If 1905 was the annus mirabilis of modern physics, 1923 was the year of wonders for modern architecture and design. In 1923 Le Corbusier published his road map to the future, “Towards a New Architecture,” and in 1923 Walter Gropius moved the Bauhaus to its new, curtain-walled, flat-roofed home at Dessau and inaugurated its program of “Art and Technology: A New Unity.” The modern movement was born.
Looking back at the right-angled, whitewashed villas of Le Corbusier or the obsessively geometrical teapots and typefaces of the Bauhaus, it can be hard to recapture the sense of utter amazement that greeted their first appearance. Here are the words of Sigfried Giedion, then a young architecture student, who had traveled by overnight train from Munich to see the first public exhibition of Bauhaus architecture and design: “I had a glimpse of a world that was being reborn. An indelible impression of that demonstration remains with everyone who took part in it for the rest of his life.” He might just as well have woken up at Woodstock.
Like all radical movements, modernism has been a victim of its own success as its steel-and-glass visions became the reality of the corporate cityscape, and its antistyle became the most successful style of all time.