What is Modern Architecture?

What is modern architecture anyway? The term “Modern” is a broad one. The term is often used to describe something progressive, against the grain, and cutting edge, yet, ironically, the term quickly falls into describing something trendy and part of the status quo. How many times have we all heard the term “modern farmhouse?” The term Modern is also used to describe the style of architecture that began in the early 20th century. With all these differences sometimes it’s difficult to know what the term actually means and how to communicate your intentions. At the end of the day, the most important thing is to be able to communicate your needs in a way that will satisfy both your functional, and aesthetic desires. Let’s understand what modern means and start from the beginning.

History of Modern Design Architecture

Shortly before the Modern architecture movement, there was a design movement opposing the industrialization of our world. This pre-modern architecture was called the art nouveau period of architecture where steel was used to mimic natural elements like vines and other plants. Art nouveau’s forms of nature mixed with more industrial materials created a contradiction of new trends. The modernist architects saw these industrial movements and their influence on architecture as an opportunity. They saw industrialization and new materials as something that need to be embraced by architecture.

Modern architecture is a movement that emerged in the early 20th century as a response to the traditional, classical styles that had dominated architecture for centuries. It is characterized by clean lines, simple forms, and a focus on function rather than ornamentation. Modern materials such as glass and steel were often used in the construction of modern buildings, and the use of natural light was emphasized.

From the works of Frank Lloyd Wright and Philip Johnson to Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Le Corbusier, these architects made huge advances in our understanding of what architecture could be. They embraced and created architectural theory focused on function. They began by evaluating the industrial age and studied how the use of new materials and mass production could change our creation of architecture. By allowing architecture to have a clear purpose communicated through simple forms its intended purpose and experience Modern architecture was born.

Farnsworth House by Mies van der Rohe image: www.dezeen.com

As an example, Mies van der Rohe was known for creating the “International style” a sub-genre of Modern architecture. The International Style was an exploration of the purest of architectural forms capable of replication without decor and without context. The example above is a glass house designed outside of Chicago.

Roby House by Frank Llyod Wright
Meanwhile, Frank Llyod Wright, one of the most famous Modern architects was exploring horizontal, modern forms to communicate the essence of the American home by connecting the home’s shape to the flat American prairies. Instead of using decor to communicate the natural environment, the prairie homes were constructed with subtle forms and materials to communicate natural ideas. This image of the Roby house is a great example of Modern architecture that mimics the flat Prairies of the mid-west. It not only shows the exaggerated horizontal lines at the roof but looking closer, even the bricks are long and slender offering more horizontal shapes once again paying tribute to the American heartland.

This Modern age of architecture, by removing arbitrary decoration and ornamentation, gave architecture a way to communicate and create new experiences with greater clarity than before. This allowed architecture to use new forms and materials that matched the changing technologies and exciting times. Architecture can once again offer clear intentions of hierarchy and use without the clutter.


Modern Architecture Design of Today

The modern architectural design of today or better described as contemporary architecture is custom, unique, and focused on the occupant and the building’s location. With the removal of decor, the design can focus on the occupant’s needs, wants, and the surrounding site making every decision intentional. Buildings are not objects but places. Places should be designed for the occupant, the occupant’s experience, and the context. The primary feature of today’s Modern architecture is that every decision of the design is made by thinking through the experience the occupant has and the functional characteristics of the building. The modern architect uses new-age ideas, techniques, materials, and forms of today to create a unique response to both the site and the program. This creates an intentional approach to design that instills a sense of quality and luxury that is clearly visible and communicated.

This attitude towards design resonates with our society today. With the great social and environmental change, people are becoming more compassionate and accepting of ideas and diverse thoughts. People are interested in healthier living and want to merge buildings and nature. As a real estate investor or a homeowner focused on re-sale it’s important to design for others. Designing for the place and the experience of the user is what makes today’s architecture special and ultimately will make your buildings sell. At the firm, when we design our projects the first questions we ask are about the user and the location. How can view, noise, and privacy, influence the design? How can form and material enhance the experience of the user? With an understanding of the people and place the designer is armed with the information to make clear intentional decisions focused on the goal.

Modern Architecture, Style That Communicates Intent

As stated above, the term modern has several meanings. The main goal here is to be able to communicate your intent to your architect. Your architect’s job is to advise you through the decisions of your home and to create something that works for you and your goals. To do this, first, focus on yourself and develop a great building program. A building program is a set of information that defines the project parameters. Three bedrooms, two bathrooms, Etc. If you’re building a home for yourself, think about your lifestyle. Imagine how you will use the home. Don’t forget the mundane. Where do the backpacks go when the kids come home from school? What is it like to sit on the front porch? Does the breakfast nook face the sunrise? A brainstorming exercise that identifies your wants and needs will eventually lead to a custom home designed for enhancing experience.

Poor Program Example:

We want three bedrooms, two bathrooms, and an open-plan living, dining, and kitchen.

Good program Example:

We want the living space to focus on the view, connect to the rear porch and be open to the kitchen for hosting guests. The Kitchen needs to be close to the garage to be able to carry in groceries. The primary bedroom needs to be separate from the living space and laundry to avoid noise issues when my wife wants to stay up and watch a movie.

How about the look?

At the firm, we try not to focus too much on one form or one look. Our goal is to create a design unique to your situation and site. Form and function are tied together but do have some flexibility. After evaluating your lifestyle and developing a program, put together a Pinterest board or collage of different forms, styles, and looks that you like. Most new clients think they have to organize and create consistency in the imagery they share with us. The reality is that the more diverse the imagery the better. Great architects can make anything look great and are able to pull from different images to develop a custom look that is unique to you.

Pro Tip: At the firm, we often help clients with due diligence before designing a home. One of the stages of due diligence is programming. Ask your architect if they can assist you in your programming analysis. This evaluation along with the knowledge of the scale standard spaces will allow you to quickly determine home size and cost.

The beauty of modern architecture is the design freedom and the uniqueness it can offer. Because of the simple forms, we have the freedom to create based on program and intent rather than conforming to an arbitrary style. If you’re looking for a truly unique and custom project designed for you and your lifestyle, these modern architectural concepts are the key.

Want to learn more about modern architecture? Check out our YouTube channel.

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