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Comparing Prairie & International Style Architecture

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  • 0:01 The Architect's Blank Page
  • 1:10 Comparing Prairie and…
  • 2:50 Organic Philosophy
  • 3:25 Philosophy for Functionalism
  • 4:13 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Ivy Roberts

Ivy Roberts is an adjunct instructor in English, film/media studies and interdisciplinary studies.

Compare and contrast two similar, though conflicting, movements in architecture from the early 20th century. Investigate how advocates of each movement grappled with the problem of designing a better future while taking into account the social and environmental uses of architecture.

The Architect's Blank Page

What if you had the tools to make the world a better place by redesigning it from the bottom up? You have a blank piece of paper, knowledge of the way the world is at present, an imagination of how to make it better, and the tools to literally rebuild it.

What would your design look like? Would you take into account the way people moved through urban spaces? Or would you be more concerned with the integration of the natural environment with your newly imposed structures of concrete and stone?

These are all vital questions that designers and architects have to ask. The answers to these questions influence the social uses of their buildings, as well as the way they look.

In this lesson, we will look at two similar, though conflicting, movements in architecture: the Prairie and International movements. Both movements were propelled by the same utopian impulse to reimagine modern architecture. However, their methods led them to follow two very different paths in achieving their goals. As a result, these two movements manifest in contrasting design aesthetics and philosophies.

Comparing Prairie and International Style Architecture

The Prairie school was an American movement in architecture most commonly found in the Midwest. The style is characterized by horizontal lines and overhanging eaves. American architect Frank Lloyd Wright's pastoral aesthetic has become synonymous with this style. Because Wright studied and later practiced in Chicago, the Prairie style was adopted in Illinois and spread out from there.

The International style, on the other hand, developed in Europe under the urge to build a more practical, functional urban landscape. The International Style developed out of the Bauhaus school, a German school of art and architecture. Architects and designers of the Bauhaus school practiced the philosophy of functionalism, which resulted in a simplified design aesthetic. While American architects of the early 20th century were already moving toward minimalist designs and away from lavish ornamentation, in the 1930s, the International Style introduced a further move toward simplification and functionalism.

Prairie and International styles were both early 20th-century movements that contributed to the revolution in changing the way buildings were designed and constructed. Both movements were concerned with the way the buildings would be used in everyday life, how the architecture impacted the flow of life and how the design and form of the actual structure fit into its surrounding environment. However, these styles contrasted in their design philosophy.

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