Minimalist architecture involves the use of simple design elements without ornamentation, the bare essentials to reveal the true ‘essence of architecture.’ The aesthetic is aptly described by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe as “Less is more.” It initially emerged from the Cubist-inspired movements in the 1920s and gained popularity in the late 1980s in London and New York.

The movement was interpreted as a reaction to the chaos of urban life and modernism. It draws tremendous influence from traditional Japanese design and architecture and the Zen philosophy. Tadao Ando, SANAA, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, and Philip Johnson are some well-known names in this field.

Here are a few pointers to remember when exploring this style.

1. Form follows Function | Minimalist Architecture

The requirements of a project are what frame the way it looks. The objective of minimalist architecture is to prioritize functionality and that the projects have a clear purpose.

Minimalists steer away from any decorative elements that might end up confusing the user. This leads to the conservation of resources during the process of construction. One way to do this is to keep subtracting elements until you finally have the bare minimum to work with.

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Villa Savoye’s minimalist form_ ©Flickr user Esther Westerveld
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Villa Savoye by Le Corbusier_ ©Flickr user August Fischer

2. Use Basic Geometric Forms and Clean Lines

Minimalism is all about stripping down to the essentials, which, in the context of architectural forms, comes down to geometry and lines. Most minimalist buildings have a signature composition of simplified angles defined by clean lines that follow classic geometric shapes.

The drama in these cases is created by combining geometric shapes and experimenting with the scale. In most instances, the roofs provided are flat rather than pitched. The objective is to create designs that are efficient and straightforward with the complexity of spaces as low as possible.

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Casa AR by Lucio Muniain_ ©Onnis Luque
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Church on the Water by Tadao Ando_ ©Tadao Ando

3. Discard the Needless Ornamentation

Ornate detailing like columns, corbels, and gables are absent in a minimalist building. It is only straight lines, smooth curves, and flat surfaces, focussing all attention solely on the architecture. Any form of decoration that does not directly contribute to the design only acts as a source of distraction.

A minimalist design accommodates only beauty that serves a purpose. This principle was summed-up by modernist architect Adolf Loos in his essay “Ornamentation is Crime.”

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Pulitzer Arts Foundation by Tadao Ando_ ©
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Villa Santanyi Mallorca by Claudio Silvestrin and John Pawson_ ©

4. The More Space the Better

Architects practicing minimalist architecture do not shy away from leaving blank spaces. These spaces are the base of minimalist design and ensure simplicity and that the visual focus stays on the necessary elements.

The temptation to fill empty spaces must be avoided for they are not viewed as “negative” spaces in minimalism. Open, uncluttered areas provide room to breathe and generate a calm and attractive ambiance. In fact, the more free space there is, the more minimalist the building will be.

The More Space the Better
Therme Vals_©Kazunori Fujimoto

5. Provide Minimal Interior Walls | Minimalist Architecture

One thing that can be observed in most minimal designs is an open plan. Minimalist plans consist of simple geometries of space. The layouts are functional and arranged to create a sense of tranquility and order. The spaces consequently created are flexible and adaptable for multiple purposes.

Free-flowing roomy areas that are filled with abundant light and pay equal emphasis to views. Internal walls are put to use only for rooms and areas where privacy is a necessity, like bathrooms or bedrooms.

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glass house by Philip Johnson_photo- ©
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Glass House Layout_©

6. Let There be Light

The sole ornamentation of minimalist architecture is the light – natural or artificial – that is allowed to flood the interiors. Close attention is paid to the lighting, which can be used to create a dramatic play of shadows and highlights in the otherwise simple spaces of the building.

Light renders a feeling of warmth and coziness to the areas and makes them appear more spacious and airy. It complements the design and enhances the aesthetic, making it one of the most essential elements of minimalism.

10 Things to remember while designing minimalist architecture
Sumida Hokusai Museum by Kazuyo Sejima_© kakidai/Wikimedia
10 Things to remember while designing minimalist architecture
Light and Shadow Play_© Prakash Ghai
10 Things to remember while designing minimalist architecture
Church of the Light by Tadao Ando_©
10 Things to remember while designing minimalist architecture
Church of the Light by Tadao Ando_©

7. Strategic Use of Materials and Textures

The simplicity of minimalist architecture, like all its other elements, extends to the materials used in it. The materials exhibited are such that they do not distract from the structure. The use of glass, steel, and concrete is predominant in this style. All the efforts aim towards choosing order, calmness, and clarity.

The materials and textures are also pivotal in accentuating the elements that need to be in the spotlight. The limitations in the variety of materials can be compensated by introducing rich textures to the composition.

10 Things to remember while designing minimalist architecture
Bruder Klaus Field Chapel by Peter Zumthor ©Kenta Mabuchi/Wikimedia

8. Monochromatic Palette

The color palette of a minimalist design usually consists of soft tones and neutral colors that are gentle on the eyes of the viewers. Bold colors are rarely involved as they can cause distraction, but some minimalist architects experiment with those too.

A neutral palette like beiges, whites, and grays is more acceptable and preferred in this style, making these the most predominant color schemes observed in minimalist architecture.

10 Things to remember while designing minimalist architecture
A Minimalist House_©Stephen Paul
10 Things to remember while designing minimalist architecture
Futago House by Sergey Makhno Architects_©

9. Repetition of Elements to Give a Sense of Order

Repetition of structures and elements in minimalist architecture serves as a means to create a sense of order and unification. It creates cohesiveness, emphasis, hierarchy, and strengthens the design.

Repetition can keep the eye familiar with the design’s elements, furthermore generating comfort through consistency. This technique exploits and takes advantage of the default way our brains work.

10 Things to remember while designing minimalist architecture
Repetition of Elements_©Prakash Ghai
10 Things to remember while designing minimalist architecture
Tower of Shadows by Le Corbusier_©

10. Focus on Surrounding Areas | Minimalist Architecture

Once the building is done with, due importance should be given to what is around it. A well-maintained and lush landscape would only enhance aesthetics. Working with what nature offers you on the site is a skill that, if mastered, would give a new layer to the design, making it much more appealing. A good landscape design truly completes a minimalist project.

10 Things to remember while designing minimalist architecture
Fransworth House by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe_ ©

An architecture student, who loves to be able to translate the most mundane things into something magnificent, using her words. Trying to find her place where the tangible forms and intangible emotions meet.