How Minimalist Architecture is Connected to the Modernist Architecture

Los Angeles is a huge city shaped by progress, industrialization, and development. It unique spirit relies on the history, culture, and architecture. This city is a kind of a monument to industrialization, urbanization, and development. It has mostly modernist architecture that is close to the minimalist one. Scott Brown calls it a pop architecture; the term is derived from the known expression Pop Art. This phrase has been famous for many years already. Los Angeles architecture is the point of interest for architects, urban designers, and planners, as well as for artists and photographers. All these people were influenced by this architecture, and influenced it in their turn. This mutual effect turned attention not only to professional issues but also to environmental, social, and other problems. Architects and urban designers were inspired by historical events and demands of the time, as well as by artists and photographers. One of them was Ed Ruscha; his photographic book Every Building on Sunset Strip had influenced ideas of the future architects.

The main architectural style of Los Angeles is modernism. The term modern derives from the Latin modernus that can be translated as just now.

The modernist architecture developed in the late 19th century. It became widely used in the 20th century; it presented a new way of peoples’ thinking and doing. The development of the movement was influenced by the industrialization, development in various spheres, and mass production. New construction technologies and new materials, as well as the usage of glass and steel, characterize this style. Simplicity and functionality are its main attributes.

Minimalism with its minimum details, simplicity, and tendency to a large space is closely connected with modernism. Due to this fact, the modernism epoch was accompanied by minimalist features such as the least elements, transparency, glass, and steel. Two prominent minimalist architectures: Ludwig Mies van der Rohe with his immaterial construction and Louis I. Kahn with material one, had a considerable influence on both the minimalism and modernism.

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Mies used immaterial and transparent architectural forms. Most of his buildings were made of glass and steel. This architect was an important initiator of the modern minimalist architecture. Light glass, transparency, immaterialization, steel pillars, and steel frames made his works simple and modern. Mies tried to present both materiality and immateriality by the usage of bricks for the first purpose and glass and steel for the second one. In order to achieve the needed effect, he utilized traditional materials in a new way. It can be seen in his German Pavilion (1929), in which an architect presented a new look of transparency and simplicity. As Shih stated, in this architectural piece, he withdrew from a traditional architectural style. Instead, he used steel and glass for representing modernism in an immaterial form and developed the simplest form to present unique characteristics of each material.

The immaterial architectural form used by Mies was not the only way to show minimalism and express simplicity. Other architects of the modernist period used another way to express the idea. One of them was Louis I. Kahn, who used stone and brick for transforming the materiality to traditional stone architectural structures. He “emphasized material forms and clearly displayed the relation of the structure to the enclosure in the exterior”. Both the structural mechanics and characteristics of materials were demonstrated. Kahn focused on objective properties of a substance For instance, during the work on the Kimbell Art Museum, the architect used concrete and limestone in order to create a material form in accordance with the structure and the enclosure. In the Exeter Library, he utilized structural mechanics of a brick by gradually decreasing the width of bricks from the bottom to the top. It demonstrates a clear visual effect.

Contemporary architects also use glass, steel, and transparency simultaneously with other design approaches. In the desire to implement the design concept of transparency in the vertical enclosure, such architects as Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa designed a unique approach. They tried to inlay unframed glass walls into the ceiling and the floor of a building. They used a considerable amount of glass and achieved an immaterial visual effect when the roof seems to float in the air. A contemporary minimalist architect, Tadao, does not focus on presenting the structural mechanics of different materials as Kahn did. At first glance, his architectural structures appear to be massive stone-like images; however, a personal interpretation of materials, as well as the usage of linear glass openings and natural light, creates a unique atmosphere.

Contemporary minimalist architects use different materials, compound multi-structural systems, present their personal interpretations of materials, and incorporate a combination of immaterial and material characteristics of different forms. The usage of multiple materials, light, various combinations of immaterial, material, ontological, and representational tectonic forms reveals the complexity behind the simplicity of forms of the minimalist architecture.

In such a manner, minimalism is closely connected with modernism and vice versa. This interaction has gone through time; it is well seen in the architecture of Los Angeles. This city was shaped by prominent designers, urban planners, and architects. Lloyd Wright, Frank Lloyd Wright, Frank Gehry, Richard Meier, William Pereira, and others were working and implementing their ideas and projects here.

How LA Architecture is related to the modernist and minimalist Architecture

Urbanization, industrialization, and the development of technologies made a great influence on Los Angeles architecture. New materials, innovations, steel and glass, the simplicity of forms shaped the city. An automobile as a major modernist emblem of the freedom made a proper effect on the local architecture and design. Hines stated, “In the edenic Los Angeles of the early twentieth century, one of the effects of architectural modernity was to enliven and urbanize a serene, but sleepy, paradise.”

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According to this statement, Los Angeles architecture is directly related to the modernist and minimalist styles. Los Angeles is a modern neoteric city with contemporary architecture. Its architectural modernism is seen as a response to the wide modernization of life worldwide. Different types of modernism can be observed here: rational modernism by Irving Gill, expressionist modernism by Frank Lloyd Wright, and rationalist International Style by Richard Neutra.

Frank Lloyd Wright and his son Lloyd Wright are the two architects of Los Angeles, whose contribution can be seen almost everywhere.

Frank Lloyd Wright is known as the most influential architect of the city. In the modernist Los Angeles architecture, he held his hands to almost all central buildings. His long-held interest in modernism and innovative technologies is reflected in his Hollyhock house, Director’s house, Doheny Ranch project, Millard, Storer, Freeman, and Ennis houses of the early 1920s. In the construction of the former four houses, he used his newly-developed system of precast concrete blocks, assembled in place, embossed with his designs, and reinforced with slim, steel, and interpenetrating rods.

His son, Lloyd Wright, was an architect of Art Deco. Art Deco as an architectural style of the 1920s incorporated new materials and plastic derivatives. Chrome, neon, vinyl, Bakelite, and Vitrolite were widely used at the time. In this style, emotional stands over the rational, inclusivity – over exclusivity, the explosive – over the orderly. New technologies and automobiles influenced the development of the style. These characteristics connect Art Deco with the Expressionism movement. Art Deco was the favorite popular conception of modernism; it was popularly known as the people’s architecture. The best-known pieces of Lloyd Wright’s architecture are the Oasis hotel, Taggart house, Sowden House, Novarro house, Hollywood Bowl.

Los Angeles is an example of a great modernist architecture that is known all over the world. At the same time, modernism and modernity in Los Angeles have its backside that was uncovered by artists and photographers.
In the matter of fact, the industrialization and the following modernism had an influence on the environment. In This Is the American Earth, a folio-size book published by the grassroots environmental organization, the Sierra Club, in 1960, a fragmented text reads, in part, “Hell we are building here on earth.” These words were published in the book not occasionally and are a warning for people.

The industrialization and modernization caused serious damage to nature, landscape, and the environment. Whiting states that the destruction of nature was connected with a religiosity of the manifest destiny. She explains that on their frontier, Americans discover a paradise and claim it for the nation. As a result, this paradise can disappear with a noncontrollable exploitation of resources, urbanization, and industrialization. This perspective is clearly showed by photographs made by Adams and Newhall that were published in This Is the American Earth. Moreover, some chapters of the book have univocal and eloquent titles, for example, “The Machine” or “The Mathematics of Survival.” This Is the American Earth had a strong influence on the society and rose up difficult questions connected with the urbanization, modernization, and tendency to simplicity.

Photographers, in particular, Ed Ruscha and Robert Adams, paid attention to problems connected with modernism. They called people to look at the architecture from another point of view. Their photographic books show different sides of a new movement by chronicling suburban structures across cities and making a comparison between the natural wilderness and banal modernity or, in other words, the past and present state of things.

In 1964, a modernist architect, Peter Blake, wrote and published the book God’s Own Junkyard: The Planned Deterioration of America’s Landscape. He issued images that demonstrated people’s influence on local nature and landscape. Tract houses, pollution of the air, billboards, highways filled with cars, piles of garbage in contrast to images of untouched nature uncovered the real impact of modernization on the environment. He demonstrated how the magnificence of nature had been reduced to the banality of the modern life. “The evils of human development, according to Blake, involved not only its destructiveness but also its mindnumbing reduction of everything to crass human terms”.

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In the mid-1960s, an artist and photographer, Ed Ruscha, began to discover the expanse and banality of Los Angeles. In his photobooks, he showed how simplicity influenced the city design and made it banal. In his Thirtyfour Parking Lots in Los Angeles (1967), he focused on a single parking lot that was shot from the above view. In the published photos, the parking lots practically frame themselves. These images show the banality and spread of direct structures. Frames are everywhere: frames inside frames inside frames. In addition to the banality of the lots, in Some Los Angeles Apartments (1965), Ruscha demonstrated the banality of systematic classification by the monotonous infrastructure of the city. At the same time, no books implemented Ruscha’s automotive approach to the city more fully than Every Building on the Sunset Strip (1966) did.

How Ed Ruscha inspired the minimalist and modernist of LA architecture to represent the Every Building on Sunset Strip book, including the way that he represents the book itself, which is a minimalist way to present a book
Every Building on the Sunset Strip (1966) is another well-known photobook by Ruscha. The format of the book is minimalistic and simple. Black-and-white photos create a two-story sequence of Sunset Strip buildings. The title of the book refers to the totality and one-by-one documenting. The book looks like a rational and quantifiable catalog of buildings. Photographs in it record mundane and mass-produced commercial and residential architecture. “The consistently deadpan documentary style of the sharp-focused black-and-white photographs, combined with the repeated sameness of building type, highlights standardization over singularity”.

The sequence of photos that were published in the photobook was made by Ruscha from a pickup truck while driving down the street. He made pictures of the opposite sides of the street one by one. Then, he published other sides on the top and on the bottom of a continuous sheet of paper that was twenty-seven feet long. The clear space in between symbolizes the road, along which the truck was moving. This sequence of photographs was compound together and connected by collage-like joints.

Ruscha presented various buildings on Sunset Boulevard as the sequence of facades with no people, events, and movement. Moreover, photos show more parked than moving vehicles. Whiting associates the buildings photographed by Ruscha with specimens. According to her point of view, the repetitive layout and lack of any incidents encourage the viewer to scan surfaces rather than to fasten eyes on a concrete building in order to “experience visual and spatial homogeneity rather than any singularity in the urban landscape”.

Whiting points to the banality of the modern city that was showed by Ruscha. Two-mile distance represented in the book is only a part of Sunset Boulevard. As a visual effect, Ruscha uses photos of partial structures at the ends of strips that make the impression of continuity. At the same time, every building and construction on the street look the same with others. The idea focused on the totality. The same innumerable buildings created the same innumerable streets and boulevards that made the same innumerable cities. Banal innumerable structures produce a sense of the total homogeneity. “It’s all the same; it’s all without incident; it’s all banal. More is just more of the same,” – Whiting states.

Ruscha’s Every Building on the Sunset Strip offers insightful and significant commentary on the nature of Los Angeles urbanism; its urbanism relies on local building styles, popular culture, and experience through the physical movement. Thus, Ruscha showed Los Angeles urbanism and problems that were created by the industrialization and development. Urban sprawl, commercial development, and automobiles resonated with the time.

This book documented different modernist structures that looked relentlessly the same over and over again; continuous facades represented a street as it was. No change, no incident, and no event emphasized the uniformity of the driver’s experience of the urban landscape. Schwartz stated that Ruscha’s book offers a significant commentary concerning nature of Los Angeles urbanism that relies on the popular culture, experience, and concrete building styles. Moreover, it is shown through the physical movement. She named Ruscha an example of an artist who described the world as it was and not as he imagined it should be.

In his book, Ruscha uncovered problems that were created by the industrialization and development of the totality, urbanism, and similarity. It can be seen through links between Ruscha’s Every Building on the Sunset Strip and other photobooks of the time that were made by Whiting. She points out that Ruscha’s banality in structures had some response in This Is the American Earth, in which this banality took on cataclysmic proportions, and in God’s Own Junkyard that shows a situation with the already killed by hastily built structures wilderness of the place.
Ruscha inspired others to think about the architecture and its features. Scott Brown considers Ruscha as a perfect architect and nonjudgmental artist. This creative attitude allowed him to develop a unique model of the pop architecture. She stated that pop artists are motivated by a sense of reform and social responsibility. According to her opinion, architects had to embrace the popular culture because it dominated the American landscape. They had to use it in their work as the pop artists had already done. Her principal assertion is that pop artists were motivated by the sense of social responsibility. Scott Brown thought that Ruscha’s works served both social and artistic progress. Simultaneously, Scott Brown’s assertion was critiqued and questioned the degree of the involvement and investment of pop artists in social and political issues.

Another professional, Kenneth Frampton, describes Ruscha’s style as deadpan and clinical. He embraces kitsch and states, “Artists like Ruscha and architects like Scott Brown become apologists for the machine of advanced capitalism”. According to his point of view, kitsch plays a role of poison in the modern society.
Ruscha’s work had a considerable influence on the ideas of future architects. Photographs made by the artist are important for architects, urban designers, and planners in order to stay relevant with the time. Schwartz considers Ruscha’s Every Building on the Sunset Strip as a fetish as the physical experience of the city living and moving is transforming into a consumable object. She states that associations with voyeurism and surveillance underline this assumption.

Ruscha was an artist and not an architect, urban planner, or designer; he made images and published photographic books that reflected the reality of modernism, as well as its main features and problems that were associated with it.

Los Angeles Pop Art with its modernism is closely connected with the minimalist architecture. It can be seen through the similarity between minimalism and modernism such as their tendency to simplicity and functionality. Minimum elements and the usage of glass and steel side-by-side with new materials, technologies, and innovations are the main features of both modernism and minimalism. This feature can be seen in Los Angeles architecture. Along with its advantages, both modernism and minimalism have some negative sides. The main problems connected with it were uncovered by different artists and photographers. It can be seen in Ruscha’s photographic book Every Building on Sunset Strip. The artist’s photos show the similarity and banality, standardization and commerciality of everything in the world. The urban space has timeless frames and borders; there is no place for a person in it. Such environment was described by an artist in details. Ruscha’s art force designers, urban planners, and architects to think about the place of a human being in the modern landscape.

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