Contemporary Architecture: Breaking the Pattern

Buildings with castellated roofs with pinnacles, arched windows with consoled pediments, vaulted arch pathways, and ionic columns with golden embellishments was the definition of beautiful buildings, and beauty preceded everything. However, the saying “The more the better” was soon replaced in the 20th century with “less is more” by the famous contemporary architect of his time Mies van der Rohe. After the Industrial Movement, the emphasis was on functionality, breaking the pattern of decorative decadence in the Renaissance period and moving on to cleaner aesthetics. Le Corbusier’s renowned work on the Villa Savoye served as a testimony to break from the pattern of traditionalist beliefs. The Villa Savoye built in the 20th century was a key building in the development of the International Style of Modernism. Since this building marked a break away from the traditional beliefs it is considered a contemporary approach to architecture by the well-renowned architect Le Corbusier.

Contemporary Architecture is a style that breaks from the conventional traditional norms to a new modern approach that resonates with the time and style of a certain era. 

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Villa Savoye: Renato Saboya, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Contemporary Architecture: Zeitgeist of its time

Zeitgeist, the German word, is translated as the defining spirit or mood of a particular period of history as shown by the ideas and beliefs of the time. In the same way, contemporary architecture represents the zeitgeist of the time.

Cultural context represents the spirit, symbol, and identity of the place at a particular time and place. It ranges from what people have, think, perceive, know, feel, and do as members of society and this influences the identity of the culture and context This changing representation is reflected in contemporary architecture and resonates in the form and style of the built structures.


Style can be defined as a set of characteristics and features that make a building or other structure notable or historically identifiable.  After World War II, international cooperation grew rapidly. This has a significant effect on all types of art throughout the world. The Art movements spoke volumes about the political and social life of people. And this often moved in parallel with architectural styles throughout history. For example, the Art Nouveau movement is characterized by flowing, organic forms and decorative motifs inspired by nature which found its way into architecture as well with emphasis on floral ornamentation and detailing.

However,  contemporary style cannot be confused as a movement, but a style reflecting the trends of the time a home is built. Therefore, a sense of “place” and structures that are a part of the surroundings are the characteristics of contemporary architecture. 

For example the Louis Sullivan: Wainwright Building, St. Louis, Missouri. An architectural landmark of international significance is the Wainwright Building, Louis Sullivan´s masterpiece, which marked the beginning of modern skyscraper design. Sullivan described the symbolism of his architecture as one of simple geometric and structural forms and organic ornamentation that characterized the style of the era of “modernism”.As Sullivan’s masterpiece started a new style it was considered as a contemporary approach to architecture.

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Louis Sullivan Wainwright Building @August Fischer


A form that comes from a culture and has been an icon might also influence contemporary architectural forms. For example, an Egyptian pyramid form has become a popular form across the world and has been imitated by many architects. The Louvre Museum is designed to the exact dimensions of the aforementioned Great Pyramid of Giza. Architect I.M. Pei in his work at the Louvre museum took ahead the form of the pyramid to blend with traditional and modern mindset. He faced great criticism for contradicting the classist backdrop of the Louvre Palace.

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I.M. Pie Louvre Museum @Wikimedia Commons

What does contemporary mean Today?

In the face of pressing environmental crises, Contemporary architecture incorporates sustainability and green design as the world faces environmental issues. This shift toward sustainable design is evident in the rising number of structures meticulously engineered to meet stringent sustainability standards. It is a reaction to the widespread conviction in responsible consideration of the environment. Energy-efficient materials, passive design concepts, and renewable energy sources are used in the construction of eco-friendly structures. They act as tangible symbols of our dedication to reducing climate change and building a sustainable future. These buildings encourage us to live in greater harmony with our surroundings while also reducing our carbon footprint. When it comes to contemporary architecture, it is common for people to embrace modernity but sometimes overlook the importance of respecting cultural context. This oversight can result in disorganized and unappealing architectural designs. Therefore, embracing the idea that Contemporary architecture reflects cultural context reinforces the concept that architecture is a collaborative endeavor involving the community rather than a purely individual undertaking.

Architecture is an ever-evolving art form. 

The zeitgeist of our times is reflected in the built forms that are constantly evolving to keep up with the changing times. The current views, values, and aspirations are reflected in contemporary architectural styles, which act as mirrors. Architecture has consistently been transforming the built environment in a way that is consistent with the shifting beliefs of society.  Hence contemporary may be modern but still needs to be tied with the roots of the past. These roots stand as a metaphor for the culture, tradition, and ideologies of people. By recognizing the profound influence of architecture in reflecting and shaping our collective consciousness, we can foster a built environment that not only meets the needs of humans but also inspires and reflects the beliefs for a better future.


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