Expressionism is a rare style in post-war American architecture but it found ready acceptance in the Denver area. Expressionism is only vaguely related to the German Expressionist style of the early 20th century, which is why is may be inappropriate to call the American style Neo Expressionism, as some do. Expressionism’s reliance on theatrical sculptural forms contrasted both the woodsy charm of the Usonian, on the one hand, and the crisp rationality of the International Style and Miesian on the other.
The Expressionists picked up the tradition of dramatic building forms that had earlier manifested itself in the United States in the Moderne, such as the many buildings constructed for the 1939-1940 New York World’s Fair. Whereas Moderne buildings often evoked the speed of a locomotive, it was the jet age that many Expressionist buildings suggested. Eero Saarinen’s 1962 Dulles International Airport in Chantilly, Virginia outside Washington, D.C. clearly makes the case with its smooth and continuous lines.
Expressionism in American architecture was broadly conceived and included the more clearly hard-edged and geometric approach taken by Walter Netsch for Skidmore Owings and Merrill in the design of the Air Force Academy Chapel of the 1962 outside Colorado Springs, Colorado.
The Expressionist style was never dominant in American architecture because the soaring forms it favored and the experimental materials it preferred were too costly. It was also the same fiscal issue that guaranteed that most Expressionist buildings, with notable exceptions such as Dulles and the Air Force Academy Chapel, were in the form of luxurious houses.
The origin of the term is unknown.
• Sculptural forms
• Irregularly-shaped windows
• Non-traditional structural elements
• Use of experimental materials
• Use of cast-in-place concrete
• Same materials used inside and out
• Organic or geometric floor plans
• Organic or geometric ornamental programs
• Use of the cantilever
• Dramatic site planning, use of topography as a design element
• Butterfly or other unconventional roof designs
• Roofs as continuations of the walls
Information and some images from Historic Denver guide books, including
"A Guide to Denver's Architectural Styles and Terms."
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