Modern Architecture History, Characteristics, and Examples

Ian Mutuli
Updated on
Ian Mutuli

Ian Mutuli

Founder and Managing Editor of Archute. He is also a graduate architect from The University of Nairobi, Kenya.
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I guess we are all familiar with cities and towns as we drive through them and it is very obvious that the new structures and buildings are replacing the old. One of the most popular and universal architectural styles applied today is modern architectural style. Modern architecture has redefined the way buildings are built and now includes the skyscrapers to minimalism housing. The history, characteristics, and examples of the modern architecture will be the major topics of this article. On the other hand, we will find out the reason of its rapidly growing popularity nowadays. At the end of this article you will already know what contemporary architecture is and might come across a building of this sort recently located close to your home.

What Is Modern Architecture?

What Is Modern Architecture? Modern architecture is a style of building that emerged in the middle of the 20th century, as an answer to the rapidly changing social and technological situation. It was a revolutionary new style that for many centuries had been replaced by the conventional styles. It stands out through minimalism, functionality, and the use of modern materials and technology. The International Style, which originated in the 1920s and 30s, is a well-known subcategory of modernism in architecture. Among modern architecture styles such as Expressionist, Constructivist, and Mid-Century Modern, came as a consequence of 1930 to 1970. Regardless of if you’re an architect, a designer, or just someone who enjoys beautiful buildings, understanding the history and principles of modern architecture can make our appreciation for the buildings that surround us very profound.

History of Modern Architecture

History of Modern Architecture Unlike other architectural styles which have been in existence for ages, the modern architecture is the latest development. The credit for coining this principle goes to Louis Sullivan, an architect who designed buildings for the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. The other two are also very famous architects like that of Frank Lloyd Wright and Le Corbusier. Wright’s country houses, which he was known for, were designed to fit into and merge with the environment. Le Corbusier’s brutalist design was characterized by the use of enormous geometric structures and the rough concrete that was left bare. These two architects had their role in the evolution of this modern architecture movement. They were the ones who determined the basic of modern architecture existence. Over time, twenty-first century architects have developed the use of more sustainable and energy-efficient materials and patterns. Artists of today make buildings that perfectly fit into the environment while still preserving aesthetics that modernism has introduced.

Characteristics of Modern Architecture

Modern architecture is all about simplicity and functionality. It doesn’t feature intricate designs or flourishes; it’s all about form and function. Here are some characteristics of this architectural style;

1. Use of Industrial Materials

Characteristics of Modern Architecture The modern architects is today mostly characterized by the features that use industrial material s like metal, concrete, and glass. Architects now have a wider option of material to choose from in using these building materials that will provide both the structures’ functionality and aesthetic beauty. In specific, steel is durable, but it is also used to form open spaces that are large. On the other hand, concrete is versatile and may be used for both structural, and decorative purposes. In addition to that, there is glass everywhere in the modern architecture during which natural light flows and creates a feeling that surrounding is empty and see-through. With these materials rarely being painted or colored, they attain a smooth, edgy effect which is what would embody modern buildings.

2. Use of Large Windows

Building with large windows Large windows became an invariable part of contemporary architecture, as they serve to entertain people with the richness of natural light and enable the free flow among indoor and outdoor areas. It also gives a stunning exterior for those who remain inside the building while the inside is more open and spacious. As a whole, the modern style of architecture which features abundant glass in various sizes is a trend with lots of positive consequences. The elegant constructions reflect environmental friendly, emitting light, and makes a comfortable home living airy and get rid of the flow in the interior. They also have the effect of bring a little bit of class or refinement where the building is located.

3. Open Floor Plans

Open Floor Plans Open floor plans are definitely the ones to which modern architecture is associated. These designs are in turn tend to give a feeling of lightness and openness which is not present in classical balcony or balconies as could be seen from the image. The partitioning by the walls of the conventional floor plan each room into the next. This way, every room can enjoy its own unique identity and also it offers privacy to different use. However, it is scrutinizing not only the privacy of the people living in the particular room but also brings into it a feeling of separation from other members of the family and isolation inside the house. Building spaces interconnected diminish walls, in difference to open planning which has a total removal of walls allowing them to flow together freely. It opens up a space for everybody; the family and even friends can, therefore, have more time to mingle and get to know each other. It will also provide an opportunity of improving the way the space is used due to the additional functionality offered.

4. Focus on Innovation and Creativity

Characteristics of Modern Architecture Modernist architects challenge themselves with inventing the most aesthetic and practical solutions that suit the contemporary lifestyle regimes. This means that in addition to such features like open floorplans with a lot of windows or even sliding doors, ambiguous shapes like asymmetry and curves will be present, and you will then probably find the mixture of materials being used. Looking for the ways to work in the area that combines both innovation as well as creativity, modern architecture searches for the improvement of designs or ideas everyday. Besides the innovation in architecture, modern architects also find that there is potential for positive contributions to society through the designs by constructing eco-efficient, sustainable and meaningful buildings.

5. Minimalism in Design and Decor

Characteristics of Modern Architecture Simplicity in architecture is achieved through the use of just the fundamentals, that is, reduced forms, colors, and ornamentation. Such architectural styles are best known for the functionality and simplicity they provide. Such aesthetic is commonly related to modern architecture and is defined by the lines that are drawn straight, use of some geometric figures, and the employ of the materials like steel, concrete, and glass that are industrial. The employment of the minimalist design approach affords architects an opportunity to show the complex yet subtle motion of openness and lightness in buildings, making them appear less oppressed and provided. ‘The chilling effect’ method gives defendant a lot of advantages and experience. That is the reason why explanations are more obscure and reasons scarce to make the space feel huge and light.

6. Sustainable Design Elements

Contemporary architecture is a part that covers designs such as sustainable design components that focus on energy conservation among others. Examples of sustainable design elements in modern architecture include:
    • Making the most of natural light and heat from the sun can reduce the need for artificial lighting and heating.
    • Using energy-efficient windows and other systems such as solar panels, geothermal heating, and green roofs can help reduce a building’s carbon footprint.
    • Water conservation systems such as rainwater harvesting, greywater recycling, and low-flow plumbing fixtures can be used to reduce the amount of water used by a building.
    • Green roofs and walls can help to improve air quality, reduce stormwater runoff, and create a more pleasant environment.

7. Emphasis on Functionality and Practicality

Characteristics of Modern Architecture Modern architecture is characterized as a rejection of symbolism and historic style but a continuous search for free-flowing space, natural light, and civic openness. This type of design style is crudely portrayed by the lack of ornamental components, smooth and straightforward lines, and the logical and rational usage of space. Moreover, a contemporary office building is usually designed so as to maximize the space occupancy with open floor plans and less use of partition walls as such features facilitate workgroup coordination and collaboration. The contemporary architects at the moment aim to execute buildings that are easily operated and maintained with long-term usable materials and simple system.

8. Use of Technology

Characteristics of Modern Architecture Apart from biomimicry, the use of technology also plays a very significant role in modern architecture as it helps architects to optimize the building design and the operation of the construction with the use of computer-aided design, and other relevant technologies. Due to this design approach the process is patterned to be very careful, precise, efficient, which later allows the architect to create very complex and aesthetic buildings.

Examples of Modern Architecture Around the World

Contemporary architecture is everywhere: huge buildings and houses which you can see from USA to Japan and from there to different parts of the world. Here, you can observe well known examples of modern construction in different corners around the planet. However, these are only some of the numerous works that have been produced with this perspective date back many years.

1. Villa Dirickz

 Villa Dirickz (Marcel Leborgne, Brussels, Belgium, 1933) Image Source: Architect: Marcel Leborgne Year Completed: 1933 A corner of the plot with a slightly country style is formed by crash with glass elements, white concrete covering and lush vegetation around. Luxury is the term for the feature. The implementation includes an opulent decoration associated with a wine cellar and a theater.

2. Amagansett Glass House

Amagansett Glass House Image Source: Architect: Kos Kevin O’Sullivan + Associates Year Completed: 2019 This small modern glass home in Amagansett, New York was built in 2019 by Yorgos Tsibiridis who is managing it now on behalf of Compass. The residence features a chef’s kitchen, cellar, sauna, and an expansive saltwater gunite pool that occupy the 8500+ square feet space of a modern luxury home. Its location has an additional convenience that is the close proximity to the beach.

3. Guggenheim Museum

Guggenheim Museum Image Source: Architect: Frank Lloyd Wright Year Completed: 1959 The American architect Frank Lloyd Wright, the designer of this museum complex in a cone-shaped form with interconnected buildings featuring limestone and titanium facades that extend in the form of the curves makes them look like heavy abstraction sculptures to begin with, we shall present our collection of modern and contemporary artworks all over the building.

4. San Marco Island

San Marco Island Image Source: Architect: Sabal Development Year Completed: 2022 Being located in between the gated community and exclusive Hibiscus Island, this pushed the boundaries of classic seaside home by offering the glamorous views of Biscayne Bay. The site exhibits a harmony of earth and water that ensures that there is a stable and prosperous coexistence between land and sea. The open plan is enliven with nature-oriented materials as oak wood, Cotto’d’este tiles, quartz stone and earthy tones.

5. Silicon Valley Home

Silicon Valley Home Image Source: Architect: Mary Maydan, founder of Maydan Architects Year Completed: 2005 This house is conceived by Mary Maydan, founder of Maydan architects, who does not conform with Silicon Valley’s classic architectural expectation. The main emphasis is put on matching the interior with the exterior, using the large glass doors and windows. Being for the first time in class that site had built to usher in a new era of ultra-modern and minimalist design in the traditional neighborhood.

6. Neue National Galerie

Neue National Galerie Image Source: Architect: Ludwig Mies Van der Rohe Year Completed: 1968 The museum is dedicated to modern art deco and houses a collection that stretches back to the early years of the twentieth century. The building included the features of modernist architecture, such as lots of glass, a cantilevered roof, and a flat exterior.

7. Modern Stone Exterior

Modern Stone Exterior Image Source: Architect: Louis DesRosiers Year Completed: Not known To many people, the thought of “modern architecture” conjures images of stark white exteriors and steel fixtures. That is often accurate. On the other hand, a modern house can be cozier with a stone exterior and the soft light of indoor lamps, not to mention a crackling fire pit.

8. Villa Savoye

Villa Savoye Image Source: Architect: Le Corbusier Year Completed: 1931 The open plan layout, the reinforced concrete columns, the system of horizontal windows, the rooftop garden and the separate building façade had all to do with the modern architecture that Le Corbusier promoted in his works.

9. Su Casa Modern Mountain Home

Su Casa Modern Mountain Home Image Source: Architect: Su Casa Design Year Completed: Not known Though no less stylish, the interior of this Casa Su Diseño home is as spectacular as the exterior with the exception the patio and pool. It wouldn’t matter whether you would be indoors or outdoors, the glass walls and windows make sure that you are not missing a beat of the delightful scenery of the mountains.

10. David S. Ingalls Skating Rink in New Haven

David S. Ingalls Skating Rink in New Haven Image Source: Architect: Eero Saarinen Year Completed: 2009 The design is also referred as the “Yale Whale” in the honor of Yale University. Finnish-American architect who used catenary arches in his projects often, Saarinen can be said to have created innovative design. The skating rink’s wavy borders at the top are supported by a 90-meter-high reinforced concrete arch.

11. Glass House

Glass House Image Source: Architect: Philip Johnson Year Completed: 1949 Philip Johnson built his house to live. The design developed by him was that of a glass globe in which the transparency and the reflective of glass were utilized. Moreover, he would experiment with sizes and proportions, which turned the house into a principal timeline of modern design. The house looked mostly like steel and glass.

12. Manhattan Mega-Mansion

Manhattan Mega-Mansion. Image Source: Architect: Leroy Street Studio and Edmund Hollander Landscape Architects Year Completed: 2008 This eight-stories 18,000 square feet indoor/outdoor living and entertainment mansion lies at the foot of Central Park and has been designed by Leroy Street Studio, winner of ‘Architectural Digest’ Design Awards, and renowned landscape architect Edmund Hollander. The idea being that West Village’s unique character with some modern elements such as large steel windows, would be able to foster a sense of community and vibrancy.

Pros and Cons of Modern Architecture

​Modern architecture boasts a number of pros, including;
    • Sleek and clean lines
    • Innovative use of materials
    • Energy efficiency.
    • Large windows and rooms with lots of natural light can improve the overall aesthetic and save energy costs.
    • Modern designs often embrace nature, flowing around existing trees or using water features to create a more peaceful atmosphere.
On the flip side, there are some cons to modern architecture, such as;
    • Cost- Modern construction often involves higher costs due to extra design features like large windows and other energy-saving features.
    • Modern architecture can sometimes be too cold in terms of its visual appeal, especially if compared to the warmth of traditional homes.
    • Harder for modern buildings to blend in with their surroundings, so they may stand out too much from the neighborhood’s aesthetic.

Common Materials Used in Modern Architecture

Common Materials Used in Modern Architecture ​Modern architecture’s world encapsulates unlimited more possibilities, since new ideas and innovations are popping up to surprise everyone each time. As an example, steel, glass, and reinforced concrete are used in patterns that were impossible before because of the improved knowledge in material technology. General shaping of an elastic material is facile, thus creating smooth, sleek, and modern forms and shapes. However, CAD optimization and other advanced innovations involve creating 3D building models and structural optimization with the help of CAD software. The sophisticated CAD software today is capable of producing very sharp arcs and walkways that could never be designed and employed before. Furthermore, there have been not only the green building methods, but also some of the energy-efficient cooling and heating systems and natural lighting allows modern buildings being extremely sustainable the present time.


​The new school of architecture is about smashing the rules and being creative during the process. This is exactly what you can find in the aspects and examples we discussed. Despite of the fact that some people may not enjoy the imperfection in the shapes or the use of novel materials, it could not be denied that the contemporary architecture is outstanding and fearsome.
Ian Mutuli

About the author

Ian Mutuli

Founder and Managing Editor of Archute. He is also a graduate architect from The University of Nairobi, Kenya.
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