Modern Architecture Explained

By Sean Canning

Modern architecture is a widely misunderstood style. The basis of modern architecture is incredibly simple + once it’s explained you’ll understand why you’re already a huge fan.

1. Modernism is not minimalism.

You know those photos of modern homes that look cold + uninviting? I mean, there’s barely any furniture in those rooms.. right? This is the first myth I need to dispel; don’t confuse modernism w/ minimalism.

Minimalist architecture is based on achieving an extreme level of simplicity by stripping down everything non-essential. This is actually a sub-style of modern architecture in a similar way heavy metal is a sub-genre of rock + roll.

2. Form follows function.

I think we can all agree that our homes should be functional, easier to use, + in turn, make our lives easier. Guess what? If you agree w/ that statement you have modernist tendencies.

Modern architecture puts function before aesthetic. The flat roofs, the floor-to-ceiling windows, the sweeping horizontal facades are all a result of function (or the function of ease of construction). A pitched roof in a cold climate region could be considered a modern design component when the function is to shed rain/snow. The iconic Russian ‘onion’ domes are a direct reflection of form following the function of shedding precipitation + could be considered a modern solution.

3. Rejection of ornament.

The next component of modern architecture is the rejection of unnecessary ornament. This just reiterates the form-follows-function principle.

A great way to explain this it to consider a typical base moulding. That piece of moulding is functional b/c it protects the wall from damage from shoes or vacuum cleaning. A modernist would argue that base moulding should be simple, w/o a decorative style to it. The beauty comes from the function not the aesthetic.

4. Modernism is not new.. Not even close.

Contemporary is a good word to describe something that is current. Modernism is a century old so they aren’t interchangeable terms.

Modernist theory in architecture can be traced to the German Bauhaus school of the 1920s. It was at this architecture + design school where the principals of modern architecture were originally developed. Read this blog post to learn about our favorite examples of modern american architecture.

5. The building as the ornament.

Just as new music genres + sub-genres pop-up over the decades, so do styles + theories in architecture. Since the origin of modern architecture, sub-sets have developed such as minimalism, post-modernism (I’ll reserve my opinion on post-modernism for a future post), + supermodernism.

While modernism is about the rejection of ornament, the idea of designing the building as the ornament has captivated the inner-artist of contemporary architects (click here to read our favorite quotes from histories best modern architects). The idea is intriguing; still encapsulating function while giving us the design freedom to make beautifully artistic structures.

As you can tell, we love talking about design + architecture. You can read additional blogs we've written on design + modern architecture here.

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