Introduction to Modernism in an Architectural Context

Published: Last Edited:

This essay has been submitted by a student. This is not an example of the work written by our professional essay writers.

Introduction to Modernism

Modernism Architecture is a style of architecture that emerged around the time of the Second World War in many western countries. The roots of Modernists can be traced back to a Russian architect by the name of Berthold Lubetkind (1901-1990) and his architecture practice TECTON. Defining Modernism, however, may seem as an improbable task. This is because as a style, it lacks clear boundaries and is generally less coherent. Besides that, it also incorporates a large variety of tastes, design styles and sensibilities. Due to this fact, many critics would argue that modernism is not a singular style and many designers say that they follow no “style”. A clear example of this is Frank Lloyd Wright. The famous architect objected to be placed in the same group as modernist. However, without him, modernist architecture would never have been the same.

Characteristics of modernism

The first and most obvious of modernism architecture’s characteristics is that the design of the building is inspired by function. “Form follows Function” was said by Frank Lloyd Wright’s mentor, Louis Sullivan. Sullivan expressed that in his opinion, functionalism was the elimination of ornaments so the building could express its functionality and this functionality would dictate the form of the building.

Besides that, Modernism architecture promoted simplicity in design or as the saying goes, “Less is more”. This phrase was coined by the German-American architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. As we can deduce from the saying, modern architecture typically enjoys clutter-free designs and is lacking of unnecessary elements. Parameters of the design are determined early in the design phase and only required features are included into the building. This causes the focus to shift from the décor or details of the building to the space itself. Buildings, especially homes, will be clean, functional, and simple.

The next characteristic we notice when studying modernism architecture that rather than concealing the nature of their buildings, modernists prefer to expose the inner workings and the true nature of their designs. Instead of painting or covering up, the materials of the building is exposed and bare. Nothing is hidden or modified. This includes structural elements like columns and beams are shown. This gives birth to the notion of “Truth” in a home where all materials and elements are exposed. On that subject, Modernists also prefer man made materials. For example, concrete, steel, and glass.

Another thing that can be said about modernism is that designers that practice modernism love lines. This can be seen quite plainly in modern designs where one can easily find strong, bold, linear elements as well as vertical and horizontal features. When designing as space, modern architects will fully utilize the columns, beams, windows, floors and etc. to further enhance the creation of a linear space. It is rare to see curved, organic lines in modernism though not impossible.

. Also, as a sign of rejection of historic precedence, it is extremely rare to see a modern house with a triangular or pitched roof. Modern architects prefer to push the envelope with horizontal, bold, flat roofs. For example, buildings can have multiple roof levels at different heights. This provides the building with a unique silhouette and adds complexity/sophistication to the design. An assortment of lines, vaulted ceilings, overhangs and unusual linear elements are all weapons in a modern architect’s arsenal to create a more unique statement. This leads to the principle that the building is more than just a structure but an artistic and sculptural statement. “Architecture is frozen music” –Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.

In addition to the points above, another characteristic that we have in modernism architecture is the presence of an abundance of natural light from windows. Modern homes often feature floor to ceiling windows, window walls and sliding doors. Occasionally, clerestory windows are also seen in modernist design. These are windows that are located high in the walls to allow light to enter while preserving privacy

Next, attention should be paid to the arrangement of the interior walls of modernism buildings. Modern architects are post-and-beam architects. They prefer using indirect division of spaces like sunken or raised areas as opposed to walls. Even in the situation where walls are built, they are likely to be non-loading walls and serve to only divide the spaces. Either that or they will be “pony” walls. These are walls that don’t reach the ceiling thus allowing the rooms to share ventilation and light. Because of this, modern buildings tend to have more open plans when compared to plans from other styles.

The final characteristics that we shall study is the revamping of outdoor spaces by modernists. Modernism blurs the boundary between interior and exterior spaces with large windows. Besides that, multiple rooms can open onto a patio or an atrium to extend square footage. Also, modernists attempt to incorporate the topography of the land into their designs (ie. Fallingwater). This is similar to Frank Lloyd Wright’s belief that a building should be “one with the land” and not simply applied on top of it.

Famous architects in modernism

In this part, we shall introduce a few of the more famous architects of the modernism style and some of their works.

Frank lloyd wright

Name: Frank Lloyd Wright

Born: 08-06-1867

Location: Wisconsin, USA

Education: University of Wisconsin-Madison, 1886

Frank Lloyd Wright(bornFrank Lincoln Wright, June 8, 1867 – April 9, 1959) was an American architect, interior designer, writer, and educator, who designed more than 1,000 structures and completed 532. Wright believed in designing structures that were in harmony with humanity and its environment, a philosophy he calledorganic architecture. This philosophy was best exemplified by Fallingwater(1935), which has been called "the best all-time work of American architecture"

Selected Works:

Fallingwater, Pennsylvania, 1935

FallingwaterorKaufmann Residenceis a house designed by architectFrank Lloyd Wrightin 1935 in ruralsouthwestern Pennsylvania, 43 miles (69km) southeast ofPittsburgh,Pennsylvania,United States. The home was built partly over a waterfall onBear Runin the Mill Run section ofStewart Township,Fayette County, Pennsylvania, in theLaurel Highlandsof theAllegheny Mountains.

rem koolhaas

Name: Remment Lucas “Rem” Koolhaas

Born: 17-11-1944

Location: Rotterdam, Netherlands

Education: Architecture Association London, 1972

Rem Koolhaas is a Dutch architect, architectural theorist, urbanist and professor.

Selected Works: Netherlands Dance Theater, the Hague, 1988

The Netherlands dance Theater was completed in 1987 and was originally conceived in 1980. It is a Dutch Contemporary Dance Company.

Nexus Housing, Fukuoka Japan, 1991

This project is a total of 24 houses in the kasha District of Fukuoka, each three stories high. Each house has a private vertical courtyard that allow light and additional space.

Im pei

Name: Ieoh Ming Pei

Born: 26-04-1917

Location: Canton, China

Education: B. Arch. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), 1940

M. Arch. Harvard Grad School of Design, 1946

I.M. Pei is known for using large, abstract forms and sharp, geometric designs. His glass-clad structures seem to spring from the high tech modernist movement. Pei is popularly known for designing theRock and Roll Hall of Famein Ohio. However, Pei is more concerned with function than theory. His works often incorporate traditional Chinese symbols and building traditions.

Selected Works: The Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Ithaca, New York, 1973

TheHerbert F. Johnson Museum of Art("The Johnson Museum") is anart museumlocated on the northwest corner of theArts Quad on the main campus ofCornell University. The Johnson Museum has one of the finest collections of art in New York State and is recognized as one of the most important university museums in the country.

Dallas City Hall, Texas, 1977

Dallas City Hallis the seat of Dallas municipal government, located at 1500 Marilla in theGovernment Districtofdowntown Dallas, Texas(USA). The current building, the city's fifth city hall, was completed in 1978 and replaced theDallas Municipal Building.

mies van der rohe

Name: Ludwig Mies van der Rohe

Born: 27-03-1886

Location: Aachen, Germany

Education: Worked in the office of Bruno Paul (Berlin)

Worked 4 years in the studio of Peter Behrens

Believing thatless is more, Mies van der Rohe designed rational, minimalist skyscrapers that set the standard for modernist design.

Selected Works:

Farnsworth House, Plano, Illinois, 1950

It is a one-room weekend retreat in a once-rural setting, located 55 miles (89km) southwest ofChicago's downtown on a 60-acre (24ha) estate site, adjoining the Fox River, south of the city ofPlano, Illinois.


Based on the points, presented in the report above, we can draw our own conclusions on the pros and cons of Modernists architecture and how it has affected history. The Modernism Architecture style has risen and fallen but hasn’t totally left our society. Even till this day, we can still see the influence of the modernist design on our contemporary architecture. To wrap up this report, we leave you with a quote from William Morris to sum up what we have learned from Modernism. “Have nothing in your house that you know not to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” Thank you.