Modern Architecture From the Past

Modern Architecture From the Past

It might sound peculiar to reference century-old designs when discussing modern architecture. To some degree, one could argue that any design is “modern” during the period in which it was conceived. However, the tell-tale characteristics of what we define as modern are what I’m after here. Straight edges, “boxy” designs, and lots of glass make up what I consider “modern.”

Not-So-Modern Modernist

The Modernist style is very distinct. Among the many characteristics of this style, one will find everything works towards a sense of minimalism. Simple (yet elegant and often curious) lines are often accompanied by simple textures and materials. Simple, in this instance, refers to the visual experience. Marbles, highly-figured woods, and decorative patterns be damned; the modernists won’t have any of it! Modernism is as much a philosophy as it is a style. Architects of this style often approach design from a more analytical perspective, often employing cutting-edge techniques to simulate forces such as gravity. Designs of this style are characterized, at least in part, by these traits:

  • Prominent use of Concrete
  • Cubic and Cylindrical shapes
  • Flat roof structures
  • Lots of glass and metal framing
  • Asymmetry
  • Solid and “bland” colors

The Company One Keeps

Modernism was a very niche pursuit for many years. Architects that build within the context of this minimalist style were often criticised for their perversion of the craft. Many such architects have found their names lifted on high among critics several decades after their prime. One might call this the curse of being ahead of one’s time. Some famous Modernist architects you may recognize are:

  • Frank Llyod Wright
  • Philip Johnson
  • Ludwig Mies van der Rohe
  • Le Corbusier
  • Rem Koolhaas

Some of these architects are of days passed, others are still alive and aware of their fanbases. What all these designers have in common is their pursuit of a minimalistic impression of common architectural themes. There won’t be any ornate carvings or decorative elements here. These artisans choose to inspire us through what they choose to leave out rather than what they choose to include.

Famous Examples

What would a post on famous architecture be without some examples! Here are some of my personal favorite from many different eras of architecture. I find all of them to inspire a minimalist perspective when I consider my next project.

Bank of London and South America, Buenos Aires

Bank of London Brutalist Modern

This building was designed with a brutalists impression of modern architecture. Its almost-governmental spirit is contrasted by the softly-rounded recesses on the facade. This is one of my favorite buildings mostly because it’s located downtown around other common buildings without a care in the world.

Habitat 67, Montreal

Habitat 67, Montreal

This Safdie McGill design was first presented in the 1967 World’s Fair, though it had been an evolution in progress for some time. This design exemplifies the use of boxes, glass, and concrete common to Modernist styles. I love this work mostly because it maintains such a welcoming and granular impression while remaining a very large overall structure.

Geisel Library, San Diego

Geisel Library

Part brutalist brilliance, part spaceship; this is one of the most iconic designs in Modernist architecture. I’ll admit, it usually makes the “top ten lists” for brutalist feeds moreso than vanilla modernism. Still, this design illustrates how simple concrete can be used to create outlandish, yet efficient, designs. If I had to put my love for this design into a single phrase it’d be “form follows function.”

Keeping Inspired

Many of the best modern architectural designs have one thing in common: they were harshly criticised long before they were appreciated. There’s a place for recognizing constructive criticism from clients, peers, and mentors. There is not a place for giving credence to the wailing of those without constructive feedback. Those that would claim a building defies their diety of choice or “ruins” the surrounding area shouldn’t be given any consideration at all. Love your designs and follow your heart. Architecture is an art after all, not a science (mostly!)