November 02: de Stijlly

2016/11/02 § Leave a comment

During this month in 1917 first issue of De Stijl magazine was published.

The magazine was founded by Dutch artist Theo van Doesburg (1883-1931) and quickly became the central mouthpiece for one of the most influential streams of modernism in the twentieth century.  The ideals of De Stijl–literally “the style”–were based in an alleged universality, rationalism, simplicity and objectivity.  These values were assumed to be the cure to the “problem” of irrationality and wilful individuality seen most recently, and most vigorously, in the recent and varied Art Nouveau movements across Europe (like this, this, this, this and this), assuming that the architecture constructed in the decades before 1914 was somehow culpable for the Great War.

Funny thing is, the arguments made in favor of De Stijl had also been used–and reasonably so–for the practice of Classical and Gothic principles.  But no matter.  The anti-historical approach of the De Stijl designers meant that no earlier theory or architectural tradition was worth the consideration, and thus the ironies of the movement were lost among its devotees, as well as the thousands of years of discoveries and successes that traditional architecture might teach a contemporary practitioner.  Among these lessons are basic matters of physics which prohibit–if one is to be truly “rational”–truly flat roof planes and “lines” of structure that float and elements that fail to meet in closed corners.  De Stijl might make vaguely interesting diagrams, but architecture, which has as a very basic duty the charge to keep the rain and bugs out, cannot be truly De Stijl (the Schröder-Schräder house is its best example, and it’s a college try at best).  And when it is, the theoretical foundation of the movement must be ignored, so that it fulfills the charge that its name is not supposed to communicate so clearly: just another style of dress.

Image: the first issue, with cover designed by Vilmos Huszár and Theo van Doesburg (from this source)

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