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International Style

The International Style in architecture developed the same time as Art Deco. The style emerged in western Europe in the 1920s and was introduced into the United States by several distinguished practitioners including Walter Gropius, Ludwig Mies van de Rohe, Richard Neutra, and Rudolf Schindler, all of whom emigrated from Europe to escape persecution and war. The term came from an experimental 1932 exhibition (International Style: Architecture in 1932) held at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, and from the title of the seminal exhibition catalog ( International Style: Architecture Since 1922 ) written by Henry-Russell Hitchcock and Philip Johnson.

In the 1920s and 1930s, Americans preferred period or "revival" styles that reflected an eclectic mix of past traditions. Architects of the International Style promoted an anti-style: a new universal architecture molded from modern materials - concrete, glass, and steel - that was characterized by an absence of decoration. The style was "international" in that it could be applied to any location, site, or climate as it made no reference to local history or national vernacular. From 1930 to 1940, Los Angeles was center stage for early practitioners of the International Style in the United States.

At its best, the International Style strives for precision, simplicity, and clarity. The style embraced machinery and industrialized mass-production techniques, relying on the use of iron and steel, reinforced concrete, and glass. Above all, the buildings were utilitarian, with every part of the design having a function. Defining features of the style are:

  • Primarily glass (green, blue, black, and bronze) and steel, in combination with reinforced concrete
  • Unadorned, smooth wall surfaces, typically of glass, steel, or stucco painted white
  • Complete absence of decoration and ornamentation
  • Simple geometric forms, often rectilinear
  • Corner windows
  • Flat roofs, without ledges, eaves, or coping
  • Metal windows set flush with exterior walls, often in horizontal bands
  • Windows usually large and rectangular, displaying a regular pattern
  • Large areas of floor-to-ceiling glass or curtain walls of glass
  • Use of thin metal mullions and smooth spandrel panels
  • Plain doorway entrances set flush to the wall
  • Open interior spaces; modular furniture

Although seldom used for residential construction, the International Style dominated commercial and institutional American architecture from the 1950s through the late 1970s. The style's "anonymous glass boxes" (glass-covered office towers) - now the image of capitalism and corporate America - were particularly popular in large cities from the 1950s to the 1970s and are still being constructed today. Well-known examples of the International Style include the United Nations Headquarters, the Seagram Building and the Lever Brothers Building, all in New York City.

Good examples of buildings in Fullerton inspired by the International style are the Beckman Instruments Headquarters (1953) at 4300 N. Harbor Boulevard and the former Hunt Administrative Building (1960) at 1645 W. Valencia Drive. As a more modest example, the Fullerton Community Bank Building (1960) at 200 W. Commonwealth Avenue, exhibits the materials, simple lines, and good proportion of design elements that characterizes the International style. On the CSU Fullerton campus, University Hall (1993) exemplifies recent architecture that employs the principles of the International style for a mid-size building.

The International style lent itself to urban planning and any large-scale building that involved standardized units of construction. It was also very popular as corporate architecture where the building provided an image for a company. However, the formulaic and cheapness of construction led to a plethora of poor imitations during the 1960s and 1970s; as a reaction against the sameness of the International Style, several different architectural styles evolved after the 1960s, and eventually, they were given labels such as New Formalism, Brutalism, and Post-Modernism.

Read More about the International Style:

  • Coleman, Brian D. "International Style." Old House Interiors January 2001: 58-65.
  • Hitchcock, Henry-Russell, and Philip Johnson. The International Style. Collingale, PA: DIANE Publishing, 2000. First published in 1932 under the title: The International Style: Architecture since 1922.
  • Khan, Hasan-Uddin. International Style: Modernist Architecture from 1925 to 1965.New York: Taschen, 2001.
  • Wodehouse, Lawrence. The Roots of International Style Architecture. West Cornwall, CT: Locust Hill Press, 1991.

Beckman Instruments Headquarters (1953)
Beckman Instruments Headquarters (1953)
4300 N. Harbor Boulevard


Hunt Wesson Administrative Building (1960)
Hunt Wesson Administrative Building (1960)
1645 W. Valencia Drive


Hunt Library Branch (1960)
Hunt Library Branch (1960)
201 S. Basque Avenue


Fullerton Community Bank (1960)
Fullerton Community Bank (1960)
200 W. Commonwealth Avenue


University Hall (1993)
University Hall (1993)
CSU Fullerton Campus


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