Welcoming minimalism and form follows function, modernism avoided ornamentation completely. Modernism brought into play, a lot of new materials – glass, reinforced concrete and steel. The main characteristic features of Modernism primarily shadowed the quote “Form follows function”. The composition consisted of Cylindrical and cubical forms with emphasis on volume. The purity of form took precedent to the aesthetics. The buildings were designed to look clean and simplified, mostly with the use of horizontal planes and flat roof. Newer materials like reinforced concrete, steel and glass were introduced to construction. The predominant architects who practised Modernism were Frank Lloyd Wright, Le Corbusier, Walter Gropius and Ludwig Mies Van Der Rohe. The buildings were stark and ornamentation was done only if it was required by the function. The 20th century saw a rise in Modernism.

Post WW2, the scene in construction changed completely. The displaced mass required shelters and necessities like schools, hospitals and other gov’t institutions. Modernism was the predominant style used in construction as the requirement of for materials were fewer in modernism than any other styles. The use of steel allowed for skyscrapers which were otherwise not possible in mass. The rise in Modernist buildings also saw its flaws. The construction across the globe started to resemble each other, losing the geographical identity. The repetitive units of modernist buildings created dullness and no excitement. The clean and simple designs lacked comfort. The monotony caused fatigues and lack of interest. The global-ness of the designs caused failures due to climate and other contextual factors.

Critical regionalism looks at the context of a building to collect clues to develop the design while adhering to the principles of Modernism – use of modern materials, clean and simple design, pure geometrical forms and flexibility in function.

Saynatsalo Town Hall, Finland – Alvar Aalto

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Saynatsalo Town HalL Exterior © Archdaily
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Saynatsalo Town HalL Exterior ©Archdaily
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Saynatsalo Town HalL Interior Corridor ©Archdaily
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Saynatsalo Town HalL Interior Courtyard ©Archdaily
Saynatsalo Town HalL Staircase ©Archdaily

The town of Saynatsalo celebrates its town hall designed in 1949 by Alvar Aalto. The design was simple and minimal using both traditional ideas and modern techniques of construction. The town hall of wood famed brick buildings boasts of a U shaped building enclosing a courtyard along with the rectangular library building. The enclosure of the courtyard allows the courtyard to be filled up one storey, allowing for two different experience of engaging with the building – a monumental two-storey unornamented brick structure seen from the outside and a more intimate single storey building experienced from the courtyard. The access to the courtyard is through two different staircases – one rectilinear and formal staircase while the other one is more organic set onto the ground and held back using wooden planks. The courtyard is lined with a corridor which serves as a circulatory path and also as a plaza which connects the courtyard to the civilian offices and the public library. The entrance to the Council chamber is hidden away by a narrow corridor leading away from the public library. The Council chamber is a 17m tower with wooden beams consisting of wooden struts fanning out from the centre supporting the roof. The enclosed space of the council chamber is in stark contrast to the permeability seen in the civilian offices. The plan was developed based on the traditional European government buildings. The central courtyard allows for active ventilation and use of natural light. The raising of the courtyard was provided by the site conditions.

Laurie Baker – Kerala, India

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Indian Coffee House Entrance ©Architectural Review
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Indian Coffee House Exterior ©Harvard University
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Indian Coffee House Interior ©Architectural Review

The buildings of Laurie Baker teaches us to combine Modernism with traditional building techniques. His buildings are simple, lack ornamentations and use basic geometric forms to create irregular or asymmetrical compositions. The buildings are naturally ventilated by using conventional methods and with the use of bricks. The main spaces are separated from the exterior using passage spaces and services to reduce heat gain. The building block, brick was used to create various patterns pleasing to the eye. The buildings followed form follows function with the as bare minimum as possible. The spaces were multi-functional and most expanded into the adjacent open space. The buildings were climatically responsive and rooted in the context of Kerala. The Indian Coffee House, Thiruvananthapuram has a circular plan and helical in volume. The central core supports the building’s structure, as well as the services, allowing the floor plans, to vary in size. Built using the bricks the building is actively ventilated and lit naturally. The exterior boasts of minimalism and no ornamentation with shifting lines of openings following the floor plans.

Inculcating modernism in localised architecture can be quite tricky but not impossible. Maybe rooting modernism in localised architecture is an irony in itself. The demands from the site can be in total contrast to the features of modernism. Is a global design yet responding to its context and climate? Simple, aesthetically pleasing or the segments of comfort? There is a fine line behind ornamentation and functional requirement – functionality involving calmness to the viewers and users. Repetition can be monogamous without a variable in the picture.

It is just all about learning the rules and bending it to suit the design criteria.


Anamika Mathew is a stubborn influencer. She’s sort of like a Caesar salad – a little of this and a little of that. She is highly dramatic and loves putting the people around her in a pickle. Her passions include self-exploration and adrenaline activities. She requires to talk for at least 12 hours a day. Oh! And she is also a final year architecture student.

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