Like other major design trends before, Minimalism developed as a rebellion against its predecessor- the classical style – ostentatious with abstract expressions in art and architecture. It was a refreshing step into the “clean forms”; stripping down of all its embellishments and going back to the basics of design- Straight lines, geometric shapes, and primary colors.

It has a calm and soothing presence in the mayhem rendered by the impulsiveness of an abstract. Minimalism is the realist, straightforward cousin of the emotional and passionate abstract expressionism.

Modern minimalism takes major inspiration from some very famous art movements across the world. Notable among them is the Bauhaus movement with the motto “form follows function” resonating with a minimalist’s principle of “Less is more”. This style is also heavily influenced by the Dutch De Stijl movement, Swiss and Scandinavian Designs – whose sans serif text fonts, white-beige-grey color palette with primary color accents, and emphasis on natural light and functional elements are the face of the modern minimalist movement. Finally, the lifestyle of modern minimalist is very heavily based on the traditional Japanese aesthetic principles of Ma, Ikebana, and Wabi-Sabi. Today, it is not only a design trend, but it is also an adopted lifestyle.

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Styles that inspired the Minimalist movement (clockwise from top: Scandinavian, De Stijl, Bauhaus, Japanese)

Minimalism in architecture took shape with the advent of modern construction material like concrete glass and steel. These elements are what characterize the straight lines, the play of solids-and-voids and the overall lack of color. Unlike its ancestors though, the minimalist movement snowballed into an international trend- identified by people everywhere through the internet. Very soon, the world became a global village and minimalism, its adopted style. While this unity seems very nice in principle- global recognition came at the cost of losing indigenous cultural identity.

India is a country of vibrant heritage. But in the race to prove ourselves as a global superpower, we have wreaked havoc on our cities by mindlessly building faceless, blocky masses with little regard for the site and climatic conditions, or the resulting burden on natural resources and available infrastructure. Our cities today are morphing into alien establishments from localities that had their own style identities. Every component of urban space- right from its citizens to its governing bodies, to a natural habitat, are struggling to cope with the unprecedented growth that has already come to life. Our cities may be considered modern today, but are we really doing the right thing?

Minimalism has been adopted only as a visual feature, without even stopping for a second to analyze whether it is an efficient option. We want glass and steel for our offices, only to crib about the enormous electricity bill that comes from trying to keep that greenhouse cool in this tropical heat! There are blocks everywhere, so much so that all roads look the same. Our skylines look like a creation of a little (and quite unimaginative) child playing with lego blocks. The crude masses of concrete, the ‘austere whites and greys’ are being used as an excuse for bad design- unappealing and almost lifeless to the eyes. Yes, there is a certain sense of wonder when solids and voids are used to paint a picture, but let’s face it, not every designer is born with talent like, say Tadao Ando.

Even as a lifestyle, minimalism is not exactly a very viable option. The minimalist lifestyle choice is inspired by richness- the ability ‘make do’ with lesser-more elegant things when you have the ability to possess more. It sounds very practical, yes. But instead of inspiring humility as it should, this practice only results in a holier-than-thou attitude that looks down upon people who choose to enjoy materialistic pursuits. Minimalism is sold as an idea of self-sacrifice and a cure for the “millennial over-indulgence”, but to use it as a veiled attempt to seek attention and showcase privilege just defeats its purpose. If you do want to be minimal in your consumption of resources, invest your savings, or give it to charity. Don’t rub it in the faces of those who cannot, or would not adopt that choice.

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Mottos of Minimalism

Despite my rather intense views on this subject, I confess I’m an ardent follower of Minimalism-at least in design. It has revolutionized visual connect, and completely supported the change in way of life brought about by the internet. Today, there are a million ways to create graphics that can explain complicated concepts through a clever play of text, shapes, and colors. Architecturally, the style might come across as “visually oppressive” but minimalism gave us new-found knowledge and respect for the personality of spaces in-between built masses.

By itself, minimalism might be a crude style, but it has versatility- it can be easily combined with more informal elements. Today, designers are understanding that, and architecture is moving towards vernacular techniques and our indigenous materials and styles, keeping the minimalist ideals as a template and execution philosophy. In the age of globalization, it wouldn’t do to homogenize and lose the intrinsic nature of our identity that comes from the places we have lived and grown up in. In the course of development, we have to keep reinventing ourselves and question every move to not lose what is left of our culture.

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Ankita Agrawal is a 4th-year undergraduate, pursuing her Bachelor's of architecture from MITS, Gwalior MP. She often sees herself as a curious and determined individual, enjoying new experiments in life. She is a keen learner, observer, and implementer. She travels to broaden her mind, experience a new culture and its essence to enrich her creativity.