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First Machine Age


Building styles are not created "ex nihilo"; rather, they are a visual manifestation of cultural, social, political and economic processes. In order to understand an architectural work beyond the very components of the building, one must delve into the spirit of the time (the zeitgeist) and its characteristics.

The International Style is a distinct product of the "modern era", typified by a rapid and constant rate of change in all fields of life. The revolutions which took place in the United States of America (1776), in France (1887), and in the Soviet Union (1917), clearly expressed a desire to change the existing social, political, and economic structures. They indicated the need to conceive of methods which would allow distribution of resources and power among a greater number of people. These revolutions and changes were underlied by a belief in perceptions of human "progress".

The modern epoch belongs to "mass culture", which, in turn, is typified by mass communication, mass transportation, mass production, and so on. Another feature of the Modern Era is speed: The development of motorized vehicles (train, car, and airplane), and the emergence of new communication channels (telegraph, telephone, radio, cinema, television) - all these enabled a fast flow of information and knowledge among remote locations set far apart. The period in which the International Style emerged was also dubbed the "First Machine Age". The increased industrialization led to urban growth on an unprecedented scale. Industrialization and urbanization led to the emergence of the working class, which was recognized as a new social class. The scope of issues which architects had to confront expanded, since now they had to design dwellings as well as work and leisure places for the masses, and not only ones restricted to the nobility and the bourgeoisie. The technological developments led to crystallization of new building types, such as factories, train stations, cinemas, banks, shopping centers.

International Style architects were conscious and mindful of the vicissitudes and tribulations characteristic of the modern era. The buildings they designed sought to express the spirit of their time and serve the changing social circumstances. Many of them truly believed that architecture was capable of changing the face of society and of laying the foundation for the gradually emerging promising new world.
"@@." (Alison & Peter Smithson, The Heroic Period of Modern Architecture, London: Thames & Hudson Ltd., 1981, p. 5).


The machine, thus, represented the spirit of the time and served as an important source of inspiration for works of art and architecture. Architect Le Corbusier compared the house to "a machine for living in": Like the machine, the building too, had to incorporate all the elements required for its efficient operation; during those years machines manufactured clear-cut, geometrically-shaped products - and the building's components had to be just so. Furthermore, machine-manufactured product parts are uniformly shaped, and so are the constituent elements of the International Style.

Visual elements were also drawn from the "machine for sailing" - the large ocean liners - among them rails made of iron pipes, round windows, and rounded corners. In Israel, forms developed in Europe inspired by machine images, were adopted. However, unlike their countries of origin, in Israel emphasis was not placed on architecture illustrating the Machine Age
(Micha Levin, Ir Levanah ('White City'), p. 12 [Hebrew]).