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From a movement that eschewed ornamentation in favor of function, to a solution for social issues, Modernist architecture has been influencing building design since before the Second World War. Key principles such as anti-historicism, function, progress and social morality translated to high expectations, ones that often did not meet the real needs and wants of families and communities.
In the 1970s, Modern architecture was declared dead and many Modernist buildings were demolished. Yet, to this day, Modern-era buildings such as English architect Maxwell Fry’s Kensal House remain celebrated prototypes of social housing solutions 80 years after being built. Furthermore, the marriage of technology and design employed by Modernists gave us once-radical developments like the skyscraper. What role will this famed, albeit flawed, architectural style play as we move into the future? Let’s explore.
Aside from the underlying principles of Modernist architecture, famously summarized by American architect Louis Sullivan as “form follows function,” the design style has a specific and recognizable aesthetic. The mixed-use of cubic and cylindrical shapes feel asymmetrical, while flat roofs and the absence of ornamentation or moldings create a clean and simplified look compared to previous heavily decorated styles.
As for materials, the use of metal, glass and exposed concrete gave Modernist buildings an industrial or utilitarian appearance. A fitting description based on Modernist architecture pioneer Le Corbusier’s declaration that a house is “a machine for living in.” Stark, neutral colors like white, cream or grey were another mark of Modernist architecture.
While Le Corbusier, widely regarded as the most important architect of the 20th century, is perhaps the most well-known Modernist, another architect was actually the first to put Modern design principles into practice. Walter Gropius, founder of the famed Bauhaus design school, pioneered Modernist architectural features such as the glass curtain wall on his building Fagus Factory in 1911. By the late 1920s, Modernism had taken hold in Europe and begun to spread to America.
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