Modernism in architecture took birth in the first half of 20th century and became dominant after World War II until the 1980s. Industrialization leading to urbanization, population increase, and addition to factory- made parts, prefabricated parts and man-made materials such as metal and concrete were some of the reasons modern architecture took shape. Modernism emphasized function oriented designs, little or no ornamentation, rebellion against traditional styles, accentuated horizontal or vertical lines in building facades and simplification of form with elimination of unnecessary detail.  The crux of modern architecture lies in applying scientific, analytical and rational methods to design. Modernism yielded a ground to establish identity for ‘International Style’ to flourish. Legendary architects of the time coined axiom and aphorism which till date is understood and studied by the architecture fraternity to understand ‘isms’ (style) in architecture. Le Corbusier an immortal architect laid groundwork demonstrating 5 points of architecture – the prominent features seen in modernist structure of the time.

This article focuses on some of the iconic projects as best exponents for its time-

1. Villa Savoye

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Villa Savoye,located in Poissy on the outskirts of Paris is a modernist villa. It is designed by the legendary architect Le Corbusier in collaboration with his cousin Pierre Jeanneret completed in year 1931. It was designed as a weekend home for savoye family. It is an significant and iconic structure of its time now registered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Popular by the notion and statement by Le Corbusier – “The house is a machine for living’’ which accepted a pragmatic mindset to designing spaces, shedding the inessential, with adaptation on innovative qualities and advances of engineering, and development of more comfortable, productive and beautiful spaces.

The foundation of modern architecture was based on 5 Points of Architecture demonstrated in this project i.e. – (information from –

  1. Pilotis- A grid of concrete or steel columns replaces the load-bearing walls and becomes the basis of the new aesthetics. The decisive factor is the idea of supporting structures on pillars in order to make the soil freely usable.
  2. The roof garden- Both as a kitchen garden and as a sun terrace. On a flat roof a humus layer is covered with vegetation, this ensures constant moisture and serves as a perfect heat and cold insulator.
  3. The free ground plan- The absence of load-bearing walls allows flexible use of the living space, which can be divided by screen elements.
  4. The horizontal windows- The horizontal windows cut through the non-load-bearing walls along the facade and provide the apartment with even light. It gives the interior a lightness and offers views of the surroundings.
  5. The free facade- Open and closed sections on the façade enable the separation and connection of the exterior design from the building structure.
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Villa Savoye is one of the iconic houses of the 20th century, in which he termed “precision” of architecture where design was justified in terms to use of its features. The building featured in two hugely influential books of the time: Hitchcock and Johnson’s The International Style published in 1932, and F. R. S. Yorke’s The Modern House published in 1934, as well as the second volume of Le Corbusier’s own series The Complete Works.

2. Falling Water

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‘Falling water’ or the ‘Kaufmann House’ is a weekend home designed by the celebrated architect Frank Lloyd Wright for Mr. Edgar Kaufmann and his family. Situated in rural southwestern Pennsylvania, 43 miles southeast of Pittsburgh, partly built in cantilevered fashion over a waterfall, is a notable example of modernism in an organic form. The architecture of this house is deeply contextual which believes in the philosophy of a man being part of the nature. Frank Lloyd Wright has merged the indoor and outdoor environment and used natural landscape to its fullest – be it sound of water or vegetation in the surroundings, where terraces open up. The design amalgamates modern architecture – use of ribbon windows, steel, concrete, planes, engineering in building on rock strata using simple ocher clean facades – with organic architecture- nature and space, geometry, and use of natural stone at the base of the building makes it a masterpiece. Listed as a National Historic landmark and inscribed under World Heritage List, the project is well acknowledged and often one of the favorite emulated sketches for architecture enthusiasts.

3. Seagram Building

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The Seagram Building is a skyscraper at 375 Park Avenue, between East 52nd and 53rd Streets, in Midtown Manhattan, New York City. Designed by one of the pioneers of modern architecture, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe exhibits famed aphorisms that “structure is spiritual” and “less is more. The logical repeating of material, use of rationalized industrial production and construction techniques, nonstructural metal bronze skin seen in the facade used to express the idea of the structural frame that is underneath, and simplicity, making it a striking example of a project completed at 1958 of modern architecture.

4. Wainwright Building

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The Wainwright building is designed by the legendary architect Louis Henry Sullivan referred to as the “father of skyscrapers” and the “father of modernism “. Sullivan’s famous axiom, “form follows function,” became the touchstone for many architects, which intends to mean the purpose of the building should be primary and starting point to its design. Wainwright building is among one of the first skyscrapers erected in the world, setting a benchmark for modern office buildings. The architectural vocabulary of the building, the tripartite composition of base, shaft and attic with grandiosity and pride highlighted with attaining height and vertical lines soaring high with its elegant aesthetics and steel frame construction is one of the most remarkable modern architecture foundation work.

5. Glass House

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Glass House designed by renowned architect Philip Johnson, is a historic house museum on Ponus Ridge Road in New Canaan, Connecticut built in 1948–49. The architect himself lived here for 58 years of his lifetime. The design is famous for its minimalistic geometry and structural appeal, transparency and reflection and use of industrialized materials glass and steel. The building is 56 feet (17 m) long, 32 feet (9.8 m) wide and 10½ feet (3.2 m) high.  The brick floor is 10 inches above the ground. The indoor is completely exposed to the outdoors and the glass facade reflects beautiful imagery of the landscape. It’s been debated that the inspiration for this project is Farnsworth house designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. It is one of the most influential and significant structures in modern architecture.

6. Farnsworth House


The Farnsworth House was designed and constructed by the honored and cherished Ludwig Mies van der Rohe between 1945 and 1951. This single room weekend retreat is  located 55 miles (89 km) southwest of Chicago’s downtown, on a 60-acre (24 ha) estate site adjoining the Fox River, south of the city of Plano, Illinois. Listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 2004, it is widely known as an example of International Style of architecture.  This iconic structure wasn’t well received by its owners, but, ironically in present time, it’s one of the most celebrated structures making the list as a designated National Historic Landmark in 2006. The design intends to be floating and light, giving an experience of a space sandwiched in-between base plane and overhead plane. Hanging above the ground on eight I-Shaped steel columns, painted in pristine and spiritual white color, gives it a modern and minimal appearance. The relationship of the planning and views of the structure with its natural landscape accentuates the value of designing it in a free plan form.

7. Eames House

Source:  Photograph by Julius Shulman. © J. Paul Getty Trust. Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles (2004.R.10). ( )

Charles and Ray Eames, pioneers in the field of architecture,designed this house for a case study program for John Entenza’s Arts & Architecture magazine.  The project demanded to explore the scope of prefabricated materials which will be easy to erect, exhibiting a modern style, and to conceive a modern household, elaborating its functional requirements and construction. The project is located at 203 North Chautauqua Boulevard in the Pacific Palisades neighborhood of Los Angeles. Now a historic house museum maintained by the Eames Foundation, it was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 2006. It is a marvel of the mid- 20th century modern architecture, standing on a cliff and overlooking the Pacific Ocean, where the designer couple lived till their death.

8. Guggenheim Museum

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Iconic structure of 20th century Solomon R. Guggenheim also called Guggenheim Museum designed by acclaimed architect Frank Lloyd Wright is a perfect embodiment of “Form follows function”, a Phrase coined by architect Louis Sullivan, an early mentor of Frank Lloyd Wright. Wright shared a temperament towards modernism. The project was opened for public in 1959 and built in 1943. The organic modern form was derived by the need for a continuous clear plan for the art gallery.

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The Building was conceived to diverge from the norms of display arranged in individual spaces. Rather around a central atrium space, a spiral ramp uncoils around which art displays are arranged for a continuous view.  The 6 floors are visually connected and visitors climb upwards appreciating the art. However the functionality of the building was debated, due to its curved walls, the display of art on wall plane wasn’t an easy job. It is one of the monumental structure by the legendary architect and one of the masterpieces in category of modern architecture.

9. TWA Terminal

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The TWA Flight Center, also known as the Trans World Flight Center, was an airport terminal at New York City’s John F. Kennedy International Airport, now used by a hotel called the TWA Hotel. The terminal, which opened in 1962, was designed for Trans World Airlines by Eero Saarinen. Technological advancement by the advent of Second World War increased rapidly, to which the terminal portrays its style in use of materials and construction technique. The monumental terminal became a symbol for the aviation industry due to its form as in pose of flight. It is one of the most functional and iconic structures of its time.

10. Bauhaus school of Art and Architecture

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The Bauhaus school of Art and Architecture was founded by Walter Gropius in Weimar in 1919. This German design school is considered the most influential art and design school of the 20th century. Its teachings shaped modernism all over Europe and, eventually, the world. Seeking to unite all forms of fine arts, crafts, and industry, the Bauhaus style later became one of the most influential currents in modern design, Modernist architecture and art, design, and architectural education. The 5 characteristics of Bauhaus art, architecture and design states the practice of form follows function, use of true materials, use of minimalism, and applying the notion of ‘Gesamtkunstwerk’ – a synthesis of arts – to modern times and also uniting art and technology.

‘There should be nothing extraneous, nothing unnecessary, no ornamentation. Just the bare essentials’. “An object is defined by its nature,” Gropius once stated which is reflected in the design of the school. The resulting aesthetic was one that was simple, austere, and efficient. The style became synonymous with modernity. Bauhaus has been revolutionary in field of art and architecture and home for many legendary architects sharing a modern mindset towards designing.


Samiksha Muddamwar, an architecture graduate currently collaborating with a firm involved in conservation and heritage awareness, besides her instinctive explorations in prose, poetry, and visual illustration. Her interests span a multitude of subjects, driven by a curiosity of ways and means, to make the world around her, a better place.