Tag: Modernism

Junzo Sakakura, Japanese Modernist

Junzo Sakakura (坂倉 準三)(b.1901), a Le Corbusier protégé, was credited as being one of the first Japanese architects to blend western modernism with traditional eastern architecture. 

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Junzo Sakakura

Sakakura graduated from the Tokyo Imperial University with a degree in Art History in 1927.  After developing an interest in architecture, Sakakura abandoned art history, travelled to France and embarked on a career in architecture.  After a two-year course in architectural construction, Sakakura entered Le Corbusier’s prestigious Paris atelier for a 5-year internship.  Under Le Corbusier’s tutelage, Sakakura assisted in urban planning and residential designs, as well as competitions, including Le Corbusier’s proposal for the Palace of the Soviets, the Russian Pavilion for the 1937 Paris International Exposition.  Sakakura’s talents were unmistakable and he eventually rose to the position of studio chief, counseling students in Le Corbusier’s absence.

After a brief return to Japan, Sakakura again journeyed to France in 1936 to begin finalizing and supervising the construction of his previously rejected plans for the Japanese Pavilion for the 1937 Paris International Exposition.  A submission by Kunio Maekawa had been favored by the Exposition Committee, but was ultimately rejected as being too modern and lacking any characteristics of traditional Japanese architecture.  This, of course, enraged Maekawa and he accused the Committee of “merely repeating the presentation of an obsolete style of architecture, which may well be an insult to the nation.”  Sakakura’s pavilion, built on the Exposition grounds at the base of the Eiffel Tower, was said to be “a delicate balance between modernist design principles and traditional Japanese aesthetics.”  Sakakura, having only two years of architectural engineering training, “locked himself away in a Parisian hotel” to finalize the plans for the pavilion, relying at times on the technological expertise of Le Corbusier and his staff.  Despite the obstacles architectural engineering sometimes presented, Sakakura’s design won the Diplôme de Grand Prix and brought the young architect world-wide recognition.

In 1939, when Sakakura returned to Japan, the Second Sino-Japanese War had “pushed the Japanese economy and military to the limit,” and Japan’s continued expansionist practices had forced western allies to freeze assets and impose embargoes that further limited resources essential for architectural development.  But while projects in Japan were scarce, the occupation of China’s Manchuria region provided opportunities for Sakakura and other young architects.  At the request of the Japanese government, Sakakura was asked to plan a new mixed-use suburban settlement on Nanhu (South Lake), China.  The South Lake Complex was reflective of Le Corbusier’s plans for Ville Radieuse on the Left Bank of Paris.  Deemed “too grandiose,” Sakakura’s plan was rejected and, like Le Corbusier’s plans for Ville Radieuse, went unrealized.  

In addition to the South Lake Complex, Sakakura began researching and developing prefabricated housing for the Japanese military.   

In December 1941, Japan invaded Thailand, bombed Pearl Harbor, and attacked Malaya, Singapore and Hong Kong, as well as the US territories of Guam and the Philippines.     WWII had begun and in April of 1942, the US began aerial bombing on mainland Japan.   

While prefabricated housing had fundamental beginnings as early as the 1920s, Sakakura, following the lead of Jean Prouvé and Pierre Jeanneret, perfected a portable and easily assembled prefab structure for the growing Japanese Imperial Army.  By 1945, 60,000 meters of the housing had been produced and sent to the frontlines for use as barracks for the military, which had grown from 375,000 active troops to 5 million in four years.  

By 1945, Tokyo and other Japanese cities had sustained heavy damage from Allied bombing raids, including the total destruction of Nagasaki and Hiroshima. Millions of people became homeless, business and industry was in ruins, and malnutrition and starvation was rampant due to the destruction of rice crops and shipping blockades.  Realizing defeat, Japan surrendered to the Allies on August 15, 1945, and by September, the US began an occupation to establish democracy, and rebuild the economy and infrastructure of the country. 

In 1947, Sakakura opened his Tokyo and Osaka offices, so by the 1950s, when Japan’s economy had rebounded and rebuilding had begun, he was ready to be part of the revitalization of Japan.  In 1951, due to his ability to design structures using a minimum of materials, Sakakura won his first major commission, the Museum of Modern Art in Kamakura.

Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, Sakakura designed over 300 projects including hotels, municipal offices, transit stations, recreational facilities, gas stations and department stores, and established himself as a preeminent modernist architect.  On September 1, 1969, at the height of his career, Sakakura died of heart failure at the age of 68.

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COLUMN 1 (Top): Hiraoka Municipal Office, Osaka, Japan, 1964 (Photo: Unknown); (Middle, left): Saga Prefectural Gymnasium, Saga, Japan, 1963 (Photo: Unknown); (Middle, right): Junzo Sakakura (Photo: Unknown); (Bottom): West Plaza of Shinjuku Station and Parking Lots, 1967 (Photo: Masao Arai Photographic Department, New Construction Company/ Sakakura & Associates); COLUMN 2 (Top): Lobby, Silk Center/Silk Hotel, Kanagawa, Japan, 1959  (Photo: Eastern Photography/Sakakura & Associates); (Bottom): Hirano residence, interior, Hyogo, Japan, 1962 (Photo: Shinkentiku-sha Photo Department Toshio Taira/Sakakura & Associates)
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COLUMN 1 (Top): Detail of Model No. 5016 Lounge Chair for Tendo Mokko, 1957 (Photo: Unknown); (Bottom): Model No. 3221 Side Chair for Tendo Mokko, 1953 (Photo Galerie Pierre Mahaux); COLUMN 2 (Top):  Antler table for Tendo Mokko, 1950s (Photo: Pamono); (Middle): Antler table detail (Photo, modified: 1st Dibs); (Bottom): Junzo Sakakura (Photo, modified: Agency for Cultural Affairs, Japan)

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Grete Prytz Kittelsen, “The Queen of Scandinavian Design”

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Norwegian, Grete Prytz Kittelsen (b. 1917) was a 5th generation goldsmith and enamel artist. Her exposure to the arts came early, as her father was a rector at the Statens Håndverks-og Kunstindustriskole (SHK), and would often host students and lecturers at their home. It was natural that Kittelsen would follow the family tradition, so in 1941 she earned a degree from SHK in goldsmithing and shortly after joined her family business, J. Tostrup.

In April 1940, Nazi Germany invaded Norway and began an occupation that threw neutral Norway into turmoil. Kittelsen rejected the occupation and involved herself with the Norwegian Resistance. While it is unknown whether Kittelsen’s activities with the resistance were more than passive acts, such as refusing to speak German or to sit next to a German soldier on public transport (which resulted in a law being passed that a passenger must sit in any available seat while on a public bus), her involvement was enough to force Kittelsen and her brother, Torolf, to flee to Stockholm, Sweden in 1943.

While in Stockholm, Kittelsen met Arne Korsmo (the “Norwegian Le Corbusier”). After a short courtship, they married “during a lunch break,” and, together, returned to Norway after the war. During their 15 year marriage, they would collaborate on fine housewares and Kittelsen’s lifelong home, P12.

In 1949, Kittelsen was awarded a Fulbright scholarship and came to the US with Korsmo to study at the Institute of Design at the Illinois Institute of Technology, a new school founded by the renowned Bauhaus artist and intellectual, László Moholy-Nagy.

Upon returning to Norway, Kittelsen continued her work at the family business, where she would be instrumental in the development of new types of enamel, and the design of several successful lines of jewelry, including the “Med Punkter [With Dots]” series and the Domino ring (sold by J. Tostrup for 30 years). Her designs at J. Tostrup resulted in the coveted Swedish Lunning Prize in 1952.

Although she was born into a privileged family, she rebelled against elitism and longed to create designs of “everyday beauty” that could be afforded by all. Perhaps no coincidence, as Norway was experiencing “the golden age of social democracy.” In 1954, Kittelsen began a collaboration with Cathrineholm that allowed her to realize that egalitarian dream.

At Cathrineholm, Kittelsen’s talents as a functional enamel artist were immediately recognized and she garnered critical acclaim and won the coveted Grand Prix award at the 1954 Triennale di Milano for a vibrant blue enameled plate. Kittelsen would go on to revolutionize large scale manufacturing while at Cathrineholm and introduce the Stripes, Saturn and Cathedral collections. Her “Sensation Casserole” would sell 150K units in 1964 alone. Her award-winning designs brought her great success throughout her association with Cathrineholm. Her enamel series would be sold worldwide, and her work would be exhibited at galleries throughout the United States and Canada. In 1972, Kittelsen would be awarded, perhaps, one of her greatest honors, the Jakob prize awarded by the Norwegian Society of Arts and Crafts, an award honoring and bearing the name of her father, Jakob Tostrup Prytz.

Kittelsen, who was said to be “one of the 20th century’s most original and technically talented designers in Scandinavia,” died in 2010 at the age of 93. In her obituary, she was memorialized as “The Queen of Scandinavian Design.”

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Column 1: Grete Prytz Kittelsen; Sterling Silver Cuff Bracelet for J. Tostrup, 1953; Column 2: Stripes for Cathrineholm; Enamel on Sterling Silver “Domino” Ring for J. Tostrup, 1952; Sterling Silver Coffee Service for J. Tostrup; Column 3: “Sensasjonskasserollen [Sensation Casserole] for Cathrineholm, 1962; Saturn for Cathrineholm, 1954; Sterling Silver Collar for J. Tostrup, 1952

Henning Koppel, Danish Silversmith

Screen Shot 2018-07-15 at 6.41.26 PMHenning Koppel (1918-1981) studied at both the Danish Royal Academy of Arts (1936-1937) and Academie Rancon (France) (1938). He originally aspired to be a great sculptor, but circumstances directed him toward a more financially rewarding decorative arts career. The award-winning silver designer for Georg Jensen, Inc. eventually redirected his talents to porcelain and joined Bing and Grondahl in 1961. Koppel’s signature “pregnant curve” wasn’t fully appreciated by the public, but it won him many awards including the 1951 Triannale Gold Award for the pitcher above left. Koppel also contributed to the design catalogs of Holmegaard and Louis Poulsen & Co (lamps).

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Row 1:  HK Sterling Pitcher for Georg Jensen, 1952; “The Pregnant Duck” Sterling Pitcher, Design No. 992 for Georg Jensen, 1951 (Photo: Bukowski’s); Row 2: Sterling Silver Necklace With Lapis, Design No. 130B for Georg Jensen, 1950

Tapio Wirkkala, Finnish Master of Many Mediums

Finnish industrial designer, Tapio Wirkkala (1915-1985), was a master in the many mediums he used for his designs in glassware, tableware, cutlery, jewelry, art glass, furniture and more.

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Tapio Wirkkala

An artist and sculptor at heart, Wirkkala’s work took a necessary, practical approach after the war and turned to industrial design. A recluse that preferred the isolation of the woodlands of Lapland, Wirkkala’s main inspiration was nature and the frozen landscape of his homeland. He translated that love of home into some of his most well-known designs such as the iconic Ultima Thule (Ultima Thule is a mythological distant place located beyond the “borders of the known world”) and Aslak (a Finnish boy’s name meaning “supporter of Thorgest,” a 9th century Viking chief) glassware for Iittala.

Wirkkala also created an extensive collection of porcelain and stoneware for Rosenthal Ag starting in 1956, a career which produced eight tableware services and over 200 porcelain decorative objects, and colorful, blown glass for Venini.

And while Wirkkala is known for some of the most beautiful, modernist housewares of the mid-century, he’s also known for many utilitarian masterpieces. A plastic ketchup bottle (Paulig Company), an incandescent light bulb (Airam), the Finnish markka banknotes (1955-1981), and the Finlandia “Frozen Ice” vodka bottle (1970-2000).

A modest man, Wirkkala was “a maestro without a maestro’s affections.”

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Row 1: “Avena” vase for Iitala, 1970; “Alpina” vase for Iitala, 1966; “Ultima Thule” glass for Iitala, 1968; “Kalvolan Kanto” vase for Iittala, 1948; Row 2: Model 9020 coffee table for Akso, est. 1958; silver pendant, 1957 (photo credit: Wright 20).

Franco Albini, Italian Neo-Rationalist

“There are no ugly objects, they need only be displayed properly.” –Franco Albini

Franco Albini (b. 1905) was an Italian Neo-Rationalist architect and designer. Neo-rationalism was a minimalist aesthetic movement that emphasized geometric forms and raw materials. Unlike its neo-classical predecessor, neo-rationalism eschewed ornamentation, and emphasized the practicality and functionality of a structure.

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After earning an architecture degree in 1929, Albini joined Studio Ponti é Lancia and became an assistant to Gio Ponti and Emilio Lancia. By 1931, and during the height of Benito Mussolini’s fascist regime, Albini opened his own practice with partners, Renato Camus and Giancarlo Palanti. Together they designed “social housing” for the Instituto Fascist Autonomo per la Case Populari.

While many of Albini’s contemporaries fell victim to Mussolini, Albini persevered and explored new progressive design despite the watchful eye of the nationalist regime and the ravages of WWII bombing on Milan. By 1945, with the end of Mussolini’s regime and the reintroduction of democracy in Italy, Albini began a new era of modern design and introduced the iconic designs we know today. He received three Compasso d’Oro awards, Italy’s most prestigious design accolade. While Albini’s designs for Mussolini’s regime were out of necessity, his desire to “make rational order” of a city torn by war continued throughout his career through his large-scale civic architecture. Albini was awarded his 3rd Compasso d’Oro award for the Milan subway stations in 1964.

Considered a “founding father of Italian design” by many, Albini preferred to call himself a “craftsman.” “It’s through our works that we can best spread our ideas rather than by speaking.”

Franco Albini died in Milan on November 1, 1977.

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Luis Barragan, Mexican Modernist

“Any work of Architecture that does not express serenity is a mistake.” -Luis Barragan

Regarded the “most prominent” Mexican architect, Mexican Modernist, Luis Barragan (b. 1903), was known for his colorful, modernist homes outside of Mexico City.  Barragan, one of nine siblings from a wealthy Mexican ranching family, was an aesthete from an early age.  In a local newspaper, he was quoted as saying that he would notice “the play of shadows on the walls…and how the look of things changed.”

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Luis Barragan

After graduating from the Escuelo Libre de Ingenieros in Guadalajara in 1923 with a Civil Engineering degree, Barragan traveled to Europe and lived in Morocco where he was exposed to Mediterranean and North African architecture.  He was also introduced to the writings of landscape architect, Ferdinand Mac, as well as meeting Le Corbusier, both of whom would be influential throughout his career.  But unlike Le Corbusier, who believed a house should be a “machine for living,” Barragan believed his homes should be a “refuge” and not a “cold piece of convenience.”  Barragan eschewed the trend of functionalism and minimalism, and devoted his life to creating “emotional architecture.”  A gifted landscape architect, he developed his own style using “natural siting,” taking great care to incorporate the natural features of the landscape into his buildings.

Barragan’s designs were also reflective of the Mexican climate and culture.  The harsh climate necessitated “structural simplicity” and “few materials.”  The intense sun and wind, as well as economic restrictions were major influences.  Barragan, instead, used this to his advantage.  The walls of the courtyards would block the winds and serve as canvases for sunlight and shadows.  Walls were placed so that sun would cast a variety of shapes onto the courtyards throughout the day.  Using hidden openings to capture sunlight, shafts of light would serve a dual purpose of art and lighting. 

In addition to being a gifted architect and landscape designer, Barragan was a talented furniture designer, although he only designed for individual projects.  

His work has been described as “poetic,” “mythical,” and “monastic.”  Barragan’s devotion to  Catholicism can be seen in his work.  He created homes, as well as religious spaces, that  reflected quietude and meditation.

Barragan was an intensely private man so little is known about his personal life.  Anecdotes point to a kind, but somewhat eccentric man.  He was a generous gift-giver and he supported and encouraged fellow artists by commissioning works for his projects and personal home.  He wore English sport coats and ascots, and was known to cancel lunch plans “if the light was not right.”  

In 1980, Luis Barragan won the “nobel prize of architecture,” the Pritzker, “for his commitment to architecture as a sublime act of the poetic imagination.”

Luis Barragan died from complications due to Parkinson’s Disease in 1988.  

“Solitude.  Only in intimate communion with solitude may man find himself.  Solitude is good company and my architecture is not for those who fear or shun it.” -Luis Barragan

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Frederick Kiesler, Modernist Visionary

ml_Frederick Kiesler_200Frederick Kiesler (1890–1965) was a polarizing figure that stirred conventional thought and caused consternation with his outlandish ideas of curved walls and biomorphic furniture featured in his 1942 interior design for Peggy Guggenheim’s “Art of This Century” gallery. Kiesler arrived in New York in 1926 from his homeland of Ukraine, bringing with him avant-garde ideas learned as the youngest member of de Stijl. Kiesler was a multi-disciplined artist that believed “form does not follow function. Function follows vision. Vision follows reality.” Called “the greatest non-building architect of our time,” Kiesler’s unbuilt visions of a home that connected to its inhabitants through solar energy, sensory lighting and large screens splashed with art seem prescient of today’s interactive and electronic home innovations. Deemed a charlatan by some and a visionary by others, Kiesler’s evocative ideas continue to be thought-provoking.

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Column 1:  Frederick Kiesler; Marcel DuChamp, mixed media, 1947 (Photo:  MoMA); Column 2:  Multi-use Chair, 1942 (Photo:  MoMA); Nesting Coffee Table 1935-38 (Photo: MoMA); “Horse Galaxy,” Mixed media installation, 1954 (Photo: Jason McCoy Gallery, New York); Column 3: Dying Horse, bronze, 1963 (Photo: Jason McCoy Gallery, New York); Totem for All Religions, Wood and Rope, 1947 (Photo: MoMA)