The architecture of the 20th century is a collection of thought-provoking and encapsulating modernism which evolved in different forms across several parts of the world. Embodied styles such as expressionism, futurism, art deco, amalgamated during this time, with the innovative construction techniques and materials such as concrete, steel, and glass. Some architects steered this architectural style and presented some of the most groundbreaking projects as an example of functionality, minimalism, and unconventional design approach. Take a look at some of the most renowned 20th-century architects and their inspiring designs.

1. Louis Kahn

Background: With monumental forms, and ardent character, Kahn became one of the most influential architects of the 20th century. He collaborated with George Howe and started his practice in 1942. Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven was one of his first important designs. The pinnacle of his design sensibility is exemplified in the Salt Institute in La Jolla. He also taught at prestigious institutes such as Yale University, MIT, University of Pennsylvania, and Princeton University. He was awarded the Frank P. Brown Medal, AIA Gold Medal, and RIBA Gold medal for his contributions.

Notable Projects:  Phillips Exeter Academy Library and Dining Hall, National Assembly Building in Dhaka, Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park, Salk Institute for Biological Studies, and IIM Ahmedabad.

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Louis Kahn ©Architizer
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Franklin D Roosevelt Four Freedom Park ©Hisour
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IIM Ahmedabad ©Flickr
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Kimbell Art Museum ©Kimbell Art Museum
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National Parliament House, Bangladesh ©Pinterest
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Phillips Exeter Academy Library ©didsare
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Phillips Exeter Academy Library ©wikipedia

2. Louis Henry Sullivan

Background: Known as the Father of Skyscrapers, Louis Sullivan was an important architect in American history. After studying at Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris, he worked with several architects and traveled across Europe. The Great Chicago Fire of 1871 presented with an opportunity of designing numerous buildings. The partnership between Dankmar Adler, and Sullivan, strengthened during this time to design the Auditorium building in Chicago, Schiller Building, and Carson Pirie Scott Department Store. The duo worked together till 1893 and in 1944 Sullivan was awarded the AIA Gold medal.

Notable Projects:  Wainwright Building, Auditorium Building, Bayard-Condict Building, and Union Trust Building.

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Louis Sullivan ©wikipedia
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Ann Halsted House ©pinterest
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Auditorium Building ©Cityseeker
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Bayard Condct Building ©The skyscrapper Center
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Guaranty Building ©Atlas Obscura
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Guaranty Building ©cannondesign
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Union Trust Building ©Pittsburgh Post-gazette
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Union Trust Building ©The BuisnessJournaks

3. Le Corbusier

Background: Five points of Architecture, a system of proportions, modular,were his remarkable contributions. The multifaceted architect, painter, urban planner, and writer was indeed a visionary of Modern Architecture. Born in La Chaux de Fonds, he studied art at La Chaux de Fonds’s Art school. He traveled extensively across Europe, learning from architectural luminaires and set up his studio in Paris in 1917. In the 1930’s he elaborated the Radiant City, his theory on urbanism, and proposed several master plans for Algiers and Buenos Aires. While he pursued teaching, alongside, in 1951, he proposed the planning for Chandigarh and in the later years designed most significant buildings of his career such as Ronchamp and Unitéd’Habitation de Marseille.

Notable Projects:  Villa Savoye, Villa La Roche, Palace of Assembly, Mill Owners Association, Sanskar Kendra, High Court of Punjab and Haryana and Ronchamp.

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Le Corbusier ©
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High Court of Punjab and Haryana ©linkedin
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Palace of Assembly ©pinterest
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Sainte Marie de La Tourette©wikipedia
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Unitéd’habitation, Marseille©wikipedia
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Villa Savoye©Khan Academy

4. Mies Van der Rohe

Background: The architect of ‘Less is more’ ideology was born in Germany and thrived with his work in the United States in the later years of his life.His work with Peter Behren, Bruno Paul laid the foundation in his early years. His exceptional work with furniture design such as Barcelona Chair, Brno Chair, and minimal ornamentation, open plan spaces, modern materials established his avant-garde image. After moving to the United States his work of column-free spaces, glass and steel acquired massive attention. He was awarded the AIA gold medal, RIBA gold medal, and Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Notable Projects:  Barcelona Pavilion, Chicago Federal Complex, Seagram Building, Farnsworth House, Crown Hall, and Lafayette Park.

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Mies van der Rohe©wikipedia
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Barcelona Pavilion ©archdaily
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Barcelona Pavilion ©creative commons
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Crown Hall ©Flickr
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Farnsworth House ©Chicago Architecture Center
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Lafayette Park©afasai, archzine
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Seagram Building ©Archdaily

5. Moshe Safdie

Background: The Israeli Canadian architect is known for his debut project Habitat 67, a prefabricated housing project. He worked initially with Louis I Kahn and then started his practice in Montreal in 1964.His style is defined by an amalgamation of dramatic curves, geometric forms, and a balance of built and open spaces.He was awarded AIA Gold Medal, Wolf Prize in Arts, Gold Medal by Royal Architectural Institute of Canada, andCompanion of the Order of Canada.

Notable Projects:Khalsa Heritage Museum., Vancouver Library SquareNational Gallery of Canada, Marina Bay Sands, and Salt Lake City Main Public Library.

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Moshe Safdie©wikipedia
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Khalsa Heritage Center©MGS Architecture
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Marina Bay Sands ©archdaily
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National Art Gallery of Canada©Canadian Art
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Salt Lake City Public Library©Safdie architects

6. Marcel Breuer

Background: The accomplishedarchitect, furniture designer studied at Bauhaus during the 1920s. He designed the Wassily and Cesca chair as one of the most important furniture designs in the 20th century. His work spanned over libraries, institutional buildings, residences, and commercial spaces. He began his practice in Berlin in 1928 but he moved to New York in 1946 where he was given commissions by UNESCO Headquarters, Pier Luigi Nervi, and IBM research center to name a few.

Notable Projects: UNESCO World Heritage Center, Hooper House, Whitney Museum of American Art, and the Met Breuer.

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Marcel Breuer ©Famous Architects
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Hooper House ©The Modern Hous
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Met Breuer ©wikipedia
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Whitney Museum of American Art ©wikipedia
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Whitney Museum of American Art ©wikipedia
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World Heritage Center ©wikipedia

7. Oscar Niemeyer

Background: Famously known for his designs for civic buildings of Brasilia, the Brazilian architect played a pivotal role as a modern architect. He worked initially with Lucio Costa and later with Le Corbusier for the United Nations Building New York. With functional style, his work stands out with sculptural aesthetics and organic forms. He was awarded Pritzker Prize in 1988, and PraemiumImperiale by Japan Art Association in 2004.

Notable Projects: Cathedral of Brasilia – Brazil, Headquarters of the French Communist Party – PCF – France, Niteroi Contemporary Art Museum, and National Congress Build

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Oscar Nirmeyer©wikipedia
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CatedralMetropolitanaNossa Senhora Aparecida, ©Divisare
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MuseuNacinoal de Brasilia ©divisare
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National Congress©Archdialy
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Niteroi Contemporary Art Museum ©inhabitat
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United Nations HQ ©Divisare

8. Philip Johnson

Background: The American architect is known for hisrole in defining modern and post-modern architecture. Having studied with Marcel Breuer, he was mentored by Mies van der Rohe, with whom he also worked later. He worked as a director for the architecture department at MOMA from 1930-36 and 1946-54. He organized a landmark exhibition with Henry-Russel Hitchcock, The International Style. He started his architectural work with John Burgee and designed numerous significant projects in the United States. He was the first architect to receive the Pritzker Prize in 1979.

Notable Projects:  The Glass House, 550 Madison Avenue, Lipstick Building, Crystal Cathedral, Bank of America Center, and NYU -Elmer Holmes Bobst Library.

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Philip Johnson ©Archisoup
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550 Madison Avenue ©wikipedia
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Elmer Holmes Bobst Library ©Mountains of Travel Photos
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The Crystal Cathedral ©Orange County Register
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The Glass House ©Architectural Digest
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The Lipstick Building ©pinterest

9. Renzo Piano

Background: The Italian architect is known for his environmentally sensitive, culturally adaptive, and contemporary design approach. Born in the family of building contractors he started his work early under the guidance of Francis Albini. He later collaborated with Richard Rogers for a crucial project Center Georges Pompidou from 1971-77. He also worked for Louis Kahn and Zygmunt Stanislaw Makowski. His projects are often large-scale and are enhanced with natural light, contextuality, and balance. He was awarded RIBA Gold Medal, Legion of Honor, and Pritzker Prize for his contributions.

Notable Projects:  Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, the Museum of the Beyeler Foundation, Basel, the Potsdamer Platz reconstruction, Berlin, and Jean-Marie Tjibaou Cultural Center.

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Renzo Piano ©Inexhibit
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Centre Pompidou ©Thebettervacation
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Centre Pompidou ©Tripadvisor
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Jean Marie Tjibaou Cultural Center, Nouméa©Arch20
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Jean Marie Tjibaou Cultural Center, Nouméa©Inhabitat
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Museum of the Beyeler Foundation, Basel©Pinterest
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Potsdamer Platz reconstruction, Berlin©Berlin-a divided city

10. Richard Meier

Background: The Pritzker Prize-winning architect is known for his work refining the principles of modernism with his design. He worked with Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill before starting his practice in 1963. He worked on residential projects initially which brought him recognition and during the 1970’s he received large public commissions such as Athenaeum in Indiana and the High Museum of Art in Atlanta.

Notable Projects:  Jubilee Church, Italy, the Getty Center in the USA, High Museum of Art in Georgia, San Jose City Hall, and City Tower in the Czech Republic.

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Richard Meier ©wikipedia
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City Tower ©Wikipedia
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Getty Center ©Archdaily
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Getty Center ©Richard Meier and Partners
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Jubliee Church ©Richard Meier and Partners
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San Jose City Hall©wikipedia

11. Richard Rogers

Background: Popularly known for ‘celebrating the components of the structure’, the Italian-British architect studied at AA London and Yale University. He initially worked with Renzo Piano and later began his practice in 1977. Embedded in the British construction tradition, his design reflected in the residential and private houses he designed in the starting years. However, his proposal for Swindon Industrial building led to his recognition. He was Knighted in 1991, RIBA Gold Medal, and PraemiumImperiale Prize from Japan Art Association.

Notable Projects: Antwerp Law Courts in Belgium, Minami Yamashiro Elementary School, the Millennium Dome, Neo Bankside, and Lloyd’s of London.

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Richard Rogers ©Dezeen
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Antwerp Law Courts ©Pinterest
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Las Arenas ©Archdaily
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Las Arenas ©Archdaily
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Lloyd’s of London ©Dezeen
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Millennium Dome ©Britanicca
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Neo Bankside ©Black Brick

12. Robert Venturi

Background: The visionary behind the eclectic movement, Postmodernism in collaboration with Scott Brown, Robert Venturi was awarded a Pritzker Prize 1991. After studying at Princeton University, he worked with Oscar Stonorov, Eero Saarinen and Louis Kahn. His project Vanna Venturi House in 1964, was embedded with his philosophy as described in the book Complexity and Contradiction in architecture. During his teaching duration, the noteworthy book Learning from Las Vegas took form, which was in collaboration with Scott Brown.

Notable Projects: Vanna Venturi House, the Guild House, Allen Memorial Art Museum, Frist Campus Center, and Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego extension.

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Robert Venturi ©wikipedia
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Allen Art Museum Addition ©great buildings
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Guild House ©WTTw
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Sainsbury Wing ©archdaily
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Vanna Venturi House ©Dezeen

13. Sir James Stirling

Background:  The British architect is well known for using unconventional building axes and complex geometric shapes. James practiced with Gowan during which he designed residential projects, with brutalist character and an eminent Department of Engineering at the University of Leicester. However, the partnership ended in 1963, starting another collaboration with Michael Wilford. The style and nature of architecture moved to a larger scale with museums and educational buildings. He won the Pritzker Prize in 1981 and was also knighted in 1992.

Notable Projects: Lovett Hall, History Building at Cambridge University, and Art Gallery, Staatsgalerie in Stuttgart.

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Sir James Stirling ©wikipedia
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Art Gallery, Staatsgalerie in Stuttgart ©Britannica
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Art Gallery, Staatsgalerie in Stuttgart. ©archdaily
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History Building at Cambridge University ©Pinterest
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History Building at Cambridge University ©Pinterest
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Lovett Hall©Prado Designsjpg

14. Sir Norman Foster

Background: Prominent British architect, a Pritzker prize laureate is known for his modern designs with high tech attributes, sleek use of steel, and glass. After his first partnership with Richard Rogers, he started his practice in 1967. Projects such as Willis Faber and Dumas HQ and Shanghai Banking Corporation HQ brought him in the limelight. He was awarded the Aga Khan award in 2007 and was granted a life peerage in 1999.

Notable Projects: Chek Lap Kok Airport, Hong Kong, China, Hearst Tower, New York City, USA, Spaceport America, New Mexico, USA

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Sir Norman Foster ©Dezeen
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Canary Warf Tube Station ©flickr
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Hearst Tower ©archdaily
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Spaceport America ©the plan
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Willis Faber and Dumas HQ ©Daniel Overbey

15. Santiago Calatrava

Background: The Spanish architect is known for his visually dramatic, sculptural structures. Santiago studied architecture as well as structural engineering from Polytechnic University of Valencia and ETH Respectively. One of his first designs, Alamillo Bridge, received critical appreciation. He started his practice in Zurich in 1981. Influence of nature, zoomorphic forms is evident in projects such as Turning Torso tower in Sweden. He was awarded the AIA Gold medal, Fazlur Khan Fellowship, and numerous honorary degrees for his work.

Notable Projects: World Trade Center PATH Station, Hemispheric, Palau de Les Arts Reina Sofia, Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge, and Assut de I’Or Bridge.

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Santiago Calatrava©wikipedia
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Assut de I’Or Bridge ©Trip advisor
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Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge ©Arch20
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WTC Path Center ©New York Post





Aditi Sharma is an architect, researcher and amateur photographer based in Mumbai. Through RTF she is expressing her ardent thoughts in the domain of culture, history, gender, and architecture.