Everything you need to know about Modern Architecture.

In one of our previous articles, we’ve discussed the architectural style Expressionist, which is one of the three dominant styles of Modern Architecture. In this article, we are going to understand what is Modern architecture or Modernism.

Before we dive into the details of Modern Architecture, the idea of what is it must be clear. Many people tend to confuse Modern Architecture with Contemporary Architecture which leads to misunderstandings of the entire architecture history. Modern Architecture has flaws that make it impressionable in society. The audience anyhow needs a very simple answer for their quick understanding. So here it is,

First, let’s understand the difference between Modern and contemporary architecture. Modern Architecture specifies an architectural style of a certain period in the past, whereas contemporary architecture means architecture today or the one being presently practiced.

Now that we know what the difference is, let’s move further;

What is Modern Architecture, its characteristics, pioneers, breakdown?

Modern architecture, also known as the Modernism movement emerged at the end of the 19th century breaking down the era of the old or classic architecture with its new forms and designs. This style of architecture emphasizes functionality over ornamentation. Well, what does it means? In simple words, the Modernism movement lacks decoration while the structures are focused on function, i.e, performing for the intended use.

Modern Architecture however came in by replacing hand-made craftsmanship with machine-made industrialization. The dawn of this movement gave rise to a revolution in materials, with the use of cast iron, drywall plate glass, and reinforced concrete, to build strong, light, and tall structures.

Introduction of Modern Architecture.

The Chicago world fair, in 1893 gave a stage for Louis Sullivan to present his profound new ideas for modernist architecture. He added ‘Form follows function’ as the motto of the modernist movement, which specifies the design done in such a way that it can be used for intended purpose only. In general, buildings designed under this style of architecture are often said to be flat and boxy with barely any decoration in them.

Before we step further, let’s see a little about the Architect as discussed in the previous paragraph.

Who is Louis Sullivan?

Popularly known as, ‘Father of Modernism’, or ‘Father of Skyscrapers’ Louis Henry Sullivan was an American Architect and an influencer to the Chicago school. He also was a mentor and guide to another famous architect named Frank Lloyd Wright who has his very famous works in modern architecture. Louis Sullivan had his very first year of architecture studies at the age of 16, done at MIT, which he notably dropped from after a year. Later, after establishing a firm in collaboration with Dankmer Adler, he designed 256 buildings in total, out of which only 30 still stand. In 1944, Sullivan became the second architect to receive the AIA Gold Medal.

Modern Architecture survived a lot encompassing several sub-styles that span nearly 60 years. Well, which are those sub-styles? Let’s have a look,

Several styles emerged during the period of Modernism, but only a few got well known. In the pursuit of development and recognition, these styles marked victory.

  1. International style (1920s- 1970s)
  2. Constructivist (1919-1931)
  3. Expressionist (1918-1931)

While many may argue with other styles of architecture like Brutalist to be a part of Modern Architecture, things are not that way. Like the above-mentioned example, several other architectural styles are influenced by the 20th century Modernist movement but are not the same. They share some of the key features with modern architecture but have contradictory characteristics.

  1. International Style- 
Image by David Mark from Pixabay

Willis Tower, Chicago Illinois

One of the most dominant styles of Modern Architecture in the Middle of the 20th century, the International style developed in Europe and the United States in the 1920s and ’30s, has set up various examples across the world to date. The international style or Internationalism was closely related to modern architecture due to its characteristics. This style was first introduced by Henry Russell Hitchcock an American architectural historian and Philip C. Johnson an American architect in their collaborative essay International style: Architecture since 1922, which was presented as a catalog in an exhibition held at the Museum of Modern Art. The three principles for International style intended in this catalog were the volume of space (as opposed to mass and solidity), regularity, and flexibility. This briefly summarizes that volume is considered rather than mass, emphasizes balance as opposed to building symmetry and the expulsion of ornament used.


Common characteristics of this architectural style are rectilinear forms, plane and light surfaces devoid of any ornamentation, use of glass, steel, and reinforced concrete, open interiors, and higher use of cantilever construction.

2. Constructivist- 

Image by snow-dog from Pixabay

Shukhov tower, Moscow, Russia

This style of architecture originated in the soviet union at the beginning of 1915. This art aimed to reflect Modern Industrial Society and Urban Space. As a modernist style of architecture, it also rejected any kind of decoration. Constructivism in architecture emerged from the Constructivist art movement that stood out from Russian Futurism. Tatlin’s tower by futurist Vladimir Tatlin was the first and most famous constructivist architecture project, although remaining unfinished, it set the revolution by its futuristic ethos and political slants to the upcoming projects in the 1920s.

Constructivism to be explained most thoroughly is when an individual creates his knowledge rather than absorbing it from a source, to construct your vision and determining reality from your experiences as a learner.


There are no specific characteristics for Constructivism, however, it aims to bring abstract or non-objective ideas in the form of cubism into reality. Also, it has no relevance with any of the previous styles of architecture that makes it completely different and new.

3. Expressionist-

Image by Steven Hill from Pixabay

Sydney Opera House, Sydney, Australia

One of my previous articles already has a detailed discussion on Expressionist architecture. If you might not know what the term is for, let’s take a brief recap, Expressionist architecture works on presenting the world from the subjective or emotional perspective that arouses within a person, the purpose of an Expressionist architect is to present his thoughts and feelings in a structural form. A popular example of this kind of architecture is the Sydney Opera House in Sydney, Australia.

Modern Architecture also has some characteristics that may help you identify buildings related to this style of architecture. These are as follows:

  1. Most components are at 90 degrees to each other and strictly emphasizes horizontal and vertical lines.
  2. Lack of ornamentation/ decoration.
  3. Rectilinear forms
  4. Flat roofs.
  5. Wide use of curtain walls.
  6. Use of materials like steel, glass, and reinforced concrete.
  7. Asymmetrical designs.

Some famous pioneers related to Modernist architecture are Le Corbusier, Mies van der Rohe, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Louis Kahn.

Modernist architecture survived till the middle of the 20th century until postmodernism took over. A reaction set in against modernism with the return of the traditional materials and forms and with the use of ornamentation in the structures for a better look.


The Fallingwater residence in Pennsylvania

The Falling water residence designed by Architect Frank Lloyd Wright, in 1939 is located in southwest Pennsylvania’s laurel highlands. The idea of the house strongly emphasized the harmony between man and nature. In his most beautiful design, Frank Lloyd Wright is said to be reflecting Japanese architecture. With the use of both modern and organic architecture, he made the best out of one’s thoughts. The pleasant surroundings with the freshness of nature and water falling down the hills make the house impressionable. With such remarkable architecture, Frank Lloyd Wright is considered one of the best of his time.

3 thoughts on “Everything you need to know about Modern Architecture.

  1. Pingback: The pride of Dubai, Burj Khalifa. – A Student's Architectural Insight!

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