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20th CENTURY ARCHITECTURE: FROM ART DECO TO ECO
The 20th century was an interesting period of architecture especially compared to the 19th century when industrialisation and the movement of people into cities resulted in thousands of similar terraced houses and little in the way of innovation.
Architectural styles are commonly related to social, economic and political developments of the time and the 20th century is a prime example of this. Industrial and technological advancement informed the way that buildings were designed.
The first half of the twentieth century was punctuated by two world wars which diverted attention, manpower and materials away from housebuilding. However, in the inter war years, the Art Deco movement appeared and really made its architectural mark.
The Art Deco period lasted between 1925 and 1939 and the keywords to describe this period are innovation, harmony, simplicity and modernity.
Art Deco is a style that encompassed furniture, textiles, ceramics and architecture. The name was coined after the International Exhibition of Modern and Industrial Decorative Arts held in Paris in 1925 and the style spread across Europe to the US and Britain where it became a firm favourite for building types associated with the modern age.
The Art Deco era had two parts: Zigzag Moderne in the 1920s and Streamline Moderne in the 1930s. Characterised by bold geometric shapes and bright colours, Art Deco styling was used for garages, airports, cinemas, swimming pools, department stores and office buildings.
There was also an influence on house building. Clean lines and minimal decoration were partnered with luxury, glamour and opulence with lighting and the use of mirrors a big part in the presentation of interiors. Notable features included curved corner walls, small, rounded windows, flat roofs and metal railings.
The 1930s also saw an exodus of people relocating to more rural settings due to better and improved transport links with cities. Welcome to suburbia!
The homes built during the 1930s and the 1940s took their inspiration from earlier architecture notably buildings from the Victorian and Tudor period, coining the term, ‘Tudorbethan’. Steel and cement were used as building materials and houses often featured curves and uncomplicated lines.
Bungalows also became popular during this period including single storey styles and dormer bungalows with bedrooms incorporated into the roof. Small blocks of flats appeared, a pre-cursor to what was to follow in the 1960s.
POST WAR MODERNISM
The immediate period after the Second World War was more about demolition than construction as Britain recovered from the aftermath of five years of war and city centre bombing.
Clearance of slum housing triggered a period of regrowth with smaller towns expanding with new modern housing. Little inspiration was taken from older building styles; a break with the past seemed necessary after five years of war.
During the 1960s, alongside the arrival of modern tower blocks, interest was revived in the preservation of older buildings. The mid to late 1960s is described as the era of Postmodern architecture, an attempt to improve upon pure modernism which was seen as functional and rather too stark and ugly.
A new movement called ‘Brutalism’ also became popular and this involved creating buildings based on exposed concrete. A shiny example of this are the halls of residence at the University of East Anglia called the Ziggurats. Architecturally unique and Grade II listed, the University has an ongoing battle to preserve the disintegrating concrete which is why many buildings of the Brutalism movement are no longer still standing.
During the 1970s, post modern architecture continued to develop, fuelled by the economic boom of the 1980s.
Eco homes are thought of as a product very much of the 21st century, with low carbon footprints and minimal environmental impact and energy costs for the homeowner. But the seeds were sown in the late years of the 20th century with home insulation and improvements to double glazing beginning to become a regular feature in most homes. The concept really started to build in the 21st century with increasing global pressure on reducing greenhouse gases filtering down through national governments in the form of greater regulation and incentives for builders and buyers.
20th century architecture is one of the most diverse and eclectic of any of the previous centuries fuelled by the impact of two world wars and the full influence of industrialisation. The architecture is a true reflection of the social, political and economic drivers of the different decades and forms a fascinating lesson for the social historian.
The 21st century has begun with a huge emphasis on sustainability and eco-development, it will be interesting to see whether at the end of this century, there will have been as much change and development as has been witnessed throughout the one hundred years that went before.
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