What gave rise to the ‘modern movement’ in architecture? Was it the European Industrial Revolution or the 1918 pandemic?

A previous post is entitled:

Ken Greenberg (2011) talks about early urban planning in Chicago

The above-noted post brings to mind a May 23, 2021 CBC article entitled: “The pandemic could change the way we design our homes and offices, say experts: After 1918 flu pandemic, easy-to-clean tile in kitchens and bathrooms became popular.”

Modern movement of architecture as response to 1918 pandemic

The May 23, 2021 CBC article foregrounds the role that the 1918 pandemic played in fostering a new approach to interior design in residential buildings.

An excerpt reads:

Looking back a century to the effect that the influenza pandemic of 1918, also known as the Spanish flu, had on architecture and design can offer some clues as to what might change with future post-pandemic design.

After that pandemic, tile was installed in the washrooms and kitchens of modern households to ensure people could maintain cleanliness. Oversized radiators were also added to bedrooms so people could sleep with windows open, circulating more fresh air.

The need to keep everything clean after the pandemic also paved the way for minimalism, moving Canadians away from Victorian houses which were usually tightly packed with knickknacks, shelves and upholstered furniture.

“The whole modern movement of architecture really came out of a concern for cleanliness, light, air and openness and the same thing is going to happen again,” Alter said.

Modern movement as response to European Industrial Revolution

It may be noted that in Ken Greenberg’s framing (at the post referred to above) of the modern movement in architecture, the movement is viewed as a reaction, not in response to the 1918 pandemic, but in response to the European Industrial Revolution:

Greenberg notes that in the aftermath of the European Industrial Revolution, which gave rise to deplorable living conditions in industrial cities, a “modern movement” in architecture emerged.

He characterizes the movement (p. 22) as “an intellectual time bomb with a very long fuse” fueled by good intentions.

The modern movement in architecture was motivated by what Greenberg calls (p. 22) “a sincere humanist urge” to address the substandard housing, overcrowding, pollution, noise, soot, disease, and other features of industrial cities that emerged after the Industrial Revolution.

The modern movement was based on the premise that the methodical logic that had successfully applied inventive engineering to industry could also be applied to how people lived their lives.


The rise of the modern movement in architecture, that is to say, can be framed in a number of ways. We can add that in general terms, framing plays a key role in our accounts of what has happened in the past, and in our reading of the present moment.

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *