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International Style

Picture Dictionary of Modern Architecture: International Style

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The United Nations Secretariat building in New York is a famous example of the International Style.
Secretariat Building of the United Nations, New York City, New York, USA

The United Nations Secretariat building overlooks the New York City skyline along the East River.

Photo of U.N. Secretariat Building by Barry Winiker, Getty Images

International Style is a term often used to describe Bauhaus architecture in the United States. The name came from the book The International Style by historian and critic Henry-Russell Hitchcock and architect Philip Johnson. The book was published in 1932 in conjunction with an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. The term is again used in a later book, International Architecture by Walter Gropius, founder of Bauhaus.

While German Bauhaus architecture had been concerned with the social aspects of design, America's International Style became a symbolism of Capitalism: The International Style is the favored architecture for office buildings and is also found in upscale homes built for the rich.

Features of American International Style:

  • geometric, monolithic skyscrapers
  • flat roof
  • glass curtain wall
  • no ornamentation
  • stone, steel, glass construction materials

By the mid-twentieth century, many variations of the International Style had evolved. In southern California and the American Southwest, architects adapted the International Style to the warm climate and arid terrain, creating an elegant yet informal style known as Desert Modernism.

Example of International Style:

One of the most famous examples of the International Style is the United Nations Secretariat building (shown here), originally designed by an international team of architects including Le Corbusier, Oscar Niemeyer, and Wallace Harrison. The smooth glass-sided slab, one of the first uses of curtain-wall cladding on a tall building, dominates New York's skyline along the East River. The United Nations Secretariat building was completed in 1952 and renovated in 2012.

Learn More:

  • "Revival of an Icon" by Joann Gonchar, AIA, Architectural Record, September 2012
  • The International Style by Henry-Russell Hitchcock and Philip Johnson
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See examples of Bauhaus and the International Style:

Architects Inspired by the Bauhaus Movement:

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