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.

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. The idea is intriguing; still encapsulating function while giving us the design freedom to make beautifully artistic structures.

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