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Formalism in American art  

Robert M. Craig

[New Formalism]

Architectural movement of the 1950s and 1960s. New Formalism was a reaction to the so-called “Miesian” aesthetic of corporate America during the 1950s; the architecture of the glass curtain wall. Rejecting the modernist generation’s abstract functionalist design based on volume and surface skin, Formalist architects instead sought a more articulate, representational, and expressive language of architecture. They reshaped building elements, both structural and formal, and reintroduced historic references and styles to the design of buildings. When fashionably adorned with a “new ornamentalism,” the more stylized Formalist buildings became Mannerist in expression.

In 1961, Nikolaus Pevsner recognized a “return to historicism” in architecture, which demonstrated that even pioneer modernists had become sources for revivalist interest and architectural form-making by the third quarter of the 20th century. Stimulated by New Formalism, a younger generation soon brought forth a “post-modern” language of design, sometimes disturbingly artificial and weak, sometimes “complex and contradictory,” but always seeking to be newly validated by history. Its best expressions constituted a “new classicism”; its worst evidenced by what Charles Jencks described as the “carnivalesque” in architecture....