Trying to pick a handful of design movements which typify twentieth century architecture isn’t the easiest of tasks. The century brought with it a pioneering style and movement for every possible creative expression. Ellen Godwin picks some of the boldest architectural movements and the buildings which went on to define the landscape of a century.

Arts & Crafts – Red House, London, UK

Led by William Morris, the Arts & Crafts movement peaked at the beginning of the twentieth century, with its celebration of craftsmanship, handcrafts, and an aversion to the machine-made Industrial Revolution.

The movement reached far beyond architecture to influence aspects of the arts and can still be seen in décor, textiles and architecture. Red House is an early example of the movement but, built for Morris himself, has all the hallmarks associated with Arts & Crafts. Its focus was to recreate the feel for local materials and craftsmanship, with a quaint cottage-like feel that’s also reminiscent of the Gothic-Revival style.

Art Nouveau – Maison Cauchie, Brussels, Belgium

Developed from the revival in Victoria architectural styles, Art Nouveau was an attempt to bring high art into the everyday from art and architecture to décor and furniture, with the unifying styles running throughout all forms of design. At its core were organic forms and highly stylised, decorative elements, often including floral and plant motifs.

Architect Paul Cauchie designed his maison in 1905. It was one of only four homes he ever built. All aspects of the building and its interiors were built and painted by Cauchie and his wife in typical Art Nouveau style, using various techniques including sgraffito, where different colours of plaster are layered repetitively.



Art Deco – The Chrysler Building, USA

One of the most influential and important design movements of the twentieth century, Art Deco was itself made up of various other motifs and styles. It resulted in one of the most instantly recognisable products of twentieth century architecture and design, New York’s Chrysler building.

Architect William Van Alen incorporated aspects of car design into the building for the Chrysler Automobile Corporation, including the gargoyles which were modelled on car hoods. The terraced, highly ornamental crown has come to define the New York skyline.



Modernist – Bauhaus, Dessau, Germany

The German school of design was a major player and influence in modernist architecture, although the irony being that as a subject, architecture wasn’t taught at the school in its early years. A design movement in its own right, Bauhaus has been filed under modern simply because there is no other architecture which is quite as seminal.

At the very centre of Bauhaus’s radical design and experimentation was Walter Gropius, the school’s founder and architect. He created a building which was a comment on the state of Germany in 1919, using newly mass-produced materials like concrete and exposed steel as a comment on the tension between craftsmanship and mass-production.
Expressionist – Einstein Tower, Potsdam, Germany

Expressionist architecture includes more abstract definitions of buildings, one design experiment included a piece of chain-mail sent between architects. Erich Mendelsohn’s tower, built in inter-war Germany, was designed on the brief to create a building which could be used to prove Einstein’s theory of relativity.

The Expressionist movement was often characterised by its design inspired by biomorphic shapes and organic objects, as seen with the Einstein Towers, which appears like a kind of crude spaceship that actually perfectly serves its function as an observatory.
International Style – Villa Savoye, France

International Style was an early incarnation of Modernism in the Twenties and Thirties seen as an stylistic attempt to crystallise and define the styles of the time. Swiss modernist architect Le Corbusier developed his seminal ‘Five points of architecture’ model in the Twenties, culminating in the Villa Savoye which was built exploiting some of the benefits of reinforced concrete.

The five points include supporting columns, a flat roof, open plan rooms, horizontal windows and the smooth, design-free white exterior. The building was commissioned by a wealthy couple and built outside of Paris, although abandoned not long after and left in disrepair until restoration in later years, leaving it as a popular attraction for design and architecture students.
Brutalism – Royal National Theatre, London, UK

Another developing strand of the modernist movement, the evocatively named style of architecture evolved from Le Corbusier’s International Style, led by British couple Peter and Alison Smithson. In Sixties Britain, Brutalism had a strong association with the welfare state, representing the rebuilding of post-war Britain and the social issues of the period.

The imposing, overbearing concrete of the National Theatre was, and still is, a controversial choice made my architect Denys Lasdun. Like many Brutalism structures, the seemingly ‘ugly’ interlocking horizontal and vertical structures create an uncompromising urban landscape which truly celebrated the modernists’ favourite material: concrete.
Post-Modern – Taipei 101, Taipei, Taiwan

Bringing us more or less bang up to date, examples of post-modern architecture are still seen being built today. Despite its natural progression from the developments of modernism, much of what post-modern architects wanted to achieve was to actually contradict its predecessors.

Built in 1999 and currently the world’s tallest skyscraper, Taipei 101 consists of many traditional Chinese designs including an exterior that’s designed to resemble bamboo and the lucky number 8. It is typically post-modern with the building’s grand ambition, world record shattering scope and its symbolic use of traditional 18th century motifs.