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Modern Architecture is a style and design movement characterized by simplicity, functionality, and the use of industrial materials such as steel and concrete. It emerged in the early 20th century as a response to traditional architectural styles, and became popular in the aftermath of World War II.

Key figures in the development of Modern Architecture include Le Corbusier, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, and Walter Gropius. The style is characterized by clean lines, an emphasis on functionality, and the use of new materials and construction techniques.

“The basics of modern architecture were derived from pathbreaking revolutions, Inspiring minds to evolve techniques & materials to ensure different solutions.”

  • The period from late 1800’s to the present has been described as one of the most creative and productive times in the history of architecture. Architects have used new materials and new building methods to develop the first completely new styles in centuries.
  • The remarkable changes in architecture since the late 1800’s have emerged from the theories & works of some great architects.

Many masterpieces of modern architecture were designed or influenced by some major architects. These include Frank Lloyd Wright of the U.S.A, Walter Gropius & Ludwig Mies Van Der Rohe of Germany, Le Corbusier of France, Charles R Mackintosh of Great Britain, Louis-i-Kahn of U.S.A.

1) Origin and sources of modern architecture


The various sources & factors that are responsible for the development of completely distinct & creative architectural styles are:-

  • A need among the architects of the mid & late 1800’s to develop an architectural style that would reflect their time.
  • Architects wanted to break free from the ornamentation & highly decorative revival structures & instead stressed on building’s simple & spare designs.
  • Industrial revolution was also a major factor that led to the idea of modern architecture. It generated new problems, supplied new materials & suggested new forms.
  • Industrialization proved that architecture was more than just ornamentation, grandness & decoration. It had to cater to the basic requirements of the masses.
  • Industrialization transformed lifestyle in cities, led to the fulfillment of new building tasks- railway stations, suburban houses, skyscrapers.
  • With new building materials like R.C.C., steel & glass the construction became faster & was ideal for the buildings to be constructed.
  • Industrialization also triggered collapse of vernacular buildings. It also created new centre of economy & power.
  • It also implied the rejection of superficial imitations of past forms, & a more direct & honest portrayal of the contemporary world.
  • Architecture was purely based on practical utilities & the technical, structural & creative advances of modern era.

2) The philosophies & developments of modern architecture

  • There were many developments in modern architecture with the passage of time. These were based on various philosophies promoted by the leading architects from time to time.
  • One of the first major architects to work the modern philosophy were Hedrick Petrus Berlage used an unusual red brick masterpiece, the Amsterdam Stock Exchange (1903). Otto Wagner founded modern arch. In Austria in 1890’s. He designed structures with little ornamentation, flat roofs that projected beyond the walls.
  • Josef Hoffmann designed a house called Palais Stoclet (1911) in Brussels, Belgium. The plain white walls, cubelike geometric outlines of the house made it one of the most advanced architectural works of the early 1900’s.

4) Modern architecture philosophies

The major philosophies that define modern architecture are:

  1. Arts & Crafts movement.
  2. Skyscraper as symbol.
  3. Rationalism
  4. Futurism
  5. Cubism
  6. Expressionism
  7. Functionalism
  8. Transformation
  9. Rationalism

i) Arts & crafts movement

  • Founded in mid-1860 in England by William Morris.
  • Creation of high-quality designs for furniture, stained glass, textiles, & wallpaper.
  • Movement encouraged a new artistic freedom & spirit experimentation that played an important role in modern arch. In Europe.
  • Indigenous materials & usages were to be translated to good use by the modern practitioner.
  • Fusion of houses with gardens, use of pergolas, pathways, sunken gardens were main features of houses of this period.
  • There was sharp interplay of wall planes & openings, silhouettes & surfaces as well as direct use of functional elements like chimneys, etc.
  • Frank Lloyd Wright was the most influential architect of this period.
  • Arts & Crafts movement had an important function by stressing the values of simplicity, honesty & necessity.

ii) Skyscrapers as symbols

  • Skyscraper was a part of a system which included railroads, & the closer suburbs.
  • Chicago of the late 19th century demonstrated the fundamental forces & the typical components of the capitalist city in the age of steel & steam.
  • A shift from the notion of mechanism to the idea of a tall building as a living organism whose weight, pressure, tension, resistance could be experienced physically.
  • It was a white-collar building type, a direct expression of the division of labour between management & manufacturing.
  • Skyscrapers were derived out of the need of private buildings for trade & business such as warehouses, factories, & stock buildings etc.
  • Due to the revolution & modernization American cities were divided into rectangular grids & blocks. This led to the structures that would relate to the geometry of the city as well as solve the residential problems.

iii) Rationalism

  • Ideas that required a practical justification for formal effects.
  • Opened up a new language of abstraction & implied new ways in which nature’s lessons could be incorporated in architecture.
  • Rationalism & R.C.C were two elements that triggered the heroic period of modern architecture.
  • Main focus was on structure & function.
  • Concrete was widely used as it was cheap, standard, fireproof, flexible, could be moulded to any shape.
  • Grid plans & simple rectangular elevations of pleasing proportions were main features.
  • There were repetition of elements & forms, rectangular cubic forms were greatly used.
  • Le Corbusier evolved his idea of “Dom-ino” system that led the basis for future architectural & urban systems.

iv) Futurism

  • Stressed on the design of “type forms” that included industrial design, building elements, or components of urban structure.
  • In this ideology an artist had to function as a mediator between invention & standardization.
  • The main features included recessing of wall piers, glazing, brick moldings, etc.
  • Walter Gropius was one of the chief architects. He accommodated the symbols of the mod. World.
  • Futurism was a poetic movement that attacked traditionalism, championed an expression nourished by contemporary forces released by new industrial developments.
  • It was in the favor of revolutionary change, dynamism, speed of all sorts and the exploitation of the machine.
  • It pulled together a collection of progressivist attitudes, anti-traditional positions, & tendencies towards an abstract form.

v) Cubism

  • Visual & philosophical concerns with mechanization, moral yearnings for honesty, integrity, & simplicity; interpretations of new institutions & building types in industrial cities.
  • It stressed on the fusion of the entire 3-d structure with a geometrical & spatial character discovered on the picture plane.
  • Blending abstraction with fragments of observed reality, allowing space & form to merge with each other.
  • Le Corbusier was the chief architect to work in this style.
  • Main features were flat-roofed, simple rectangular structures made of R.C.C.
  • Geometrical forms, rectilinear grids, & intersecting planes were also the part of this style.
  • This style seemed to have a universal application from painting to typography.
  • Cantilevered conc. Construction was effectively blended with shimmering & transparent effects of glazing.
  • Schroder House a very good example pf this movement.

vi) Expressionism

  • It is used to group together a number of artists working in Holland & Germany between 1910 & 1925.
  • It includes works that are complex, jagged, & have a free-flowing form.
  • It also includes qualities like simplicity, rectangularity, & stasis.
  • The chief architects of this movement were Michel de Klerk & Walter Groupius.
  • The properties of steel & concrete were exploited effectively.
  • The sharp forms, romantic silhouettes, a rich play of reflecting & transparent surfaces define this movement.
  • Interlocking, interplay between density, weight & shadow, etc also define this period.
  • Le Corbusier developed his “Five Points in New Architecture”.

vii) Functionalism

  • It consisted of buildings in which function was given priority & importance.
  • It includes strip windows, flat roofs, grids of supports, cantilevered horizontal projections, metal railings & curved partitions.
  • Le Corbusier’s “Five Points in New Architecture “helped in the production of some masterpieces like Villa Savoye, Poisse.
  1. The functions could only be translated into the forms & spaces of arch. through the screen of the style.
  2. This was a style of symbolic forms that referred to the notions of functionalism.
  3. White plaster walls, plane surfaces were employed to convey a non-material quality, to suggest the abstraction of machine.
  4. This style provides a set of conventions, which in the compelling & profound work of art, come together in such a way that the conventionality is forgotten.
  5. The cruciform chrome columns, supply vertical accents of light, the polished marble & onyx surfaces, the glass planes etc also define this style.

Besides these philosophies, the leading architects like Frank Lloyd Wright, Le Corbusier, Walter Groupius, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Louis Sullivan, Alvar Aalto, Michel de Klerk etc. produced some of the finest works that have remained as symbols of Modernism.

Modern architecture is a broad term given to a number of building styles with similar characteristics; primarily the simplification of form and the elimination of ornament that first arose around 1900.

 By the 1940s these styles had been consolidated and identified as the International Style and became the dominant way of building for several decades in the twentieth century.

Modernism was superseded by postmodernism.

5) Origins of Modern architecture

Modern architecture is primarily driven by technological and engineering developments, availability of new materials such as iron, steel, concrete and glass drove the invention of new building techniques as part of the Industrial Revolution.

EX- the Crystal Palace by Joseph Paxton at the Great Exhibition of 1851 (early example) & Louis Sullivan’s development of the tall steel skyscraper in Chicago around 1890.

  • It is a matter of taste, a reaction against eclecticism and the lavish stylistic excesses of Victorian Era and Edwardian Art Nouveau.
  • Around 1900, a number of architects around the world began developing new architectural solutions to integrate traditional precedents (Gothic, for instance) with new technological possibilities.
  • The work of Louis Sullivan in Chicago, Victor Horta in Brussels, Antonio Gaudi in Barcelona, Otto Wagner in Vienna, and Charles Renée Mackintosh in Glasgow, Among many others, can be seen as a common struggle between old and new.

6) Modernism as dominant style

  • The big three are commonly recognized as Le Corbusier in France, and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Walter Gropius in Germany.
  • Mies van der Rohe and Gropius were both directors of the Bauhaus, one of a number of European schools and associations concerned with reconciling craft tradition and industrial technology.
  • Frank Lloyd Wright’s career parallels and influences the work of the European modernists.
  • In 1932 Philip Johnson and collaborator Henry-Russell Hitchcock identified it as stylistically similar and having a common purpose, and consolidated them into the International Style.
  • Architects who worked in the international style wanted to break with architectural tradition and design simple, unornamented buildings.
  • The most commonly used materials are glass for the facade, steel for exterior support, and concrete for the floors and interior supports; floor plans were functional and logical.
  • The style became most evident in the design of skyscrapers.
  • Its most famous/notorious manifestations include the United Nations headquarters, the Seagram Building, and Lever House by Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill, all in New York.
  • Le Corbusier once described buildings as “machines for living”, but people are not machines and do not want to live in machines.
  • Even Philip Johnson admitted he was “bored with the box.”

7) Characteristics of Modern architecture

Modern architecture is usually characterized by:

  • a rejection of historical styles as a source of architectural form (historicism)
  • an adoption of the principle that the materials and functional requirements determine
  • an adoption of the machine aesthetic
  • a rejection of ornament
  • a simplification of form and elimination of “unnecessary detail”
  • an adoption of expressed structure

8) Catchphrases of Modern architecture

“Form follows function” – first used by sculptor Horatio Greenough, more popularly by Louis Sullivan

“Less is more” – Mies van der Rohe

“Less is more only when more is too much” – Frank Lloyd Wright

“Less is a bore” – Robert Venturi, pioneer of Postmodern architecture; in response to the featureless International Style popularized by Mies van der Rohe

9) Neoclassicism/Picturesque

  • Neoclassicism is a group of diverse buildings and architects from 1750-1850 (roughly) which share a particular attitude about the expressive potential of architecture, rather than any identifiable physical characteristic.
  • The international movement was set in motion about 1750 by the following three occurrences:
  • Abbé Laugier’s Essay on Architecture (1753) which professed the authority of nature, a new attitude towards the past inspired by the documentation of ancient sites such as Pompeii, and the notion that architecture had a didactic function.
  • The Pantheon in Paris, designed by Jacques Germain Soufflot in 1731 gave lucid expression to the intellectual and visual ideas of the theorists.
  • It was secularized by the French revolutionary government and became a monument for the burial of national heroes.
  • Like Diderot’s Encyclopedia, the Panthéon attempted to summarize the knowledge of the day in light of a ration explanation of the universe and an increasingly skeptical attitude to religion.
  • On an urban scale, these ideas were articulated in the design of an ideal town, the saltworks at Arc and Senans at Chaux, by Claude-Nicolas Ledoux in the 1770s.
  • The individual buildings at Chaux illustrate the idea of articulating a structure’s function, or “architecture parlante.” Etienne Louis Boullée’s revolutionary architecture existed only on paper, and featured regular solids depicted in brooding, romantic ways.
  • Although his ideas may seem far from examples like the Panthéon in their visual language, Boullée’s architecture was also based on knowledge and reason.
  • This marriage of classical forms and emotional expression was carried to its extreme in the work of British architect John Soane, who frequently showed his buildings in a state of ruins or as a sequence of perspectives. His own home, now a museum, is evidence of his careful study of the past and his personal, nearly whimsical version of Neoclassicism.
  • Thomas Jefferson’s particularly American take on the movement is best seen in the planning of the University of Virginia, where architecture symbolized his liberal views on education and democracy.
  • Like other neoclassical ensembles, the university can be read as a catalogue of architectural elements.
  • The 1792 plan for Washington DC by Pierre Charles L’Enfant is the best example of a neoclassical city, not necessarily in its plan (which was baroque), but rather in its spacing of monumental buildings.
  • Like neoclassical architecture, it was intended to express larger ideas about history, nature, and the universe, and to underline the role of the architect as the purveyor of such knowledge.

10) Neoclassical Architecture c. 1780-1850

  • There are four main variations or phases of Neoclassicism; these are best described by William Pierson, Jr., in American Buildings and their Architects, vol. I: Colonial and Neoclassic Architecture:


  • Especially common in New England; a traditionalist approach to classicism, heavily influenced by English models. Charles Bullfinch, Samuel Macintyre. —  Federalist Style


  • An intellectual and moral approach to classicism, at first linked to Roman models. Symbolic and associational values stressed, with a goal of creating an expressive, “speaking architecture.” Best example: Thomas Jefferson. — Jefferson’s Idealist Style


  • Emphasized structure and classical building techniques, such as stone vaulting and domes. Best example: Benjamin Latrobe.

Greek revival (1818-1850)

  • The first truly national style in the United States. Strong associational values. Permeated all levels of building. — The Greek revival Style

Federalist Architecture

  • Especially common in New England; a traditionalist approach to classicism, heavily influenced by English models. Charles Bullfinch, Samuel Macintyre.

Greek revival

  • The Greek revival dominated American architecture during the period 1818-1850. It was the first truly national style in the United States, found in all regions of the country.
  • The popularity of the style was due to strong associations with classical tradition and democracy. The Greek Revival was very adaptable, and permeated all levels of building, from high to low.

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