International style

I mentioned in an earlier blog about Bletchley Park, a particular architectural style called the ‘International style’, so I thought I’d tell you more about this style, as it doesn’t seem to be very well known of.

The international style began around the 1920’s, but it wasn’t really a co-ordinated movement, it just so happened that many new buildings of the time were of a very similar style. This style of building was mainly geometric forms, with an open interior layout, lots of glass, steel and reinforced concrete. I would imagine that this type of building would have been a wonder to behold, with so much glass.

The three main principals which this style focused on were:

  • Expression of volume rather than mass

What we interpret this as, is that this style focused more on the volume – using glass to create large light spaces whereas the mass would create the large space, but perhaps have smaller windows and ‘heavy-looking’ materials like brick walls etc. It would seem ‘heavier’ due to the lack of light in the room.

  • Balance rather than symmetry

Balance as opposed to symmetry could be described as symmetry with small differences I guess. Outright symmetry is no longer the ‘in thing’ with planning authorities and, in some cases, can look outright strange.

  • Expulsion of applied ornament

This one may sound a little boring, but it was a principle which was followed closely by architects working in the style – everything was left a little scarce, very little to no decoration because simplicity was the key.

There was an exhibition of modern architecture which was held at the museum of modern art in New York where this style was the main subject on display. Only the works which followed the above principles as rules of a sort were exhibited.

This style was going to be all about freedom of expression, and having no boundaries, that was, until world war two broke out, and boundaries were being set up everywhere, this style didn’t really have a chance to blossom to its full potential, but I still see hints of the international style in architecture now, so there must be some architects out there who are still inspired by those three principles.


Written by Jade Turney – Building Tectonics Ltd.

Bletchley Park.

The estate of Bletchley Park is most famously recognised as the place where most of the German Enigma code was cracked in World War 2.

It was originally a farmhouse which was extended to become the mansion it is today by London financier Sir Herbert Samuel Leon and remained his family home until the death of his wife in 1937, then the estate fell into the hands of property developers. There was a growing need for housing space due to the fact that London was grossly overpopulated, and so this must have been like Christmas for the developers! The buildings which made up the estate were going to be demolished, that is, until war broke out and Bletchley Park became one of the most important places of the time.

When Hitler was gaining power towards the end of the 1930’s London was not a safe place to be, and so the Government code-breakers needed a new home. Bletchley Park turned out to be a perfect place for this very need, it was situated at the center of major road, rail and communications networks in the UK. In 1939 the first code-breakers began moving in.

Among this wealth of history, the architecture of this site can often be forgotten. This was originally going to be a country estate, and nothing more. Who was to know that it would become such an influential place of knowledge, history and eventually become the main factor in winning the war?

The land was formerly apart of the Manor of Eaton. The main mansion itself is a great example of Victorian architecture, with a multitude of bay windows and designs in the walls created by the placement of different coloured bricks. The style of the buildings on the estate as a whole range between a mix of Victorian Gothic, Tudor and Dutch Baroque. The architecture was often commented upon by anyone who worked there, or any visitors to the site.

It is still a place which triggers feelings of immense awe, even today it is preserved and visitors are welcome to delve into the history which is held there. There is even talk of the buildings which surround the mansion being renovated to their former war-time state so that you can get a real feeling of what it was like to work there in those times.

There was a style of architecture which was beginning to emerge before the war, called ‘the international style’. This is the style in which the outhouses surrounding the mansion were thought to have been built-in, even if they were built quickly to house the different departments of the code-breakers.┬áThe architects who were drafted in to design these buildings may have been working on this style around the time the war began, but there is a certain irony which the war brought about. This style was supposed to be based upon the creation of a ‘new world’ envisioned by people all over the world, a world without borders or barriers after world war one. But with world war two came the end of that vision in a sense. Barriers, borders and metal fences needed to be brought up rather quickly and thus, before it had even really begun, the international style movement was brought to a halt.

We will write more about the international style another time.

Written by Jade Turney – Building Tectonics Ltd.