14 Jul 2022


Modern architecture and pioneering the usage of glass, concrete, and steel

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Figure 1 . Henry-Russel Hitchcock and Philip Johnson 

Modern architecture or modernistic architecture alludes to a form of architecture that was primarily demarcated by the utilization of pioneering and novel construction methodologies, particularly in the usage of glass, concrete, and steel. The primary impression in contemporary architecture is that form ought to adopt minimalism as well as function. Similarly, modern architecture also entails the elimination of ornaments. Modern architecture commenced at the conclusion of the nineteenth century, an era that was marked by a rapid change in technology, engineering, and construction materials. Among the primary proponents of modern architecture is the international style that was developed between the 1920s and 30s. This particular style was primarily brought about by Philip Johnson and Henry-Russel Hitchcock, who were the curators at Modern Art Museum in 1932 (A Guide to Modern Architecture, 2021). The international style was typified by lightweight utilization, emphasis on volume over mass, color and ornament rejection, industrial materials, as well as the use of flat surfaces, and repetition of modular forms. 

International architecture has been studied comprehensively in regards to its introduction of innovative aspects of design. Architects that developed the style also conceived novel schools of thought about design which re-shaped the building domain and generally in modern art (Eliason, 2020). Of particular interest to this analysis is the concept of volume over mass which is a form of architecture that takes shape from the interior of the building instead of its exterior. 

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Volume Defined 

The term volume is generally a measurement of a three-dimensional shape that is enclosed by a closed surface. It is a term utilized in the specification of the amount of space that a substance like gas, liquid, or solid is capable of occupying.

Figure 2 . Example of Volume in Architecture 

Volume in architecture is the amount of space within the building and is one of the defining characteristics of architecture because it is one quality that distinguishes it from painting, sculpture, as well as other art forms. According to Knorr (2009), volume is what makes architecture, but he is quick to point out that it does not necessarily mean that more volume is better architecture. Big spaces typically have the potential to inspire, but without the element of human scale, they can be intimidating. Frank Lloyd Wright had a proper understanding of this issue, and he thus modulated spaces by compressing them with low ceilings upon entering before being open to high ceilings in a principal space. The larger volumes become more expressive by comparison and thus elevated the spirit. In the same manner, the low ceilings gave human scale to the spaces they existed in. 

There are various means of manipulating volume and adding interest in architecture. Some of the instances include changes in the ceiling planes, the wall shapes, and colonnades as well as arcades, as they entail the sculpting of space to affect one’s experience. People often need both grand spaces and intimate retreats contingent upon their mood and the building’s function. Great architecture is a series of spatial events which mold one’s experience and directs one’s focus to evoke an emotional response. Therefore, volume is one way in which this is accomplished. 

Mass Defined 

In simple terms, mass alludes to the exterior size of the building, and it combines with shape to define the building’s form (Crisman, 2016). It alludes to the size or the physical bulk of a structure and is typically the actual size or size relative to context. Massing provides the context of the building in two dimensions and not only from one perspective. The mass of the building also affects the sense of space within the building, thus helps in defining the exterior shape as well as interior spaces of the structure. A mass is also a grouping of visual elements which compose a solid form 

Mass may be experienced as sculpture, and the aesthetics of masses is usually engrained in one’s psychological makeup. For instance, when a big mountain or tree is referred to as majestic, they indicate projections of human attributes. In this manner, individuals typically humanize inert objects and thus give the designer the chance to stimulate experiences with formulaic patterns. Some architecture designs are more dependent on the expression of mass than on space (Space and Mass, 2021). For instance, the Indian Stupa and the Egyptian pyramids have no meaningful internal spaces, while the early Byzantine and Christian architecture portrayed the contrary. 

Figure 3 . Great Stupa 

However, the Gothic architecture expresses a dual content by having a balance of both volumes and masses. 

Interpretation of the Difference in the International Style 

In the international style of architecture, as promoted by Hitchcock and Johnson, architecture as a volume in contrast to mass was defined by thin planes or surfaces, which creates the building’s form instead of forming a solid mass. Such buildings are characterized by visible steel frames, larges glass panes, as well as a flat roof, and a lack of ornament. The buildings emphasized the interior spaces rather than the external size of the building. This meant that buildings based upon international architecture were not necessarily reliant on massive extents of land in order to have adequate interior spaces. Therefore, such designs are easily adaptable in metropolises because adequate and extensive interior spaces can be forged out of buildings with relatively small masses or sizes, as showcased in the image below.

Figure 4 . International style Architecture (volume over mass) 


The international style of architecture was marked by a migration from the utilization of mass in buildings to using volume. While building masses primarily expressed the exterior size of the building, volumes concentrated more on the interior spaces with which people would interact. Therefore, building volumes stimulated more emotions from the building occupants in contrast to building masses and thus represented a more modern style of architecture. 


A Guide to Modern Architecture. (2021). Retrieved 18 April 2021, from https://www.archisoup.com/modern-architecture-guide 

Crisman, P. (2016). Form. Retrieved 18 April 2021, from https://www.wbdg.org/resources/form#:~:text=Mass%20refers%20to%20the%20size,or%20size%20relative%20to%20context. 

Eliason, A. (2020). Understanding International Architecture. (2021). Retrieved 18 April 2021, from https://www.streetdirectory.com/travel_guide/66885/real_estate/understanding_international_architecture.html 

Knorr. (2009). Volume = Space. Retrieved 18 April 2021, from http://knorrarchitecture.blogspot.com/2009/03/volume-space.html 

Space and mass. (2021). Retrieved 18 April 2021, from https://www.britannica.com/topic/architecture/Space-and-mass 

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