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Rebuilding Babel: Modern Architecture and Internationalism

Rebuilding Babel: Modern Architecture and Internationalism
Mark Crinson

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Much of modernist architecture was inspired by the emergence of internationalism: the ethics and politics of world peace, justice and unity through global collaboration. Mark Crinson here shows how the ideals represented by the Tower of Babel - built, so the story goes, by people united by one language - were effectively adapted by internationalist architecture, its styles and practices, in the modern period. Focusing particularly on the points of convergence between modernist and internationalist trends in the 1920s, and again in the immediate post-war years, he underlines how such architecture utilised the themes of a cooperative community of builders and a common language of forms.The 'International Style' was one manifestation of this new way of thinking, but Crinson shows how the aims of modernist architecture frequently engaged with the substance of an internationalist mindset in addition to sharing surface similarities.

Bringing together the visionaries of internationalist projects - including Le Corbusier, Bruno Taut, Berthold Lubetkin, Walter Gropius and Mies van der Rohe - Crinson interweaves ideas of evolution, ecology, utopia, regionalism, socialism, free trade, and anti-colonialism to reveal the possibilities heralded by modernist architecture. Furthermore, he re-connects pivotal figures in architecture with a cast of polymath internationalists such as Patrick Geddes, Lewis Mumford, Julian Huxley, Rabindranath Tagore and H. G. Wells, to provide a richly detailed socio-cultural framework. This is a book crafted for students and scholars of architecture and art theory, as well as for those interested in the history of twentieth-century optimism about the world and its architecture.

Author Info

Mark Crinson is Professor of Art History at Birkbeck, University of London. He is a board member of ABE Journal (Architecture Beyond Europe) and also vice-president of the European Architectural History Network. His previous books include Stirling and Gowan: Architecture from Austerity to Affluence (2012; winner of the Historians of British Art Prize, 2014) and Modern Architecture and the End of Empire (2003; winner of the Spiro Kostof Prize, 2006).


‘Mark Crinson’s wide-ranging analysis proves a significant addition to the history of architectural modernism and its strange association with internationalism in the first half of the twentieth century. In unravelling the untold story of these two unlikely partners, he also offers constructive thoughts about their future.’ – Adrian Forty, The Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL

‘Utilizing an extraordinarily diverse set of archives, Crinson reveals a fascinating web of connections between the ideologists of world unity and architects and designers between the 1900s and 1945. In this extremely timely study, the complexities and contradictions unleashed by Kant’s universal ideal confront the implied impossibilities of rebuilding Babel.’ – Anthony Vidler, Yale University and The Cooper Union

‘An insightful inquiry into an unexplored relationship, revealing the ways in which modernist buildings and international institutions helped shape a new mindset.’- Michelangelo Sabatino, Illinois Institute of Technology

Bibliographic Info

Imprint: I.B.Tauris
Publisher: I.B.Tauris & Co. Ltd.

ISBN: 9781784537128
Publication Date: 29 Jun 2017
Number of Pages: 288
Height: 244
Width: 172
Illustrations: 40 black and white integrated illustrations

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