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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When we take a trip around our cities and towns, we can’t help but notice the new, state-of-the-art structures that have sprung up. One of the most striking and popular architectural styles of recent times is modern architecture.

Modern architecture has had a significant impact on the building sector, from towering skyscrapers to minimalist homes. In this article, we’ll explore the history, features, and examples of modern architecture. We’ll also take a look at why it’s become so popular in recent years.

By the end of this article, you’ll have a good understanding of what modern architecture is and why you might start seeing more of it in your neighborhood.

What Is Modern Architecture?

What Is Modern Architecture?

Modern architecture is a building style that emerged in the mid-20th century in response to the rapidly changing technological and social landscape.

It provided a radical break from the traditional styles that had reigned for centuries. It was distinguished by its focus on minimalism, utility, and the incorporation of modern materials and technologies.

The International Style, which emerged in the 1920s and 1930s, is considered a major subcategory of modern architecture. There are modern architecture styles including Expressionist, Constructivist, and Mid-Century Modern, that came to be from 1930 through 1970.

Whether you’re an architect, designer, or simply a lover of beautiful buildings, understanding the history and principles of modern architecture can deepen our appreciation for the structures that surround us.

History of Modern Architecture

History of Modern Architecture

In contrast to other architectural styles that have been existing for centuries, modern architecture is a more recent development. Louis Sullivan, an architect who worked on structures for the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, is credited for starting this idea.

Frank Lloyd Wright and Le Corbusier are the other two of the most well-known names in modern architecture.

Prairie houses, which Wright was famous for, were built to blend in with their surroundings. Le Corbusier’s brutalist style was distinguished by its use of huge geometric shapes and exposed concrete.

The two architects contributed to the development of this modern architecture movement. Through their efforts, many fundamental characteristics of contemporary architecture were established.

Over time, modern architecture has evolved to incorporate more sustainable and energy-efficient materials and designs. Today, architects strive to create buildings that blend seamlessly into their environment while maintaining modernism’s aesthetic values.

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

Modern architects often use industrial materials like metal, concrete, and glass to create their buildings. These building materials offer architects a wide range of possibilities for designing functional and aesthetically pleasing buildings.

Steel, for example, is highly durable and can be used to create large open spaces, while concrete is versatile and can be used for both structural and decorative purposes.

Glass is also widely used in modern architecture, as it allows natural light to flood buildings and creates a sense of transparency and openness.

These materials are often left unpainted or unfinished, giving the buildings a sleek, modern look.

2. Use of Large Windows

Building with large windows

Large windows have become a staple feature in modern architecture, as they bring in natural light and allow for a seamless connection between indoor and outdoor spaces. They also provide stunning views, making the interior of the building feel more spacious and open.

Overall, the use of large windows in modern architecture is a design trend with many benefits. The window style promotes energy efficiency, brings in natural light, and creates a sense of openness and flow in the interior. They also add a sense of elegance and sophistication to the building.

3. Open Floor Plans

Open Floor Plans

Open floor plans are one of the defining characteristics of modern architecture. They create a sense of space and transparency not found in older, more traditional designs.

In a traditional floor plan, each room is separated from the next by walls. This gives each room its own sense of identity and privacy. But it also creates a sense of detachment and isolation from the rest of the house.

Open floor plans do away with these walls instead of connecting all the spaces together. This creates a more open, communal feel and allows for greater interaction between family members and guests. It also allows for greater flexibility in how you use the space.

4. Focus on Innovation and Creativity

Characteristics of Modern Architecture

Modernist architects strive to create beautiful, functional structures that are inspired by the needs of that time. This means that you’ll find aspects such as open floor plans, large windows and sliding doors, asymmetrical forms and curved shapes, and a mix of materials used in the design.

With this focus on innovation and creativity, modern architecture seeks to push boundaries regarding design and ideas.

In addition to pushing boundaries within architecture itself, modern architects also look at ways they can use their designs to positively impact society by producing energy-efficient, sustainable, and impactful buildings.

5. Minimalism in Design and Decor

Characteristics of Modern Architecture

In architecture, minimalism is characterized by reducing forms, colors, and decorations to the essential elements, focusing on functionality and simplicity.

This aesthetic is often associated with modern architecture and is characterized by clean lines, geometric shapes, and the use of industrial materials such as steel, concrete, and glass.

The use of minimalism in design and decor allows architects to create a sense of spaciousness and airiness, making buildings appear more open and uncluttered. This style is often used to create a sense of calm and serenity, making spaces feel larger and more open.

6. Sustainable Design Elements

Modern architecture often incorporates sustainable design elements to reduce energy consumption, improve air and water quality, and use environmentally friendly materials. 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.
  • Using sustainable building materials such as bamboo, cork, and reclaimed wood can minimize the environmental impact.
  • 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 defined by its emphasis on functionality and practicality. This approach to design is characterized by the use of simple, clean lines, an absence of decorative elements, and a focus on the efficient use of space.

For example, modern office buildings are designed to maximize the use of space, with open floor plans and minimal partition walls to allow for flexibility and collaboration.

Modern architects strive to create buildings that are easy to maintain and operate, with durable materials and simple, efficient systems.

8. Use of Technology

Characteristics of Modern Architecture

The use of technology also plays a significant role in modern architecture, with architects utilizing computer-aided design and other technology to optimize building design and construction.

This approach to design allows for greater precision and efficiency in the building process and the ability to create complex and unique architectural forms.

Examples of Modern Architecture Around the World

Modern architecture can be found everywhere, from the United States to Japan and beyond. Below are some of the most recognizable examples of modern structures around the globe. But this is just a small sample of the amazing works that have been created in this style over the years.

1. Villa Dirickz

 Villa Dirickz (Marcel Leborgne, Brussels, Belgium, 1933)

Image Source: sothebysrealty.com

  • Architect: Marcel Leborgne
  • Year Completed: 1933

Villa Dirickz, designed by Marcel Leborgne, stands out thanks to its angular design, glass elements, and white concrete exterior surrounded by plants. The property features opulent decor as well as amenities such as a wine cellar and a theater.

2. Amagansett Glass House

Amagansett Glass House

Image Source: outeast.com

  • Architect: Kos Kevin O’Sullivan + Associates
  • Year Completed: 2019

This modern glass house in Amagansett, New York, was built in 2019 and is managed by Yorgos Tsibiridis of Compass.

It includes a spacious chef’s kitchen, wine cellar, sauna, and an expansive saltwater gunite pool, which are included in the 8,500+ square feet of the modern luxury home. Its close proximity to the beach is also an added benefit.

3. Guggenheim Museum

Guggenheim Museum

Image Source: guggenheim.org

  • Architect: Frank Lloyd Wright
  • Year Completed: 1959

The American architect Frank Lloyd Wright designed this cone-shaped museum complex with interconnected buildings that have curving facades made of limestone and titanium, making them look like massive pieces of abstract sculpture. Displays of modern and contemporary art predominate throughout the building’s interior.

4. San Marco Island

San Marco Island

Image Source: lvebproperties.com

  • Architect: Sabal Development
  • Year Completed: 2022

Located in a gated enclave on exclusive Hibiscus Island, this structure pays respect to the classic seaside home with its views of Biscayne Bay.

The property showcases a balance of earth and water, representing the peace that exists between land and sea. The open layout is complemented by natural materials like oak wood, Cotto’d’este tiles, quartz stone, and earthy tones.

5. Silicon Valley Home

Silicon Valley Home

Image Source: maydanarchitects.com

  • Architect: Mary Maydan, founder of Maydan Architects
  • Year Completed: 2005

This home was designed by Mary Maydan, founder of Maydan Architects, who defied the norms of Silicon Valley’s conventional architecture.

The emphasis is placed on seamless transitions between indoors and outdoors using large glass doors and windows. As the first of its sort in the area, this house was built to usher in a new era of ultra-modern, minimalistic design to the traditional neighborhood.

6. Neue National Galerie

Neue National Galerie

Image Source: scholastic.com

  • 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: perlmutterfreiwald.com

  • 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: flickr.com

  • Architect: Le Corbusier
  • Year Completed: 1931

The open layout, reinforced concrete column grid, horizontal windows, roof garden, and separate building façade were all hallmarks of the modern design that Le Corbusier advocated for.

9. Su Casa Modern Mountain Home

Su Casa Modern Mountain Home

Image Source: sucasa.ca

  • Architect: Su Casa Design
  • Year Completed: Not known

Even though the interior of this Su Casa Design home is equally as stunning as the exterior, the gorgeous patio and pool stand out from the rest of the house.

Regardless of where you are, inside or out, the glass walls and windows will ensure that you never miss a moment of the panoramic mountain scenery.

10. David S. Ingalls Skating Rink in New Haven

David S. Ingalls Skating Rink in New Haven

Image Source: yalebulldogs.com

  • Architect: Eero Saarinen
  • Year Completed: 2009

The structure is often referred to as the “Yale Whale,” in honor of Yale University. Saarinen, an architect who frequently made use of catenary arches in his work, has left his mark on this inventive design. The undulating cantilevered top of the ice rink is supported by a 90-meter-tall arch of reinforced concrete.

11. Glass House

Glass House

Image Source: nytimes.com

  • Architect: Philip Johnson
  • Year Completed: 1949

Philip Johnson designed that house to be his residence. His design was simple and made use of glass’s reflective and see-through properties.

He also played around with sizes and proportions, helping to make the house a benchmark of modern design. The vacation residence was mostly steel and glass.

12. Manhattan Mega-Mansion

Manhattan Mega-Mansion

Image Source: bespokerealestate.com

  • Architect: Leroy Street Studio and Edmund Hollander Landscape Architects
  • Year Completed: 2008

This Manhattan mega-mansion, with 18,000 square feet of indoor/outdoor living and entertaining space, was designed by award-winning Leroy Street Studio and renowned Edmund Hollander Landscape Architects.

The aim was to retain the character of West Village while incorporating modern principles like large steel windows.

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

The world of modern architecture is a dynamic one, with ongoing innovations being introduced that take the field in new and exciting directions.

For instance, materials such as steel, glass, and reinforced concrete are now being used in ways that were impossible before. These materials can be shaped into sleek, modern, and esthetically pleasing forms.

Other significant innovations include the use of computer-aided design (CAD) software for the modeling and structural optimization of buildings. CAD can now be used to create complex curves and intricate spaces that would have been almost impossible to construct without it.

Additionally, green building techniques such as energy-efficient heating and cooling systems and natural lighting have helped make modern buildings more sustainable than ever before.

Conclusion

Modern architecture is all about breaking the rules and being innovative – you can see this in the features and examples we’ve looked at. While some people may not appreciate the lack of symmetry or the use of new materials, it’s hard to deny that modern architecture is unique and eye-catching.

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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