When one talks about art, Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque can never be omitted from the discussion. While the majority of us are familiar with the mentioned artists, their style of art is not that popular, “Cubism”. Cubism is an Avant-Garde Art movement, which was distinct in comparison as every other art style was three-dimensional, this was two dimensional. In 1908 art critic Louis Vauxcelles, saw some landscape paintings by Georges Braque in an exhibition in Paris, and described them as ‘bizarreries cubiques’ which translates as ‘cubist oddities’ – and the term “Cubism” was coined. Since the Renaissance in the 15th Century, the aim of the European artists was to paint the illusion of three-dimensional space in their work so as to mimic the experience of looking through a window onto a real landscape, person, or object. Artists of the era used to depict three-dimensional art in the two-dimensional medium by employing techniques like linear perspective and tonal gradation.
Perspective involves making closer objects bigger and clearer while objects which are away are smaller and less clear. This approach helps in creating the illusion of space. The other method employed in three-dimensional painting was tones or shadows, by gradually changing the darkness of the shadow, you can make something look solid. In cubism, the artists used flat geometric shapes to represent the different sides and angles of the objects. By doing this, they could suggest three-dimensional qualities and structure without using techniques like perspective and shading. This process also emphasized the two-dimensional flatness of the canvas by breaking down the real world into flat geometric shapes.
So, how did Cubism affect architecture?
From 1912, Cubism had become an influential factor in terms of architecture and the architects of the movement borrowed heavily from cubist art regarding geometric forms and shapes, diverse elements could be superimposed, made transparent, or penetrate one another. The common characteristics of the buildings of this movement were transparency, spatial ambiguity, form-faceting, and multiplicity. It also brought out conceptions like abstraction, geometrization, symbolism, distortion, fragmentation, and illusion. The buildings were distinct with their sharp, clear lines for perspective viewing while the windows have cubic or rectangular and did not necessarily line up with each other and thus creating a revolutionary appearance. It was no historical comparison so it became revolutionary and faced opposition from others who wanted a steady and structured change. Early cubist buildings were made up of bricks which were difficult to cut into geometric shapes making their construction costly and demanding, later concrete became their material of choice as it could be poured into any flexible geometric form. The use of reinforced concrete structure gave cubism an edge in the building industry. The initial challenges faced also involved the interiors as with Cubism, the shape of the structure was so dynamic it could perform an ornamental function and there was a challenge of finding furniture that could blend in with the unique interior of the buildings. This was later addressed with the advent of cubist furniture. This style was popular in France, Germany, Netherlands, and Czechoslovakia.
The pioneering architect of this movement was Le Corbusier and one can find traits and characterizes of the movement in his designs such as the Assembly building, Chandigarh and Notre Dame du Haut, Ronchamp which had distinctive details from Pablo Picassos’ 1930s masterpiece ‘Guernica’. Some of the other interesting buildings of the movement include the cube houses in Rotterdam and Helmond by Piet Blom and Holman House, Sydney By Durbach Block Jaggers. Cubism also served as the fundamental for the birth of the deconstructivism movement, the similar can be seen in most of the structures such as The Crystal at Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto by Daniel Libeskind, and Walt Disney Concert hall by Frank Gehry.