Architecture shapes, and forms. Thus, simple, plain, geometric

Architecture comes in many different styles with different characteristics. This lesson is about the style of modern architecture and how to identify modern buildings.

Modern Architecture as a Style

If you had to describe your decorating style, what would it be? Do you like filling your shelves with antiques? Or maybe you like more rustic looking furniture? Or perhaps you like filling your geometric-shaped shelves with nothing at all? All of these are different styles for the inside of a home or building. Much like this, people have different tastes and styles for designing the outside of homes and buildings.

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The character, design, and style of a building or home is referred to as architecture.There are many different architectural styles characterized by the features that make a building or a home. In architecture, these features are classified as visual appearance, structure, materials, and historic period and apply to all styles of architecture, including modern.Modern architecture is an architectural style that refers to a large group of similar buildings that emerged in many countries by the practice of many architects between the 1920s and 1950s. Modern architecture first took off in Europe and then made its way into the American style.

Bauhaus, a German school of art and architecture, made a large impact on the style of modern architecture, such as the ‘less is more’ principle. When the school was closed due to pressure from the rising Nazi regime, its faculty immigrated to the United States. Thus, the Bauhaus influence traveled to America and was renamed the International Style. The International Style was suitable for all countries and cultures, because it was for the ‘modern man’ at anyplace he existed.

The International Style is comprised of key characteristics, including simplicity of form, functionality, clean structure, lack of ornamentation, and rejection of traditional styles.

Characteristics of Modern Architecture

Simplified Forms & Clean Lines

The ‘modern look’ means simplicity in form and design. Modern architecture is based on abstraction, which is created by clean lines, basic shapes, and forms.

Thus, simple, plain, geometric forms, rectangular shapes, and linear elements make the characteristics of modern architecture. This can be seen in the Weissenhof Siedlung in Stuttgart, Germany, that showcases a box-like building, cubic volume, a flat roof, and clean lines.

Functionality & Open Floor Plan

The form of a modern building is also determined by its functionality. Functionality means performing for intended use, fitness for purpose. In modern architecture, the emphasis put into functionality is best defined with the credo of ‘form follows function.’ The concept of open space is weaved into functionality.

Rather than traditional separated spaces (or rooms), the modern style creates undivided living and working spaces that function as multiple-use areas.Open plan involves interior and exterior relationships, too; spaces open not only to each other but also to the world outside. Corner windows; sliding glass doors; outdoor living spaces such as courtyards, patios, and balconies; and natural landscape features define the style of modern architecture. The Barcelona Pavilion in Spain is a good example of an open floor plan, characterized by few walls, a seamless connection, and visual continuity between spaces of the building.

Clean Structure, New Technology, & New Materials

Development of new materials and technology is fundamental to modern architecture. Clean structural design involves exposed structure, reinforced concrete, steel framing, and glass.

When first introduced, steel framing offered not only new possibilities of construction to modern buildings (like cantilevering and curtain walls), but also design strategies such as visual ‘weightlessness’. The home to the New Bauhaus, located in Chicago, showcases many of these structural features.

Lack of Ornamentation & Rejection of Historical Styles

Modern architecture rejects traditional ornamentation and historical styles. Thus, ornamentation, or the excessive use of elements, is eliminated. Traditional materials, such as wood, brick, and stone, are still used in modern architecture but in new ways to create the simple geometric forms and plain, unornamented surfaces of the modern style.

Lesson Summary

Modern architecture emerged from the Europe-based Bauhaus and its American expansion called the International Style.

Because modern architecture adopted modern industry, new materials and technology resulted in characteristics such as simplicity of forms; functional, flexible, and flowing spaces; exposed structure; visual weightlessness; and lack of ornamentation. Thus, modern buildings show features such as clean lines made from beams and columns, plain surfaces, flat roofs, box-like forms, cubic volumes, open floor plans, and clean structures.


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