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Inter-War Functionalist c. 1915—C. 1940
|Historians of the European brand of modern
architecture which during the 1930s acquired the label ‘International style’
have often created the impression that this style was an extraordinarily
monolithic phenomenon practised by modern architects who all had precisely
the same goal in sight. The more research is done the more cracks and subtle
variations are revealed in the surface of the monolith, but the fact remains
that even an expert would be hard pressed to look at a photograph of a
‘white box on stilts’ of the 1920s or 1930s and identify the country in
which the building was erected.
The modern movement attempted to show the way to a brave new world of the best possible kind. Now that the euphoria has evaporated and the once-pristine white boxes have grown old ungracefully, the movement is adjudged to have failed dismally. Perhaps it should be seen as something that was necessary at the time. Modernism was more than just another set of stylistic clichés; its great strength came from a body of passionately believed theory that concerned itself with the modern world, with technology, with truth in art, and with people’s needs. In retrospect we can see that many committed modernists were sometimes naïve and simplistic, but this should not blind us to the burning sincerity which distinguished them from their less radical colleagues.
Those who were situated well away from the centre of the action (in Australia, for instance) tended to judge European modern architecture on purely visual terms. Most viewed it with suspicion and dislike because it was so unfamiliar; a few thought it was marvellous and they acquired the intense zeal so often found in religious and artistic converts.
The best Australian essays in the Inter-War Functionalist style were by young architects who in the depression years of the early 1930s had made pilgrimages to Europe, the fountainhead of modernism. Back home, they were able to design reasonably convincing buildings in the new style. But for every one of these there were dozens of superficial imitations of half-understood features culled from both the modern movement and from the more popular Art Deco (see INTER-WAR ART DECO), between which no clear line of demarcation was recognised at the time. ‘Modern’ was the label most often applied to buildings of this kind. As that word has now lost its relevance, ‘Functionalist’ has been chosen to replace it, reflecting the oft-stated demands of the style’s adherents that every designed object should be ‘functional’ above all else.
William Street Offices
Automotive Engineering Building, Sydney Technical College, Wattle Street, Ultimo, NSW. Cobden Parkes, Government Architect; E. H. Rembert, design architect, 1938. Brick massing and metal windows recalling the work of the Dutch modernist Willem Dudok.
Australian Glass Manufacturers Ltd, South Dowling Street, Waterloo. Australian Glass Manufacturers designers, c. 1940. Strip windows, some made of glass blocks, express the cantilever floor construction.
City Ford building Darlinghurst
William Street Sydney from air 1950s.
"A Pictorial Guide to Identifying Austrlian Architecture; Styles and Terms from 1788 to the Present"
RICHARD APPERLY, ROBERT IRVING, PETER REYNOLDS. PHOTOGRAPHS BY SOLOMON MITCHELL.
Angus & Robertson Sydney 1995 ISBN 0207 18562 X
Copyright © 1989 by Richard Apperly, Robert Irving and Peter Reynolds.
|The inter-war functionalist
style, which spanned the period between the two world wars, had its
background in European modernism of the 1920s and 1930s. Modernism is the
general name given to the trend which embraced functionalism, technology and
the elimination of applied historical ornamentation. The influence of Le
Corbusier, Eric Mendelssohn, W M Dudock and the Bauhaus was important.
Australia was slow to embrace these ideas, with the better inter-war examples being by younger architects who had travelled to Europe and witnessed the new ‘international style’ first hand. They designed streamlined, horizontal architecture, often in factories, schools and hospitals.
These buildings were, for the time, radical and progressive, with their simple geometric shapes, light colours and large areas of glass.
|Hotel at Captains Flat, New South Wales built 1938|