Modernism is the history and context of design from 1851 to present day, it can be described as the ‘machine age’.

Introduction and general discussion on the cultural and socio-political context of design.

The Industrial Revolution was the beginning of inventions such as the famous steam and piston engines this enabled things to be  made quicker in and more efficiently. In 1893 the locomotive steam engine was invented by Samuel Johnson, people referred to the train stations to be ‘the cathedrals of their day’.

With the increase in design developments and inventions there was world fairs which were festivals of high machine capitalism. In 1851 ‘The Great Exhibition’ was held at the Crystal Palace where people from around Europe would travel to show off their designs and inventions. The Paris world fair showcased the international treasure the Eiffel tower, artists have taken inspiration from this piece for art and designs of buildings.

The idea of modernity involved a belief in the notion of historical progress; this led to a mass production and consumption in conveyor belt mechanisms,sewing machines,typewriters and motor cars.

To design something in the modernist era they must follow the same design aesthetics:

  • A reaction against the decorative excesses of Art Nouveau
  • Abstraction favoured over figurative
  • Form, follows function (Bauhaus)
  • Geometric forms
  • Simplicity/ minimalism
  • Excitement of the ‘new’ and strive towards ‘perfection’
  • Man can create a better society
  • Order as opposed to chaos
  • Influenced human destiny
  • Elitist

The Great war was the promise of modernity and the optimism born out of the machine was cut down by the murderous use of machines. The inventions of machines can to a stand still during the war as everything was put on hold. After the war came the Great Depression, modernism was still developing unabated as their thrive was to create a utopia of reason and social justice created by architecture and design. This led to the art movements Bauhaus and De Stijl who focus on pure geometric abstraction and supremetism.

The 20th century ideology was split up into 5 sections:

Communism- Stalin, USSR, North Korea and Poland

Socialism- USSR, Cuba, Eastern

Capitalism (free market) – USA, Democrats, Conservatives

Fascism- BNP, Mussolini, Nazis, Dictators

Moderate- Labour post-war, NHS

Abstraction and minimalism focus of the De Stijl dutch movement as they use primary colours and geometric compositions, modernists thought that ‘arts’ could reform people/architecture most of all

-rational design

-symbol of inequality

-spiritual architecture

‘A great epoch begun’ Le Corbuiser


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