Last Chance: Lessons from Modernism

By Sara Carpenter / Published by Dwell
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Modern-minded New Yorkers have just a few more days to swing by Cooper Union’s Lessons From Modernism: Environmental Design Considerations in 20th Century Architecture, 1925-70 exhibition at the school’s Arthur A. Houghton Jr. Gallery. The comprehensive (and free!) show closes this Saturday and is well worth any Corbusier or Aalto fan’s time.

After thorough research, Cooper Union students, faculty, and alumni selected 25 pieces of modern architecture exemplary of the design movement’s aesthetics and principles. Examining these modern buildings with an eye towards sustainability, the show’s analysis of environmental strategies employed by architects including Paul Rudolph, Oscar Niemeyer, Albert Frey and Frank Lloyd Wright, provide insight into early environmental innovations in architecture. Through these examples, the exhibit reveals the germination of today’s green movement.

Open Air School, Johannes Duiker, 1930. Photo by Pat McElnea. Images provided courtesy The Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture Archive of The Cooper Union.

The 25 models were built for the exhibit. Photo by Pat McElnea. Images provided courtesy The Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture Archive of The Cooper Union.

Among those seeds are practices born out of necessity, as well as steadfast modernist principles. Before air-conditioning existed, modern architects incorporated means for passive cooling and ventilation into their designs. An ever-present goal to minimize the use of materials, seamlessly incorporate structures into their sites, and limit the destruction of landscapes was seen at work in many modernist buildings. These same practices are still championed by sustainability leaders today. Kevin Bone, Director
 of The Cooper Union Institute for Sustainable Design, acknowledges that "while none of these examples meet a perfect definition for today’s green building best practices…these projects do present a catalogue of architectural ideas that accomplish much of what green design aspires to do."

A comprehensive timeline traces growing global environmental awareness. Photo by Pat McElnea. Images provided courtesy The Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture Archive of The Cooper Union.

Building for the Emprezas Gráficas O Cruzeiro, Oscar Niemeyer, 1949. Photo by Pat McElnea. Images provided courtesy The Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture Archive of The Cooper Union.

Housing at Sunila Pulp Mill, Alvar Aalto, 1936. Photo by Pat McElnea. Images provided courtesy The Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture Archive of The Cooper Union.

Cocoon House, Paul Rudolph with Ralph Twitchell, 1957. Photo by Pat McElnea. Images provided courtesy The Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture Archive of The Cooper Union.

House II in Kavouri, Constantinos Decavallas, 1970. Photo by Pat McElnea. Images provided courtesy The Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture Archive of The Cooper Union.

Cocoon House, Paul Rudolph, 1957, Section and Partial Elevation. Images provided courtesy The Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture Archive of The Cooper Union.

Karuizawa Summer House, Antonin Raymond, 1933. Primary Solar Paths and Corresponding Sections. Images provided courtesy The Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture Archive of The Cooper Union.

Siedlung Halen, Atelier 5, 1961, Green Roof Study. Images provided courtesy The Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture Archive of The Cooper Union.

Details
Architect: Oscar Niemeyer
Architect: Paul Rudolph
Architect: Alvar Aalto

Sara Carpenter

@saracarpenter

Sara is a design, bikes, baking, traveling, and pizza enthusiast. She recently left the world of television for greener pastures in modern design.

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