Table of Contents

International Modern 1920-1960

Modernism is a rejection of all traditional reference. The new buildings are geometric, with a flat roof,
Fig.50, International Modern building design
Fig. 50
reinforced concrete construction, and no arbitrary decoration. With floor-to-ceiling glass walls taking the place of old fashioned windows, the garden becomes part of the interior of the home - and must be planned accordingly." (Fitch,1956). Whereas the Early American gardens 'were designed primarily to walk in - or through - these are being designed to live in, literally or vicariously, through the glass. Extreme examples, of the latter are the all glass house designed by Phillip Johnson in 1949, and the Minnesota architect Ralph Rapson glass retreat of 1974. Both buildings are on very large parcels, insuring privacy. An artful 2006 residence by Rapson in Edina, Minnesota, surely signals that this style is still relevant.

While popular elsewhere in the 1930s to 1960s, this architecture style, for homes, is not popular in the USA, partly due to the cost but also the very active agitation against it by Elizabeth Gordon, Chief Editor of House Beautiful. Her favorite architect is Frank Lloyd Wright who in this second phase of his design career produces a series of scaled down residences called Usonian houses. For cost effectiveness these homes use a planning grid, board and batten walls, and under-floor heating, while rejecting expensive materials such as aluminum and steel. Later innovations that become common are placing the kitchen in the center of the house, using energy efficient masonry, earth sheltered north walls, and the carport.

International Modern garden plan
Fig.51, International Modern garden plan
Fig. 51
The landscape architects of the 30s are influenced by the design ideas of the International Style, and reject formulaic classical plans, seeking more ecological strategies. The early gardens of this period are geometric, reflecting the neoclassic tradition, but become more organic. The geometric and organic continue to be used alternatively, depending on the designer. The designer to most fully utilize the organic aesthetic in the 1930s - 1960s, is the Brazilian, Roberto Burle Marx. In the U.S. an elegant example of house - garden organic interrelationship is the Frank Lloyd Wright berm-insulated home in Middleton, Wisconsin with a sunken garden and a circular pond that is half in and half outside. At right is a late 20c lakeside home owing much to Frank Lloyd Wright’s idea of merging the built form with the landscape. The use of an evergreen groundcover on this site is attractive, low maintenance and sustainable by eliminating fertilizer, herbicide and grass clipping runoff into the lake.

Fig.52, International Modern landscape design
Fig. 52
The key American landscape designer of the period between 1930-1950 is Thomas Church, practicing from 1920-1970. Much of his work is for private West Coast gardens, (Midwest examples include the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, and the Des Moines Art Center, Iowa). Influenced by Alvar Aalto, Church’s designs become abstract, and organic, reaching a highpoint by the mid to late1940s. Characteristic elements are trees coming through a timber terrace, a kidney shaped swimming pool, and few flowers. Stressed are low maintenance massed plantings of native species, ground covers, and paving and hedges reminiscent of natural forms.
Fig. 53
Church’s ‘California’ style, promoting indoor – outdoor living with terraces, patios and the 1950s icon, the barbecue soon sweeps the rest of the country (Treib, 2002).

Unlike Church’s organic shapes many designers choose to emphasize the geometry of the architecture, planting trees in an axial grid pattern, or alleé aligned with a building plane, and set off by a manicured lawn. Privacy may be achieved with earthen berms or concrete walls. The minimal nature of a geometric design approach often dictates a minimal selection of plant species in the garden, limiting habitat for birds and butterflies.

Fig.54, Ashler pattern
Fig. 54
Both Church’s organic design, and the geometric plan, specifies paths, patios, and terraces constructed of concrete, flagstone, limestone, or large rectilinear granite pavers in ashler-like patterns. White gravel made from crushed marble is often used around the foundation. Brick is not used in any way.

Water features include rectilinear reflecting pools or organic, kidney shaped swimming pools. Contemporary sculpture is often used as a focal point.