Pioneers of Modern Design Theory


Pioneers of the modern design have had impacted the architecture field in putting new dimensions and approaches to art, architecture, and design. The roots of modernism in art and architecture can be traced to several theorists who can be paid depending on their achievements and the directions of their contributions. Several authors-cum-theorists presented their ideas, paintings, and designs, all in the direction of modernism. The two selected theorists are William Morris and Tony Garnier. The paper will expound on the projects, designs, and thoughts presented by the two theorists, compare their works and their lines of thoughts concerning modern design in art and architecture. The comparison will include their masterpieces, ideologies, and central themes of modern design.

Early Influences in the career personality of William Morris

William Morris got influence from people such as Gothic Revival (1830-1880) who has interested in medieval styles and designs based on strong colors and bold forms. The fact that his product was simple in form and without superfluous decorations did not change any of his highly esteemed masterpieces. Some products were deliberately left unfinished to express and highlight the beauty of the crafts. A.W.N. Pugin (1812-1852), was also an exponent the Gothic Revival in architecture, and he advocated the truth to material, structure, and function. This stylistic design influenced William in his work and which later the approaches became the distinctive in the Arts and Crafts movements. The Arts and Crafts movement was decoration and fine arts movement that stood for traditional craftsmanship using simple forms of medieval, romantic or folk styles. It advocated for economic and social reforms and there it was essentially said to be anti-industrial (Miller 401).

Education and Training

William Morris education background is traced back from Marlborough and Exeter College. While studying classics and theology at Oxford University, he met with Burne-Jones and Dante Gabriel Rossetti who were also artists and them, therefore, formed a group called Brotherhood. He also joined Birmingham Set. These men inspiration was by history, ritual and architecture of the medieval period and this has influences on the type of design William advocated for and promoted generally ((Miller 401).

After his university education, he trained as an architect and this where he developed a close friendship with Neo-Gothic architect Phillip Webb. Together with Morris they designed a family home, Red House in Kent where he lived from 1859 to 1865 before relocating to Bloomsbury. In the year 1861, Morris founded a decorative arts firm with Phillip, Burnes-Jones, Rossetti and others that were called Morris, Mashall, Faulkner & Co. The company became highly fashionable with a lot of demands as it profoundly influenced interior decoration where Morris designed tapestries, furniture, fabrics and stained glass windows throughout the Victorian period. Later in 1875, he assumed the full ownership of the company and renamed it to Morris & Co (Freeman-Moir 202).

Morris visits to the Islands were significantly influencing and together with Eiríkr Magnússon, they produced a series of English language translation of Icelandic Sagas. He also successfully published his classic and impressive poems and novels such as "Earthly Paradise" and “Well at the World's End”. In 1877, he then founded the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings to fight against the damage caused by the architectural restoration. While influenced by anarchism and embracing Marxism concurrently, he became committed as an activist to revolutionary socialism. He involved himself with Social Democratic Federation (SDF) which led him to found Socialist League in 1884 but later broke out from the organization in 1890. Late in 1891 he founded Kelmscott Press for publishing a limited edition, illuminated style print books (Tillinghast 32).

William Morris inspiration made him design a building that had clear explanation relating to his theories. One of these houses is Red House built in 1859 and which is owned currently by The National Trust and open to visitors. 

Red House in Bexleyheath

The buildings design incorporated the Morris’s efforts in focusing on the interiors and Webb handled the exterior. This architecture represented his first commission as an independent architect. Named from the construction materials of red bricks and tiles, it rejected the architectural norms by being L-shaped. Various forms Neo-Gothic architecture influenced the design with Morris describing it as very medieval in spirit. He also invited his friends who aided him in the painting of the murals on the furniture, walls, and ceilings. Much of these decorations were based on Arthurian tales, the Trojan War, and the Geoffrey Chaucer's stories. He also included floral embroideries for the rooms (Tillinghast 34).

In 1866, he and his company were also involved in the decoration of Armory & Tapestry Room, St. James' Palace and Dining Room, Victoria & Albert Museum in 1867.

Armory & Tapestry Room, St. James' Palace

This decorations and painting illustrated the designs of medieval times and it’s in line with Morris passion of anarchism and socialism.

Key buildings designed by other architects following William Morris 

The Stade de Gerland (or the State Gerland) that was designed under the directorship of Tony Garnier, a student of the William Morris theory.

Tony Garnier (1869-1948) was a French architect born in Lyons, France, who had embraced the design of the building that were to be uncompromisingly on-derivative by use of being of reinforced concrete especially in town-planning principles. He designed the huge Abbatoirs de la Mouche which was cattle market and a slaughterhouse but later turned into an armory. He also built Lyons in 1913 with massive top lift open hall erected of large steel trusses. Tony Garnier was also accountable for the building of the Stade Athletique De Gerland stadium in 1926 and Stade Nautique stadium at Lyon 7ème in 1929, the Cité Industrielle, which influenced other modernists such as Le Corbusier, which was a design for a model town of 35,000 people. Finally, he is primarily remembered in design and building of monuments, schools and other buildings until the Second World War.

Early Influences in their career personality of Hector Guimard

Hector Guimard was born and raised in French between March 1967 and May 1942. He represented the Art Nouveau style of architecture as proposed and advanced in the last years of nineteenth and the early twentieth centuries. His fifteen years of prolific creativity earned him fame among the French designers, architects and artists. He attended the École nationale supérieure des arts décoratifs in Paris between 1882 and 1885 graduating as an architect. He got acquainted with Eugene Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc theories of design that later influenced him to provide him with much needed skills and base for his own approach to architecture. His influence and advocating of Art Nouveau made him famous among the many architects in Paris and France in general. Due to his noble ideas, he received several decorations including four bronze medals, the colleges’ Grand Prix d’Architecture, and five silver medals.  Other people who influenced him included Victor Horta, an artist who impressed Hector leading him to start his own architectural work.

Some of his best works include the 60 rue La Fontaine, Castel Beanger, and Maison Coilliot among others. He also joined ceramicist Emile Muller in designing letters and street number for Paris. He participated in several exhibitions including the 1900 World Exposition where he presented his masterpieces like the Paris Metro for the competition (Hector-Guimard 1). Most of his works are present in Paris Metrp entrances where the inner-city marvel is enhanced by the organic and the ornamental natural forms of art and designs. Works of Antoni Gaudi also influenced his work to a great level. Guimard had other people like Violet-le-Duc, William Morris, John Ruskin, and the English Arts and Crafts movement that influence him to the modern design. His creations have enhanced the modern constructive techniques and innovative materials including glass, steel, and iron. The combination of these innovative materials can be highlighted by the design of the Castel Beranger that represents a high quality masterpiece in its interior design and decoration.

Education and Training

Guimard attended the Ecole Nationale Superieure des Arts Decoratifs located in Paris. He furthered his studies at the Ecole des Beaux Arts, and later appointed a professor in his former school, Ecole de Arts Decoratifs. I was during 1989, the time he was appointed a professor, that he designed and decorated the Pavilion of Electricity for presentation during the World Fair in Paris (Greenhalgh 36. During his education and training, he was able to meet famous architects and designers like Victor Horta and the influential Art Nouveau architect from Belgium, Paul Hankar, who further influenced him in his modern design. The meeting influenced his more when he visited Hotel Tassel, Brussels that was designed and decorated using the Art Nouveau style.

Key theoretical principles and concepts developed by Hector Guimard

Hector Guimard worked and builds on the architectural design of art nouveau that was popular in the late nineteen and early twentieth centuries. Theorists of the art Nouveau continued in their impressive form for a while before other architectural designs overtook it (Greenhalgh 36).  Art Nouveau presents an innovative, modern-art international style of fashion that was present during the 1890s and early 1900s, diminishing during the World War 1. It builds on deviation from the historicism that dominated much of the 19th century fashions. One of the principles of art nouveau was the reflection of everyday living in its designs and fashions (Rothenberg 106). It focused on the daily things that affect or influence people. Some of the important aspects of art nouveau was the incorporation of the aesthetic value of the designed object where it had to mix newness and revolution gaining the name new art, or Art Nouveau.

Another principle is that it applies to many areas in life including fine art, architecture, decorative art, and applied art. It had connections to the Art and Craft movement, the industrial revolution, and to some extent, the Japonism (as promoted by Ukiyo-e prints). Another striking difference contained by the art nouveau was the employment of the intricate curvilinear patterns using sinuous asymmetrical lines (Markowitz 31). Incorporation of nature was an integral part of the art nouveau designs as seen from the pictures of the Paris Metro entrances. Female silhouettes and forms, floral, as well as other plant-inspired motifs composed form of the art nouveau designs. The art nouveau design was later replaced by Art Deco. Art Nouveau is more of a style than a philosophy and it has its distinctive features that include consistent balance of nature and the object creation (Rothenberg 105).

Some of the distinguishing factors for Art Nouveau include application of artistic designs depicting everyday objects and enhance beauty to everyone. There was no separation between applied/decorative arts (as in ceramics and furniture among other objects) and fine arts (like sculpture and painting). It embraced a variety of stylistic interpretations, for instance, the use of low-cost materials, mass production methods, and others embraced use of more expensive materials and high valued craftsmanship, more so by Hector Guimard (Markowitz 29).

Main buildings, publications characterizing the theory 

The two pictures show the Castel Beranger, one of the most successful stories and masterpieces of Hector Guimard that is situated in Paris.

Castel Beranger building was painted and designed by Guimard after his visit to Brussels and discovery of the Tassel Hotel owned by Horta. The residential complex composed of 36 units was made dynamic through mixing materials and engaging indentations and projections. The complex exhibits modern architecture that was implemented by Guimard, changing the complex from the proposed Gothic architecture. The structure embraced materials like stones, ceramics, hammered iron, bricks, and a fine finishing of naturalistic decorations that indicate exuberant and curvilinear motifs (Greenhalgh 36). The construction, design, and the decoration of the Castel Beranger brought much of the world attention to recognize Hector Guimard as a modern construction architect and designer.   

The Cite Entrance is one of the Guimard’s masterpieces situated at the Paris Metropolitan. The art and design reflect the Art Nouveau in its style of the letters and presentation at the entrance. 

These two entrances to the Paris Metro signify his diverse skills in design and architecture as constructed between 1899 and 1901. This is the entrance to the Porte Dauphine metro station in Paris as designed by Hector Guimard. It is designed using the modern art skills (Art Nouveau) that makes it reflect the beautiful nature, naturally blending with the environment. 

The statue placed at the 17 Rue La Fontaine in Paris indicates Guimard’s signature, also a clever artistic impression that captivates creativity, talent, and innovation. 

The La Bluette, as indicated above, is among the standing works of Hector Guimard designed and built in 1899. The villa was built for Paris lawyer, Prosper Grivelle, where it seats along the seaside in North-West France.

Most of the Guimard’s ideas and innovations did not exclude any element of daily living as every other detail was important. He also produced standardized furniture designs for the general public in 1920 but due to failure to follow the trends in changing designs; his designs were overtaken by the Art deco style as well as other formal intentions designed by Hector becoming outdated.

List and briefly describe key buildings designed by other architects following Hector Guimard,

Some of the architects following the art nouveau movement included Odon Lechner, an architect from Hungary, Viennese designers Joseph Maria Olbrich, and Otto Wagner. Others were Alphonse Mucha, Louis Comfort Tiffany, and Emile Gale who contributed to the art nouveau movement. Some of their buildings included: 

This is the Dancing building as designed by Frank Geary, one of the students and followers of the art nouveau (Prague Tour Guides 1). The building reflects daily live where people dance and get entertained. It combines colors that match with the surrounding with a beautiful decoration and finishing. 

This is the Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s Glasgow school that indicates art nouveau styles of design, painting, and finishes. 

Antoni Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia (1903-26), a masterpiece as described by Pevsner (23). Gaudi was one of the foremost advocates of the Art Nouveau movement.

Summary and Conclusion

The pioneers of the modern art can be categorized into three roots, that of William Morris, and the second part of Art Nouveau, and then the last piece done by the 19th century engineers. William Morris contributed to much of textile designs, complex housing designs, and an advocate of reviving Gothic movement and stylistic application while Guimard focused on complex housing architecture that reflected the daily lives and contemporary issues. Guimard appears to have provided a superior framework than Morris in that the designs of Guimard have persistent and redeveloped more as compared to the works of William Morris.

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