What Is Minimalist Architecture? [+7 Great Examples of Minimalism] 

By Sean Canning

In contemporary architecture, where simplicity reigns supreme, minimalist architecture epitomises elegance and sophistication. This design philosophy celebrates clarity, functionality, and balance, embracing clean lines, geometric shapes, and a refined aesthetic. 

More than just a visual style, minimalist architecture is a way of life, transcending mere aesthetics. From residential abodes to monumental landmarks, minimalist buildings offer timeless and serene spaces. Let's delve into seven standout examples that exemplify the principles of minimalism and showcase its enduring appeal in both form and function. 

So, what exactly is minimalism in architecture, and how does it set itself apart from other architectural design styles? Let's explore the world of minimalist architecture based on the insights Sean Canning, founder of the architecture firm Ten Seventy Architecture, shares in this video.   

But first, a brief definition of the minimalist design principle and it's origins. 

Example of Minimalist Architecture Project by Ten Seventy Architecture

Understanding Minimalism: More Than Cold Modernism

Minimalism, as described in the interview, is often equated with what our parents might have termed as cold modernism. However, it transcends this label, completely deviating from traditional architecture and design. 

At its core, minimalist style embodies the elusive feeling of an empty inbox. The best minimalist architecture creates a sense of clarity and simplicity permeating architectural spaces.

While modernism and modern design generally champion the principle of form following function and the rejection of unnecessary ornamentation, minimalism takes these concepts to new heights. It's an extreme reduction of ornamentation, stripping away embellishments to the bare essentials. This approach challenges the notion of functionality, pushing the boundaries of design to achieve a refined spatial aesthetic.

Balancing Function and Form in Contemporary Architecture

Sean brings up a great example of minimalism: base molding. Traditionally, base molding serves a practical function by providing a transition between the floor and the wall. It shields the wall from damage and allows for easy cleaning without compromising aesthetics.

In the realm of minimalism, however, the approach is radical. Instead of simply simplifying the molding, the inclination is to eliminate it altogether. Minimalism is all about eliminating clutter in favor of empty space. While this decision enhances the visual purity of the space, it comes with a sacrifice in functionality. Suddenly, the base becomes vulnerable to damage from vacuum cleaners, and mopping becomes a delicate dance to avoid wetting the walls.

The Balancing Act: Functionality vs. Aesthetic Purity

As Sean emphasizes, minimalism is a delicate balancing act between functionality and aesthetic purity. Each design decision must weigh the trade-offs, considering how much function can be sacrificed to elevate the visual appeal. It's about minimizing distractions and creating spaces that exude a sense of calm and perfection.

From base moldings to every detail in the home, this concept of balancing function and form replicates itself. The quest for minimalist perfection demands meticulous attention to detail and an unwavering commitment to craftsmanship, affecting the design of everything from the garden and exterior to the interior space.

Types of Minimalist Bases: Navigating the Options

Various options exist within the realm of minimalist bases, each with its own set of considerations. The choices reflect the nuanced approach to minimalist design, from the visually striking reveal base to the more functional flush face with a reveal.

While the reveal base may offer unparalleled aesthetic appeal, it requires high craftsmanship and sacrifices some functionality. On the other hand, the flush face with a reveal strikes a balance between form and function, providing a clean, streamlined look without compromising usability.

Dispelling Myths: The Cost of Minimalism

Contrary to common misconceptions, a house designed with a minimalist aesthetic is neither cheap nor easy. The minimalistic design language demands a level of clarity and detail-oriented craftsmanship that transcends the ordinary. From ensuring perfectly level floors to meticulously installing minimalist elements, every aspect requires precision and dedication.

The journey to a minimalist home is a labor of love that entails time, craft, and a willingness to invest in quality. While the end result may be a space of unparalleled beauty and serenity, it comes at a cost that reflects the commitment to excellence.

Interior example of minimalist architecture

7 Best Examples of Minimalist Architecture + Home Design

When delving into the realm of minimalist architecture, it's enlightening to explore some of the most famous structures that embody this design philosophy. From residential dwellings to monumental landmarks, these buildings exemplify the architectural elements that are the essence of minimalist architecture and design through their clean lines, simplicity, and thoughtful use of space. These are all innate characteristics of both old and new minimalist architecture and interior design.

Here are seven renowned minimalist spaces perfect for showcasing this school of thought:

  • Barcelona Pavilion by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe: Designed for the 1929 International Exposition in Barcelona, Spain, the Barcelona Pavilion is a quintessential example of minimalist architecture. Mies van der Rohe's use of sleek, geometric forms and minimal ornamentation creates a space that is both elegant and timeless.

  • Home Farm by John Pawson: Renowned architect and designer John Pawson and his Home Farm in the Cotswolds, England, exemplifies his design philosophy inspired by Japanese minimalism. The residence, located in southwest England, features clean lines, neutral tones, and use natural materials, creating a serene and harmonious living environment.

  • The Glass House by Philip Johnson: Situated in New Canaan, Connecticut, The Glass House is a modernist masterpiece that epitomizes minimalist architecture. Designed by architect Philip Johnson, the house features transparent glass walls, an open floor plan, and a seamless integration with nature to create a uniquely serene atmosphere.

  • Farnsworth House by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe: Another iconic creation by Italian architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, the Farnsworth House in Plano, Illinois, is a study in minimalist design philosophy and elegance. The single-story glass house, set amidst a wooded landscape, emphasizes simplicity, transparency, and a strong connection to nature.

  • Tadao Ando's Church of the Light: Located in Osaka, Japan, the Church of the Light is a minimalist masterpiece by acclaimed architect Tadao Ando. Characterized by its stark concrete walls, clean geometric forms, and strategic use of natural light, the church offers a space for quiet contemplation and spiritual reflection.

  • National Gallery of Art East Building by I.M. Pei: Designed by architect I.M. Pei, the East Building of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., is a striking example of minimalist architecture. With its angular forms, expansive atriums, and use of geometric patterns, the building exudes a sense of modernity and sophistication.

  • Villa Savoye by Le Corbusier: Completed in 1931, Villa Savoye in Poissy, France, is a seminal work of modernist architecture by Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier. The villa's white facade, flat roof, and open floor plan reflect Le Corbusier's minimalist ideals, while its innovative design elements continue to inspire architects to this day.

These examples represent the best of minimalist architecture, showcasing the enduring appeal and timeless beauty of this design philosophy. From minimalist residences and holiday homes to cultural institutions, minimalist architecture projects continue to shape the contemporary built environment, offering visually striking and deeply functional spaces.

Minimalist kitchen design

The Essence of Minimalism in Architecture

In conclusion, minimalism in architecture is more than just a design style; it's a philosophy that celebrates simplicity, functionality, and beauty. It challenges conventional notions of form and function, inviting us to rethink how we interact with our built environment.

As we delve deeper into the realm of minimalism, let us embrace the principles of clarity, purity, and elegance. Let us strive to create spaces that inspire and uplift, where every element serves a purpose, and every detail is thoughtfully considered. And let us remember that true minimalism is not about achieving perfection but about finding harmony in the balance between form and function.

Partner With the Best Minimalist Architecture Firm

Ten Seventy Architecture is an award-winning architecture and design studio based in San Diego. Get in touch to learn how we can help you turn your dream home into reality!

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