World Architecture Series
Twentieth Century Architecture

History, Movements, Architects.

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For origins and evolution,
see: History of Architecture.
For the top designers,
see: Greatest Architects.
For a short guide to terms
see: Architecture Glossary.

20th-Century Architecture
History - Characteristics - Movements - Architects


Chicago School of Architecture (1880-1910)
Art Nouveau Architecture (1890-1920)
Revivalist Architecture (1900-2000)
New York School of Skyscraper Architecture (1900-30)
Early Modernist Architecture (1900-30)
Expressionist Architecture (1910-25)
De Stijl Architecture (1917-1930)
Social Housing Architecture (1918-30)
Bauhaus Design School (1919-1933)
Art Deco Architecture (1925-1940)
Totalitarian Architecture (1933-60)
International Style of Modern Architecture (1940-70)
High-Tech Architecture (1970 onwards)
Deconstructivism (1980-200)
Blobitecture (1990s)
Late 20th-Century Supertall Towers

Chicago School of Architecture (1880-1910)

The groundbreaking Chicago school of architecture was founded by William Le Baron Jenney (1832-1907), along with a number of other innovative American architects. A centre of high-rise development rather than a school per se, it had no unified set of principles, and buildings created by the members of the school employed many different designs, construction techniques and materials. Some key characteristics of Chicago architecture during this period included: new foundation techniques pioneered by Dankmar Adler; metal skeleton frames - first used in Jenney's Home Insurance Building (1884); the use of steel and iron, first highlighted by the French architect Viollet-le-Duc, and used by Louis Sullivan and others.

Famous Chicago School Firms of Architects

William Holabird (1854-1923) and Martin Roche (1853-1927)
Buildings designed by Holabird & Roche included:
- Marquette Building, Chicago (1895)
- Gage Group Buildings at S. Michigan Avenue, Chicago (1899)
- Chicago Building (Chicago Savings Bank Building) (1904-5)
- Brooks Building, Chicago (1909-10)

Daniel Hudson Burnham (1846-1912) and John Wellborn Root (1850-91)
Buildings designed by Burnham & Root, or Burnham and Co, included:
- Fisher Building, Chicago (1895-6)
- Flatiron Building, New York (1901-3)
- Heyworth Building, Chicago (1904)

Dankmar Adler (1844-1900) and Louis Sullivan (1856-1924)
Buildings designed by firm Adler and Sullivan, included:
- Chicago Stock Exchange Building (1893-94)
- Prudential Building (Guaranty Building) Buffalo (1894)

Art Nouveau Architecture (1890-1920)

A decorative style of architecture characterized by flowing lines, and abstract floral motifs, which was closely associated with the Arts and Crafts movement championed by William Morris (1834-96). Known in Germany as Jugendstil - it was applied to both the exterior and interior design of buildings. Interiors were often lavishly decorated with various types of applied art - including stained glass and ceramics.

Famous Art Nouveau Architects

Antoni Gaudi (1852-1926)
Designer of the Casa Mila (La Pedrera) (1906-10) in Barcelona.
Victor Horta (1861-1947)
Designed Hotel Tassel (1892-3), and Maison du Peuple (1896-9) in Brussels.
Hector Guimard (1867-1942)
Famous for his entrances to the Paris Metro.
Joseph Maria Olbrich (1867-1908)
Founder of the Vienna Seccession, designer of its headquarters.
Charles Rennie Mackintosh (1868-1928)
Designer of the Glasgow School of Art (1907).
Giuseppe Brega (1877-1960)
Stile Liberty architect of Villa Ruggeri, Pesaro (1902).

Revivalist Architecture (1900-2000)

Ever since Italian Renaissance architects revived the proportions and orders of Roman architecture, designers have turned to the past for inspiration. Such revivalism reached its apogee in 19th century architecture, in numerous Romanesque (1000-1150), Gothic (1150-1300) and Beaux-Arts structures in Britain - see for instance Victorian architecture - Europe and the United States, but the process continued into the 20th century.

Famous 20th Century Revivalist Buildings

• "Gothic" Sagrada Familia (1883-1926) by Antoni Guardi.
• "Classical" AEG Turbine Factory, Berlin (1909) by Peter Behrens.
• "Classical" Pennsylvania Railway Station (1910) by McKim, Meade & White.
• "Classical" Lincoln Memorial, Washington DC (1922) by Henry Bacon.
• "Medieval" Stockholm City Hall (1923) by Ragnar Ostberg.
• "Romanesque" Stuttgart Train Station (1928) by Paul Bonatz.
• "Ziggurat" 55 Broadway, London (1929) by Charles Holden.
• "Classical"/"Mughal" Viceroy's Palace, India (1930) by Edwin Lutyens.
• "Roman" Milan Train Station (1931) by Ulisse Stacchini.
• "Classical" City University, Rome (1935) by Marcello Piacentini.
• "Classical" German Pavilion, World Exhibition, Paris (1937) by Albert Speer.
• "Greek"/"Moorish" San Simeon Hearst Castle (1939) by Julia Morgan.
• "Egyptian" Louvre Pyramid (1998) by I.M.Pei.

Note: For biographies of 19th century architects associated with Revivalist architecture, see:
James Renwick (1818-95) - Neo-Gothic architect.
Henry Hobson Richardson (1838-86) - Neo-Romanesque designer.

New York School of Skyscraper Architecture (1900-30)

Steel-frame high-rise architecture was pioneered in the 19th century by American architects in New York and Chicago: two cities which were experiencing rapid development but whose available space was limited. With the fall in the price of steel - a major construction material for high-rise structures - building upwards suddenly became much more economically attractive. During the first three decades of the 20th century, New York took the lead with a number of cutting-edge skyscrapers.

Famous New York Skyscrapers

- Park Row Building NYC, (1899–1901) by Robert Henderson Robertson.
- Flat-iron Building NYC, (1902) by Daniel H. Burnham & Company.
- Philadelphia City Hall (1908) by John McArthur, Thomas U.Walter.
- Singer Building NYC, (1908) by Ernest Flagg.
- Metropolitan Tower NYC, (1909) by Napoleon Le Brun & Sons.
- Woolworth Building NYC, (1913) by Cass Gilbert.
- Empire State Building NYC, (1929) by Shreve, Lamb & Harmon.
- Daily News Building NYC, (1929) by Howells & Hood.
- Chanin Building NYC, (1929) by Sloan & Robertson.
- Lincoln Building NYC, (1930) by J.E. Carpenter & Associates.
- Bank of Manhattan Trust Building NYC, (1930) by Craig Severance.
- Chrysler Building NYC, (1931) by William Van Alen.
- Rockefeller Center NYC, (1940) by Hofmeister, Hood, Godley, Fouilhoux.

Early Modernist Architecture (1900-30)

"Modernist architecture", the first real example of 20th century architecture, was designed for "modern man". It was relatively, if not wholly, devoid of historical associations, and made full use of the latest building techniques and materials, including iron, steel, glass and concrete. Functionality was a key aspect of the modernist style. The format was later fully realized in the United States: see, for instance, Henry Ford's assembly plant at Rouge River, south of Detroit - then the largest manufacturing plant in the world.

Famous Early Modernist Architects

Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959)
Designed Robie House, Chicago (1910); Fallingwater, Bear Run, PA (1937).
Peter Behrens (1868-1940)
Built the AEG Turbine Factory, Berlin (1909).
Adolf Loos (1870-1933)
Designed Steiner House, Vienna (1910); Moller House, Vienna (1928).
Eliel Saarinen (1873-1950)
Designed Helsinki Train Station (1904-14).
Walter Gropius (1883-1969)
Designed Fagus Factory, Alfeld-an-der-Leine (1911).
Le Corbusier (1887-1965) (Charles-Edouard Jeanneret)
Designed Villa Savoye (1931); Unite d'Habitation, Marseille (1952).

Expressionist Architecture (1910-25)

This architectural style emerged in Germany and the Low Countries. Expressionist architects rebelled against the functionalist industrial-style structures of modernist architecture, preferring more sinuous or highly articulated forms. These included curves, spirals and non-symmetrical elements, as well as structures in which the expressive values of certain materials are emphasized. A contemporary example of expressionist architecture is the Sydney Opera House (1973), designed by Jorn Utzon (1918-2008).

Famous Expressionist Architects

Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925)
Famous for his Goetheanum, Dornach (1914).
Hans Poelzig (1869-1936)
Designed Grosses Schauspielhaus, Berlin (1919).
Max Berg (1870-1947)
Designer of the Centenary Hall, Beslau-Scheitnig (1913).
Bruno Taut (1880-1938)
Designed the Glass Pavilion (1914) at the Cologne Deutsche Werkbund Exposition.
Michel de Klerk (1884-1923)
Co-designed the Scheepvaarthuis, Amsterdam (1918).
Johannes Friedrich (Fritz) Hoger (1887-1949)
Designed Chilehaus, Hamburg (1921-4).
Erich Mendelsohn (1887-1953)
Designer of Einstein Tower, Potsdam (1924).

De Stijl Avant-Garde Architecture (1917-1930)

One of the European avant-garde art groups that had a significant influence on the development of modernist architecture, was the Dutch-based group known as De Stijl, founded in Leiden in 1917 by Theo van Doesburg (1883-1931), its active members included the abstract painter Piet Mondrian (1872-1944), as well as a number of architects, designers, painters and sculptors. Influenced by Concrete art and Cubism, as well as radical left-wing politics, its main objective was to establish a compositional methodology applicable to both fine and decorative art. De Stijl designs are characterized by austere geometrical shapes, right-angles, and primary colours.

Famous De Stijl Architects

Robert van 't Hoff (1887-1979)
Preoccupied during his De Stijl period with Communist politics and designs for prefabricated mass housing, worked out in collaboration with the Utrecht architect P.J.C.Klaarhamer (1874-1954).

Gerrit Rietveld (1888-1964)
His most famous designs included his Rietveld Schroder House, Utrecht (1924), now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and his Red and Blue Chair (1917).

J.J.P. Oud (1890–1963)
Highly influential, the Municipal Housing Architect for Rotterdam, JJP Oud was a key participant in the influential modernist Weissenhof Estate Exhibition (1927).

Social Housing Architecture (1918-30)

One response to the European post-war housing crisis in the 1920s was a series of minimal cost social housing projects developed in several major urban centres. On the Continent, these took the form of large-scale apartment blocks.

Famous Examples of Social Housing

• Eigen Haard Estate, Amsterdam (1920) designed by Michel de Klerk (1884-1923).
• Works Housing Estate, Hoek van Holland (1924) designed by JPP Oud (1890–1963).
• Britz Horseshoe Estate, Berlin (1925-33) designed by Bruno Taut (1880-1938).
• Pessac Housing Estate, Bordeaux (1926) designed by Le Corbusier (1887-1965).
• Bruchfeldstrasse Estate, Frankfurt am Main (1927) designed by Ernst May (1886-1970).
• Weissenhofsiedlung, Stuttgart (1927) designed by Mies van der Rohe.
• Siemensstadt, Berlin (1929) designed by Hans Scharoun (1893-1972) and others.
• Karl Marx Hof, Vienna (1930) designed by Karl Ehn (1884–1957).

Bauhaus Design School (1919-1933)

The Bauhaus design school was a hugely influential centre of inter-war modernist architecture. Its design ethos was propagated by several key members of its teaching staff who emigrated to the United States during the 1930s. Combining ideas from Russian Constructivism movement, the Dutch De Stijl group, and the American architect Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959), as well as an attitude to crafts modelled on the Arts & Crafts movement and the Deutscher Werkbund, Bauhaus design - with its clean lines and deliberate absence of ornamentation - eventually developed into the International Style of modern architecture, and later spread to the United States, where it was developed by Walter Gropius, Mies van der Rohe, and other European emigrants like Richard Neutra.

Bauhaus Style Architects

Walter Gropius (1883-1969)
Designed Bauhaus Complex, Desau (1925); MetLife Building, NYC (1963).
Laszlo Moholy-Nagy
Taught the Bauhaus's vorkurs; director of New Bauhaus (1937-8), Chicago.
Hannes Meyer (1889-1954)
Swiss Marxist Professor of architecture, later director, at the Bauhaus.
Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (1886-1969)
Succeeded Meyer as director of the Bauhaus in 1930.

Art Deco Architecture (1925-1940)

Art Deco was influenced by a combination of sources, including the geometrics of Cubism, the "movement" of Futurism, as well as elements of ancient art, such as Pre-Columbian and Egyptian art. Its architecture was also inspired by the ziggurat designs of Mesopotamian art. Art Deco, like Art Nouveau, embraced all types of art, but unlike its predecessor, it was purely decorative, with no theoretical or political agenda.

Art Deco Buildings

- Chanin Building, NYC (1927-9) by Sloan and Robertson.
- McGraw-Hill Building, NYC (1929-30) by Raymond Hood.
- Empire State Building, NYC (1929-31) by Shreve, Lamb and Harmon.
- Chrysler Building, NYC (1930) by William van Alen (1883-1954).
- Entrance Foyer, Strand Palace Hotel (1930) by Oliver Bernhard.
- El Dorado Apartment Building, NYC (1931) by Emery Roth (1871-1948).
- Entrance Plaza to Rockefeller Center, NYC (1932-9) by various.

Totalitarian Architecture (1933-60)

Architectural design under dictators like Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin and Chairman Mao was designed to awe their political subjects and impress foreign vistors. Buildings therefore had to be conceived and built on a gargantuan scale, and often incorporated elements of Greek architecture. Above all, Totalitarian architecture embodied the fantasies and megalomania of the political leader.

Examples of Totalitarian Architectural Design

• City University, Rome (1935) by Marcello Piacentini.
• Olympic Stadium, Berlin (1934-6) by Werner March.
• New Reich Chancellery, Berlin (1938-9) by Albert Speer - see Nazi art (1933-45).
• Moscow State University (1953) designed by Lev Vladimirovich Rudnev.
• Great Hall of the People, Beijing (1959) by Zhang Bo.

International Style of Modern Architecture (1940-70)

The International Style first appeared in Germany, Holland and France, during the 1920s, before being introduced into American architecture in the 1930s, where it became the dominant fashion during the major post-war urban development phase (1955-1970). Predominantly used for "corporate office blocks" - despite the efforts of Richard Neutra, William Lescaze, Edward Durrell Stone and others, to apply it to residential buildings - it was ideal for skyscraper architecture, because of its sleek "modern" look, and use of steel and glass. The International style was championed by American designers like Philip Johnson (1906-2005) and, in particular, by the Second Chicago School of Architecture, led by the dynamic emigrant ex-Bauhaus architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (1886-1969).

Famous International Style Buildings

- Lake Shore Drive Apartments, Chicago (1948-51) by Mies van der Rohe.
- The Graduate Center, Harvard University (1950) by Walter Gropius.
- Seagram Building, New York (1954-58) by Mies van der Rohe and Philip Johnson.
- Inland Steel Building, Chicago (1957) by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill.

High-Tech Architecture (1970 onwards)

Rooted in the avant-garde structures of the 19th century, like the Eiffel Tower and Cystal Palace, hi-tech architecture is based on the expressive qualities of cutting-edge technologies and materials. As demonstrated by James Stirling (1926-92) - see his glass structure of the Engineering Faculty, Leceister University (1959-63) - traditional construction methods (like brickwork) are abandoned in favour of new materials and techniques, such as steel, light metal panels, glass, and plastic derivatives. New building shapes are determined by the shape of the components used. An important exhibition which affirmed this new approach was Expo 67, held in Montreal. Hi-tech architecture is symbolized by the Pompidou Centre in Paris, designed by Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers in collaboration with engineers Ove Arup & Partners.

Famous High-Tech Buildings

• USA Pavilion (Expo 67, Montreal) by Buckminster Fuller.
• Olympiapark, Munich (1968-72) by Gunter Behnisch and Frei Otto.
• Pompidou Centre, Paris (1971-78) by Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers.
• Lloyds of London (1978-86) by Richard Rogers.
• Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank, Hong Kong (1979-86) by Foster & Partners.
• Channel Tunnel Waterloo Terminal, London (1993) by Nicholas Grimshaw
• Kansai Airport Terminal, Osaka (1994) by Renzo Piano.
• Allianz Arena, Munich (2005) by Herzog & de Meuron.

Deconstructivism (1980-200)

An iconic style of three-dimensional postmodernist art, opposed to the ordered rationality of modern design, Deconstructivism emerged in the 1980s, notably in Los Angeles California, but also in Europe. Characterized by non-rectilinear shapes which distort the geometry of the structure, the finished appearance of deconstructivist buildings is typically unpredictable and even shocking. These unusual shapes have been facilitated by the use of design software developed from the aerospace industry. The exhibition which first introduced this new approach to the public was the Deconstructivist Architecture exhibition, curated by Philip Johnson and Mark Wigley, and held at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, in 1988. the most famous deconstructivist designer in America is probably Frank O. Gehry (b.1929); in Europe the top architects are probably Daniel Libeskind (b.1946), and the firm Coop Himmelblau, founded by Wolf Prix, Helmut Swiczinsky and Michael Holzer.

Famous Examples of Deconstructivism

- Walt Disney Concert Hall, Los Angeles (1988-2003) by Frank O Gehry.
- Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao (1991-97) by Frank O Gehry.
- Multiplex Cinema, Dresden (1993-8) by Coop Himmelblau.
- Nationale Nederlanden Building, Prague (1992-97) by Frank O Gehry.
- UFA-Kristall Filmpalast, Dresden (1998) by Coop Himmelblau.
- Seattle Central Library, Seattle (2004) by "Rem" Koolhaas.
- Imperial War Museum North, Manchester (2002) by Daniel Libeskind.
- Royal Ontario Museum (extension), Toronto (2007) by Daniel Libeskind.

Blobitecture (1990s)

A style of postmodernist architecture characterized by organic, rounded, bulging shapes, Blobitecture (aka blobism or blobismus) was first christened by William Safire in the New York Times in 2002 (although architect Greg Lynn used the term "blob architecture" in 1995) the style first appeared in the early 1990s. Developed by postmodernist artists on both sides of the Atlantic, the construction of blobitecture's non-geometric structures is heavily dependent on the use of CATID software (Computer Aided Three-dimensional Interactive Application).

Famous Examples of Blobitecture

• Water Pavilion (1993–1997) by Lars Spuybroek and Kas Oosterhuis.
• Experience Music Project, Seattle (1999-2000) by Frank O Gehry.
• Kunsthaus, Graz (2003) by Peter Cook and Colin Fournier.
• Bus Station at Spaarne Hospital (2003) by NIO Architecten.
• The Sage Gateshead (2004) by Norman Foster.
• Philological Library, Free University, Berlin (2005) by Norman Foster.

Late 20th-Century Supertall Towers

Structural techniques developed by US architects like Fazlur Khan (1929-82) of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, have led to the construction of a new generation of supertall buildings or 'towers'. These new tubular designs, which have also significantly reduced the amount of steel required in skyscrapers, have enabled architects to break free from the regular "box-like" design. With modern towers now regularly exceeding 100 storeys, the biggest limitation on upward growth remains safety and the lack of emergency evacuation procedures.

Tallest Towers Built in the 20th-Century

(1) Petronas Towers, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (1998) (452m/ 1,483 feet)
(2) Willis Tower, Chicago (1973) (442m/ 1,450 feet)
(3) Jin Mao Tower, Shanghai (1999) (421m/ 1,380 feet)
(4) One World Trade Center, NYC (1974) (destroyed) (417m/ 1,368 feet)
(5) CITIC Plaza, Guangzhou (1997) (391m/ 1,283 feet)
(6) Shun Hing Square, Shenzhen (1996) 384m/ 1,260 feet)
(7) Empire State Building, NYC (1931) (381m/ 1,250 feet)
(8) Tuntex Sky Tower, Kaohsiung, Taiwan (1997) (378m/ 1,240 feet)
(9) Central Plaza Hong Kong (1992) (374m/ 1,227 feet)
(10) Bank of China Tower, Hong Kong (1990) (367m/ 1,205 feet)

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