem ‘heavier’ due to the lack of light in the room.

2. Balance rather than symmetry

Balance as opposed to symmetry could be described as symmetry with small differences I guess. Outright symmetry is no longer the ‘in thing’ with planning authorities and, in some cases, can look outright strange.

3. Expulsion of applied ornament

This one may sound a little boring, but it was a principle which was followed closely by architects working in the style – everything was left a little scarce, with very little to no decoration because simplicity was the key.

There was an exhibition of modern architecture was held at the museum of modern art in New York where this style was the main subject on display. Only the works which followed the above principles as rules of a sort were exhibited.

This style was going to be all about freedom of expression and having no boundaries, that was, until world war two broke out, and boundaries were being set up everywhere, this style didn’t really have a chance to blossom to its full potential, but I still see hints of the international style in architecture now, so there must be some architects out there who are still inspired by those three principles.


Written by Jade Turney – Building Tectonics Ltd.

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