International Style 1930 - 1950


The International style was born in western Europe in the 1920s from the precedent breaking work of noted architects Le Corbusier in France, and Walter Gropius and Mies van der Rohe in Germany. Striving to create a new modern form and functional theory of architecture, these architects abandoned tradition to create a pared down, unornamented style that emphasized geometric shapes, viewing it as architecture for the modern age. Utilizing new construction techniques and materials, buildings of the International style were starkly different than those of previous eras in not just appearance. Flat roofed, asymmetrical and with bands of windows set into a rectangular form, International style buildings were a dramatic departure from past eras. Many European architects came to the United States in the period preceding World War II, bringing their new ideas about modern design with them. In the 1930s American architects began experimenting with the International style, building upon the early 20th century American trends like the Commercial, Bungalow and Prairie styles, and the development of skyscrapers.

In 1932 Philadelphia became the home of the first International style skyscraper, the Philadelphia Saving Fund Society (PSFS) building, designed by Swiss-born William Lescaze and American George Howe. This 32 story tower with a skeleton of structural steel and ribbon-like bands of windows was considered "ultra Modern" when it was built. Within a year of the construction of the PSFS building, the new style was employed in Philadelphia for residential architecture with the construction of the Carl Mackley Apartments. The influence of the International style continued long beyond its period of popularity. By creating a new philosophy of architecture dedicated to the pure functionality of form, the International style had a lasting impact on modern design. Strict observance of the International style design elements gave way to the development of various modern forms and styles, but the new way of looking at the design of buildings remained.

Pure examples of architect designed International style buildings are somewhat rare, but many buildings of the era between 1930-1950 show its influence. Many schools built at the mid century (circa 1950) show the basic design principles of the International style. While the International style was popular in Europe for residential design in the 1920s and 1930s, it was less commonly used for houses in the United States. Wealthy followers of the avant guarde in architecture commissioned prominent architects to design International style homes, but the style was not much embraced for more ordinary working class house construction in the USA. However, the design principles of the International style of functionality and open floor plans could be seen in the tract homes that developed in the post WWII years.

Common Building Types

  • commercial offices
  • government offices
  • schools
  • houses

Identifiable Features

  1. Rectangular forms, often with round projections
  2. Flat roof
  3. Lack of ornamentation or decorative details
  4. Ribbon windows
  5. Curtain walls of glass
  6. Cantilevered projections
  7. Smooth wall surfaces
  8. Asymmetrical facade


Click the thumbnails for larger images.

Camp Curtin Junior High School, Dauphin County

Carl Mackley Apartments, Philadelphia County

Middle Pickering Rural Historic District, Chester County

Oskar G. Stonorov House, Chester County

Tasker Homes, Philadelphia County