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Essay/Term paper: Modernism vs. neo-traditionalism

Essay, term paper, research paper:  Miscellaneous

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Modernism vs Neo-Traditionalism: A debate on the merits and failures of two major competing paradigms in architecture and urban planning.

Beyond the term modernism underlies one of the greatest ideas in architectural development. Modernism was meant to provide more green areas, cheaper housing and more efficient use of space. This was to be accomplished by creating vertically dense spaces with the use of the new inventions of the nineteenth century, such as steel, glass, electricity and elevators. By decreasing costs of building, modernists hoped to provide cheaper housing, affordable to almost anybody. The modernist movement was also promising to meet the growing demand for office spaces, hence the motto "form follows function" . Today, the inhabitants of every large city are able to see products of modernist influence. Its opposite, neo-traditionalism, is admired for its beauty and variety. "Small City U.S.A." is an extremely popular concept among today"s citizens, looking to escape the ordinary, colorless office buildings. Boring and redundant, is modernism today what it was conceptualized to be? Its ideas shape today"s housing, from housing projects to single homes that have neo-traditional skin. Modernist concepts are of incredible importance and necessity; however, they were misunderstood in application.

"Modernism was a response to the rise of industrial manufacturing as man"s chief economic activity." Modernism fulfilled the growing demand for office space. It made use of such inventions as steel, glass, concrete and elevators. Steel and concrete allowed building to go to whole new heights. Glass and electricity provided lighting, thus making the workday longer. Elevators made the office buildings possible by carrying its inhabitants to any floor in the building. These materials also solved the problem of fireproofing and were definitely less costly than the materials used for traditional buildings. At the same time, modernist buildings became uniform: built from the same materials, modular, colorless with the same components, flat roofs and lack of ornamentation. Kunstler argued that such buildings have seized to have any meaning that they destroy social arrangements and do not consider natural resources. He blamed modernism for ruining the cities with corporate gigantism, failing to create public spaces and sending people off to suburbs, where they have no sense of community.

So what kept such a "destructive" and redundant architectural trend? "Form follows function", said Sullivan, one of the founding fathers of modernism. As a response to mechanization and industrialization, modernism was extremely beneficial to companies that needed office space. To have a skyscraper built was a great investment on the company"s side, not only did it provide the necessary office space, it also allowed to lease the remaining offices to other companies, thus making a profit. Modernism also appealed to the general population since the rise in birth rates provided a greater demand for housing. Many argued that same modular spaces would promote equality among its inhabitants. Modernism also promised to create more public spaces with green areas and waterworks by the virtue of vertical density. Supposedly, there would be more space.

Not to forget, the building and maintenance costs of a modernist building were significantly less than that of a traditional one.

However, nor Federal Plaza, a textbook modernist landscape, nor housing projects seem to have public spaces around them. Modernism was applied selectively, leaving out perhaps one of its most important functions. And although Mies van der Rohe did say the less is more in terms of ornamentation, there do not seem to be any sources that argue that modernist buildings have to be so redundant. There"s no reason that modernist architecture and can not have some creative expression to make it perhaps a little more appealing to the eye. It is no wonder that so many people like the Harold Washington Library building more than the Federal Plaza, just like it is no wonder that so many people try to escape the modernist landscape by moving farther and farther from the industrial core.

As a response to the growing need for beauty, post-modernism and neo-traditionalism develop. Neo-traditionalism came out of the longing for the single housing and green spaces, "Small City U.S.A.". One of the strongest examples of neo-traditionalism is the Disney"s creation Celebration, Florida. This planned community has a variety of buildings, around twenty types, that people can buy. All of these buildings have modernist guts and traditional skin. The city appeals by its vast presence of public spaces and the beauty of its housing accommodations. Even the office buildings inside the city are built in the traditional style. This kind of town is what many Americans yearn for after the modernist experience.

Neo-traditionalism, of course, has its flaws. The Celebration houses are meant for the elite, with the prices starting at about $ 200,000. Having only traditional housing in every single city would lead to more homeless people who can not afford such housing.

However, homes with neo-traditional skin can also be mass-produced.

Then, even the traditional homes are touched by modernism. In today"s society, it would be almost impossible to have a completely traditional home. Modernist thinkers had great ideas that were unfortunately diminished to the modernist buildings one sees today. There"s no question that our society needs office buildings and green spaces. Modernism was supposed to provide for both.

People who despise modernism, probably do not know what it is supposed to be. Post-modernism seems to be more or less of an answer. It finally lets modernist buildings nurture creativity. Post-modernist buildings vary in shape, size and color, thus making them more appealing to the eye and less redundant. It seems that the costs of such innovations would still be less than those of traditional buildings.

I believe that our society needs post-modernism. People long for trees and parks and waterfronts, as well as for buildings that one can look at and think, "Oh, G-d, that is beautiful." We need this no less than we need office buildings. Modernism and post-modernism are deemed to be different, and they are in the sense that post-modernism is exactly what modernism was supposed to be, may be with a bit more variety. In many instances, post-modernist buildings are even more attractive than neo-traditional. So, maybe one day when all modernist ideals are realized, a person will come out of the new Federal Plaza and for a hundredth time think, "This is the most relaxing landscape I"ve ever seen.


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