‘Modern’ is a term generally associated with ‘contemporary’. Yet in actuality, Modernism was an important movement that indicated a major cultural shift from the colonial era post World War II. Modernism in architecture came as the knight in shining armor that professed new ideologies of minimalism and functionalism and incorporated extensive use of steel, glass, and concrete.
Although different countries built adaptations of Modernism, it was a global movement that is often linked with breaking the shackles of the past. The architecture of Le Corbusier, Walter Gropius, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Mies Van der Rohe played a pivotal role in the Modern movement that shaped the cities we live in today.
Discussed here are 10 MUST-KNOW structures of Modern Architecture.
1. Guggenheim Museum, Manhattan, New York by Frank Lloyd Wright | Modernism in architecture
Guggenheim Museum, established in 1959, builds a drama of curves amidst the grids of Manhattan. It is the last notable works of FLW and serves as a landmark for art-enthusiasts, visitors, and pedestrians alike. Built in reinforced concrete, the seamless exterior white curves unravel into a continuous ramp inside, which spirals six stories upwards and serves as the art gallery. The ramps overlook a 92’ high central atrium space allowing natural light from the expansive glass dome to flood the gallery spaces while enhancing interaction between levels.
Drawing inspiration from Mies’ Farnsworth House, Philip Johnson built a celebrated piece of modern architecture in 1930, the Glass House. Designed as a residence for himself and his wife, the floor to ceiling reflective clear glass between black steel piers and H-beams blurred the boundaries between inside and outside. The only other aesthetic included the herring-bone brick pattern of the 10’’ raised floor and furniture designed by Mies. The 49-acre property became the experimental ground for Johnson where he built 13 other structures in the course of the next 50 years.
3. Villa Savoye, Paris, France by Le Corbusier | Modernism in architecture
Villa Savoye, built in 1929, is a true realization of Five Points of Architecture by Le Corbusier that amplified the key features of Modernism. A weekend retreat for Savoyes, the house was the last of the ‘white villas’ he built with Pierre Jeanneret. Some of the most striking elements of the house include the raising of the floor on pilotis to accommodate services, free floor plan to allow flexibility of functions, a free façade with a sleek band of horizontal ribbon windows, a terrace garden, and the connection to nature.
The Barcelona Pavilion was a statement of German democracy, prosperity, and peace at the 1929 International Exposition. The architecture of Mies presented itself as an intriguing piece of art, effectively located on a secluded site of the exposition. The free floor plan placed walls such that they offer changing viewpoints and eventually lead to Poble Espanyol, the main attraction. The bare interiors of the minimalist pavilion enhanced its sculptural value and diverted focus to the use of extravagant materials. The Barcelona chair, a tailored piece of furniture in the pavilion is in demand to date.
5. Palácio da Alvorada, Brazil by Oscar Niemeyer, 1958 | Modernism in architecture
A feat in the face of Modern Architecture in Brazil, Palácio da Alvorada, is the 7000sq.mt official residence of the President of Brazil. The genius of Oscar Niemeyer lies in the design of the iconic pilotis that not only define the structure and architecture of the palace but also adorns the seal and flag of the new capital. The combination of glass, marble, and water adds a certain lightness to the massive structure. The simplicity and symmetry of the building are a resultant of a unique blend of aesthetic and structural solutions.
6. Unite d’habitation, Marseille, France by Le Corbusier
Unite d’habitation was built in 1952 as a response to the unprecedented need for mass housing post-WWII. The idea of a vertical garden city that accommodated about 1600 residents amidst eighteen floors was a rather distinct one. Essentially built on the Five Points of Corbusier, the building features a terrace garden to accommodate large communal spaces along with living. The interlocking double-height residential units emphasize an open volume rather than an open plan. The materiality instills a spirit of mechanistic influence while the use of Bauhaus colors adds life to it.
7. Falling Waters, Pennsylvania, USA by Frank Lloyd Wright
Falling Waters, designed as a vacation home for the Kaufmann family in 1939, is a house to be heard and felt rather than seen. It is pivoted on the ground by central vertical support with cantilevered floors jutting out to be a part of the natural setting. Built on the waterfall instead of viewing one, the sound of water crashing can be heard throughout the property. It is an effortless blend of humans, nature, and architecture at its best. It has been detailed down to the corner of the window and every piece of furniture. Strong influences from Japanese architecture can be seen throughout.
8. Sydney Opera House, Sydney, Australia by Jorn Utzon | Modernism in architecture
A multi-venue performing arts center, the design of Sydney Opera House instantly bought Danish architect Jorn Utzon into the limelight of International style. Inspired by the sea sails, the sculptural and curve design radically broke away from the rectilinear shapes of Modernism. The ribbed precast concrete shells that jut out of the Sydney Harbour became a national symbol of Australia and put Sydney on the world map. The venue which was completed in 1973, hosts over a million visitors annually to date.
9. Farnsworth House, Illinois, Chicago, USA by Mies Van der Rohe
Farnsworth House, built between 1945 and 1951, is an exemplary example of a ‘dwelling’ that effortlessly functions as a part of a larger whole. Designed as a weekend retreat for Dr. Edith Farnsworth on a wooded river bank it whole-heartedly embraces the natural setting that surrounds it. Eight I-shaped steel columns, painted in white, that run from the ground to ceiling define the house structurally as well as aesthetically. The floating house features windows for walls and a completely open floor plan exploiting true minimalism.
10. Salk Institute for Biological Sciences, San Diego, California, USA by Louis Kahn | Modernism in architecture
The Salk Institute is a non-profit research institute established in 1960 by Jonas Salk, the man behind the polio vaccine. A beacon of Modernism, the institute is a bold composition of horizontal and vertical lines and exposed concrete adorned with wood. Louis Kahn and Jack MacAllister interweave the private and public, formal and informal spaces with strong symmetry. The flexibility in the floor plan allows the laboratories to evolve with advances in technology. Yet it is the effortlessness of the stream of water cutting through the travertine plaza that steals the show.