“Modern architecture is not a style, it’s an attitude.” — Marcel Breuer
Modern architecture is a movement that emphasized the function of the built form over its ornamentation. Modernist philosophy essentially stood for innovation, simplicity and experimentation. It came as a heavily contrasting sequel to an age of Victorian grandeur, pomp and Gothic extravagance. It is widely practised throughout the world and is interpreted in several forms by renowned architects.
Subsidiary styles that were born out of Modernism include Bauhaus, De Stijl, Constructivism, Expressionism, Functionalism, Minimalism, International Style, Metabolism, Brutalism, Postmodernism, High Tech, and Deconstructivism.
Characteristics of Modern Architecture
Modernist structures across different secondary styles can be broadly defined with a set of features:
- Lack of ornamentation: Buildings are built with a clean, simplified aesthetic without elaborate mouldings or decorations.
- Neat, minimal lines: Structures are composed of clean lines or boxes which are juxtaposed with horizontal/ vertical linear forms.
- Broad roof overhangs: Most modernist homes are low lying and are composed of large, broad roofs.
- Use of glass: Modern structures constitute a generous use of glass, allowing ample natural light to enter the interior spaces.
- Open floor plans: Large, unobstructed spaces that flow into each other are a characteristic feature of modern buildings.
- Modern technologies and materials: Buildings are constructed with modern materials like steel, concrete blocks and iron. Large spanning trusses facilitate open planning.
- Asymmetrical design: modern designs heavily experiment on form with asymmetric, uneven yet aesthetically pleasing compositions
- Relationship between interior and exterior spaces: Buildings integrate and respond to the natural landscape around them.
- Reinventing traditional materials: Materials like stone, wood and brick are used in a bare, straightforward way to express their natural beauty.
The genesis of Modern Architecture can be traced back to the Chicago World Fair in 1893. Many young architects like Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright played instrumental roles in the fair, displaying and developing their styles of building. Sullivan’s popular aphorism, “Less is more,” went on to become the rallying cry for the modern movement.
Inspired by Wright’s experimentation in the field, Walter Gropius and Mies van der Rohe went on to form the German school of arts—Bauhaus—in 1919. This institution gave birth to a distinctive style of modern art and architecture with balanced forms and compositions. Le Corbusier propagated the style in France with breathtaking villas and houses in and around Paris in the 1920s.
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Following the onset of the second world war, European architects brought the Bauhaus movement to the USA and laid the foundation for the American Modernist Movement. The artwork was slowly transferred onto the streets with the help of modernist structures built by architects like F.L Wright, Richard Neutra, Charles and Ray Eames and Philip Johnson.
Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House, Seagram Building and Crown Hall at the Illinois Institute of Technology set a precedent for modernist architecture and inspired his followers.
European modernist aesthetics were popularized in the American West Coast with radiating structures by Rudolph Schindler and Richard Neutra in the 1930s. Regional iterations of the movement began appearing throughout the world through the works of Paul Rudolph, I.M Pei, Edward Durell Stone, Wallace Harrisson and Jorn Utzon.
Chicago based architectural firm Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, SOM (1939 onwards), constructed high rise buildings and modern marvels across the country.
The 1940s saw the rise of Minimalism through the exemplary works of Mexican architect Louis Barragan, Tadao Ando, Shigeru Ban, Yoshio Taniguchi and Richard Gluckman. The International Style of the 50s stood as a symbol for the growing American Capitalism with iconic high risers.
Peter Eisenman’s Structuralism and the Japanese Metabolism movements defined the 1960s. Brutalism shook the world with its grim yet fresh perspective of modern architecture. Pioneers Le Corbusier, Marcel Breuer and Paulo Mendes de Rocha are known for their contribution to this style across the world.
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The 1970s and 80s were marked by the era of Postmodernism and Deconstructivism. Buildings began to question fundamental design philosophies and transcended basic aesthetics.
Today, Modern Architecture is seen in the form of Parametric Architecture and Computer-Aided Design (CAD). Software plays an integral role in designing and creating fluid shapes that combine curves and dynamism. The complexities created by such forms can be easily manipulated and handled through high powered technology. It allows the exploration of organic forms that go beyond the human mind. Algorithms and building simulations have become the pillars of the modern architect.
Prominent architects like Zaha Hadid have incorporated parametricism in projects like the Heydar Aliyev Centre in Baku, Azerbaijan and the Antwerp Port House, Belgium.
While the era of Modern Architecture is slowly closing in on other emerging styles like Green Architecture, Neo Futurism, Blobitecture and Digital Morphogenesis, Modernism has the potential to take on newer forms through developing computer technologies. The fundamental philosophy of Modernism can be kept alive in upcoming trends through simplicity and constant experimentation.
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Craven, Jackie. “Modern Architecture and Its Variations.” ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/modernism-picture-dictionary-4065245 Accessed September 4, 2021.
“What is Modern Architecture” Hammond Historic District. https://www.hammondhistoricdistrict.org/what-is-modern-architecture Accessed September 5, 2021.
Thomann, Lauren. “What is Modern Architecture” The Spruce. https://www.thespruce.com/modern-architecture-4797910 Accessed September 5, 2021.
Sawantt, Saili. “10 Noteworthy Works of Zaha Hadid” ParametricArchitecture.Com. https://parametric-architecture.com/10-noteworthy-works-of-zaha-hadid-zha/ Accessed September 5, 2021.