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8 Modernist Styles That Define Modernism in Architecture – My Modern Met

Curious about architectural modernism? Learn its defining characteristics and some of the most iconic examples of the movement.

From left to right: Tatlin’s Tower, or Monument to the Third International; Einstein Tower, or Einsteinturm; Geisel Library of the University of California, San Diego; Weissenhof Estate; The Glass House; Rietveld Schröder Housed; Nakagin Capsule Tower; Bauhaus Building in Dessau
From left to right: Tatlin’s Tower, or Monument to the Third International; Einstein Tower, or Einsteinturm; Geisel Library of the University of California, San Diego; Weissenhof Estate; The Glass House; Rietveld Schröder Housed; Nakagin Capsule Tower; Bauhaus Building in Dessau

By Samantha Pires

Describing an architecture style as “modern” may inherently be a bit confusing. After all, a structure was modern while it was being designed and built. Why then, do so many movements and styles in the 20th-century fall under modernism? What was so different that designers felt the need to label their work as indicative of a new future? And why did architects feel the need to outline rules for our built environment in the first place? Many of these questions have answers that are directly influenced by historic events. Others are less direct and are engrained in a long history of design styles and cultural influences.

In this article, we will break down some of the most iconic styles of modernism to help build your knowledge of design history and better understand some of the influential works that define modern architecture. What usually unites the different styles of modernism is a focus on logic. Modern design typically eliminates unnecessary visual noise and reimagines spaces for their core functions.

Designer Massimo Vignelli, whose career ranged from graphic design to kitchenware and much more, described this logic-based process. “Good design is a matter of discipline. It starts by looking at the problem and collecting all the available information about it. If you understand the problem, you have the solution. It’s really more about logic than imagination.”

Many of these modernist ideas became popular in the years between World War I and World War II. Designers were motivated to rethink life in almost every way. That is why modernism can be found in architecture, art, literature, and much more.

Tatlin’s Tower, or Monument to the Third International, by Vladimir Tatlin (Photo: Unknown [Public Domain])
Tatlin’s Tower, or Monument to the Third International, by Vladimir Tatlin (Photo: Unknown [Public Domain])
The following characteristics are just some of the ideas that generally define modernism. Since modern architecture covers so many periods in history and so many design styles, some factors are not true for all of them. Some ideas also naturally bleed into other concepts. However, these three broad ideas tend to remain the same.

“Form Follows Function”

This famous term, coined by renowned architect Louis Sullivan, does a good job of summarizing modernism. Modern architecture styles are typically driven by the pursuit of logic. Just like in the earlier Vignelli quote, design is not about making art—it is about solving a spatial problem. Sulivan’s inspiration for the famous quote comes from the ancient Roman architectural master Vitruvius, who believed all works should have qualities of firmitas, utilitas, venustas—solidity, usefulness, and beauty.  This pursuit is clear in famous architectural ideas like Le Corbusier’s “machine for living.”

No Ornamentation

Since logic is the guiding principle behind modernism, it may be obvious that decoration is a hard sell. To modernists, a simple and clean solution is more beautiful than any meaningless ornamentation. Designers also planned for their buildings and structures to be timeless. Any added detail that did not serve a purpose was another opportunity for something to go out of style.

However, you may be able to spot a few exceptions to the rule. How exactly can you be sure that every piece of a building is designed for logic? One potential rule-breaker is Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. He was a devout believer in simplicity and is well known for saying “less is more.” However, he is also known for leaving I-beams exposed in his projects and painted white. Is it decoration to leave the structure revealed when it could have been covered by the wall? Or is this design more rational since it conveys the honesty of materials? It seems that pure logic is difficult to achieve when decoration is often a case of opinion.

Clean Lines

“Clean” lines are another byproduct of the idea that form should follow function. Many modernist pieces included flat roofs and other horizontal planes that were shifted to create an effect of overlapping volumes. The guidelines for all of this dynamism were left clear and unbroken. This is also related to honesty in the representation of materials. It was important that the intersection of materials or structural members be exposed so that the designers were candid about the process used to create the space.

Read on >>>> Source: My Modern Met 8 Modernist Styles That Define Modernism in Architecture

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