What is Modernist Architecture? What You Need to Know About Today’s Style

Modernism design isn’t a design style that’s set in stone. It evolves over time and it’s highly influenced by what’s going on in today’s world. But when it comes to choosing a design style for your home, there’s a difference between “modern” and “modernist.”

What is modernist architecture?

Modernism isn’t a strict set of rules that one must follow to the T when you’re designing. It’s more of a mindset and it’s always evolving, thanks to current cultural trends, technology, new materials, our geographical location, and sustainability principles, like rules for dealing with construction waste

When you hear the term “modernist architecture,” you’re probably thinking about clean lines, stark white decor, glass, and metal elements. It all sounds so new, right? But did you know that this type of architectural design has actually been around for the past century? The style originated in the 1920s and was most popular between the 50s and 60s. Its popularity cooled off between the 70s and 2000s, but it is making a comeback. 

So… Think Frank Lloyd Wright combined with touches of Germany’s Bauhaus School.

modernist architecture
Photo by Jimmy Chang on Unsplash

The rise and fall of modernism in the 20th century

At the conclusion of the Second World War, modernist architecture was in its prime. The early 1950s saw a second wave of architects who embraced modernism. Paul Rudolph, I.M. Pei, and Phillip Johnson took ideas from Bauhaus and injected it with regional inspiration that drew heavily from their local landscape, climate, and (of course) the culture. Other architects like John  Lautner and Alden Dow actually studied under Frank Lloyd Wright and you can see that influence in their designs. 

Once the 1970s hit, modernist architecture wasn’t in much demand due to maintenance problems. Modernism design was ahead of its time, to be sure. However, no one could anticipate the problems they’d experience due to the designs and materials used to create these signature designs. 

An example of this is the flat roof. They may have looked cool, but at the time, roofing materials weren’t the greatest and leaky roofs were a common issue. By the time there were improvements to roofing material, modernism fell out of popularity. In its place, homeowners, designers, and architects embraced postmodernism’s bold use of color, ornamentation while drawing on historical design elements to break free of the limitations of modernism.  

Modernism is back in action in the 21st century

While people’s interest in modernist architecture waned during the late 1990s, modernism began its glorious comeback in the 2000s. Once again, people fell in love with the minimalist lifestyle (often thought of being sterile, cold, and unfriendly) while still embracing mid-century design. 

People often associate modernism with white boxes sitting on top of concrete slabs. This is true for many homes that employ this design style, they aren’t the de facto design elements. Modernism is about using regional elements to create a home that feels like it belongs there. Frank Lloyd Wright’s organic style seamlessly blends minimalist design with functional design elements that respond to natural elements like the weather, sun orientation, and the like. 

Photo by Nerses Khachatryan on Unsplash

What are the most common elements of modernist architecture? 

One modernist home can look very different from another modernist home, but they almost always have similar features like: 

  • Open floor plans
  • Flat or low-pitched roofs
  • Lots of natural light
  • Glass walls
  • Clean lines with very little ornamentation
  • Geometric and asymmetrical structures
  • Visible structural elements like beams, reinforced concrete, and steel frames
  • Elements that blur the line between indoors and outdoors

What to know if you’re thinking about owning a modernist home

If you’re drawn to modernist architecture and your dream home would look like something out of Wright’s portfolio of designs, there are some things you need to know. 

First of all, it’s going to cost a lot to maintain the temperature in the house. Since this design style often features a lot of glass and open spaces, you’re going to have to think of energy-efficient solutions. Walk around the house and pay attention to the temperature and airflow, as they will impact your energy efficiency and overall living comfort.

You’ll also want to remember that if you’re looking at an older modernist home, you’ll want to get the roof inspected. Not only will you want to look for leaks (old and new), but also if there are ways you can make the roof less likely to leak in the future. 

Modernist architecture is making a comeback and people are embracing the philosophies that go with it. Gone are the days of busy wallpapers, bold colors, and closed floor plans because it’s time to embrace the cleanliness and functionality that modern design offers!

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