Modernism and Architecture

Modernism first emerged in the early twentieth century and many people believe it is an evolution that involved the Industrial Revolution (1820–1870). In the Industrial Revolution, there are new inventions such as building materials, technologies, construction methods. After post World War I and World War II, Architects began to drive some radical ideas to rebuild the city that became known as Modern, using innovation from the Industrial Revolution. Modern architecture is a movement, an architectural style that embraced minimalism, internationalization, and principle based-design popularized by architects between the 1920s and 1950s.

Modern Architecture Characteristic

Based on history, Modern architecture firstly introduced in Europe then travel to America. As the process of modernism, there are many architectural styles of modernism movement like Chicago School, Expressionism, International style, Functionalism, Constructivism, Brutalism, Metabolism, Essentialism. From this movement, we can learn that there is some characteristic of modern architecture.

  1. Industrial Materials

Crystal Palace in London’s Hyde Park was built with iron and plate glass structure to house the Great Exhibition of 1851. This structure appeared to be large crystals and was an unbelievable application of Industrial materials in that era.

Crystal Palace in London’s Hyde Park, The Great Industrial Exhibition of 1851

2. Form Follows Function

Architecture and design-driven purely by required functionality and not by artistic expression. Louis Sullivan argued that a tall building’s exterior design (form) should reflect the activities (functions) that take place inside its walls, represented by mechanical equipment, retail stores, and offices. His 1891 Wainwright Building in St. Louis, Missouri, is an iconic showcase for Sullivan’s philosophy and design principles.

Wainwright Building, St.Louis, Missouri, 2892 by Louis Sullivan

3. Minimalism

Design elements strive to convey the message of simplicity. The basic geometric forms, elements without decoration, simple materials, and the repetitions of structures represent a sense of order and essential quality. The works of De Stijl artists are a major reference: De Stijl expanded the ideas of expression by meticulously organizing basic elements such as lines and planes.

4. Rectilinear Forms

In a practical way of form follows function, rectangles tend to be a far more useful shape for structure than any other shape such as that almost all modernist architecture takes on rectilinear form.

5. Rejection Of Ornament

Modernist architect rejects decoration and ornament because it’s inefficient to use materials that way.

6. Cultureless & Natureless

Modernism embraces science, technology, and the industrial materials order over cultural context history and nature.

7. Ribbon Windows

In the 1920s architect, Le Corbusier developed what would become known as The Five Points of Modern Architecture. The ribbon windows that are an expression of the facade being hung from the structural frame. This was a break from load-bearing exterior walls that were together structure and facade.

Ribbon windows by Le Corbusier, Villa Savoye 1931

8. Roof Terrace

Elimination of gabled sloped roofs with flat roofs to create useable space.

9. Volume Over Mass

Modern architecture is more likely to focus on interior spaces created by the building as these are functional.

10. Open Concept

Steel and reinforced concrete allowed for smaller supports such as interiors could be mostly open space.

11. Dematerialization

Use of the least and lightest materials possible, for practical structure.

Tensile membrane architecture, dematerialization, Frey Otto

12. Truth to Materials

The principle that materials did not hide their true nature behind the decoration.

13. Black and White (Monochrome)

Colors are selected logically based on their reflective properties with white as for interiors for it is highly reflective and black used on exteriors to absorbs glare occasionally.

14. Internationalism

Ignores the local culture and nature in favor of a universal style based on science, technology, and cold logic.

15. Reorder

Bold forms that stand in opposition to their surroundings such that they symbolize the dominance of modernism logic and industrial order, such as Brutalism

16. Repetition

The organization of structures and facades into identical modules that are scaled without any variation.

Repetition in apartemens

17. Rebels

Frank Llyod Wright challenged the norms and emerging dogma of modernism. Fallingwater House is viewed as the first modern instance of organic architecture that blends structures into the existing natural surroundings, which is like an anti-thesis for modernist logical theory.

Fallingwater House by Frank Llyod Wright

The Fall Of Modern Architecture and The Emerging of Post-Modern Architecture

During the 1930s as much as 15% of the urban populations were living in poverty, and slum clearance was one of the many social problems of this decade. Modernist planning was a popular idea and used as a solution to these problems. But the movement could not adequately comprehend and cater to the social dynamics of family and community, and as result, many modernist buildings were pulled down in the seventies. For example, Pruitt-Igoe urban housing in St. Louis, Missouri, demolished in 1973 because of poor maintenance, a lot of criminal activity, and failed to drive 10.000 people to fill the complex. This became a symbol of the death of modernist architectural design.

Pruitt-Igoe urban housing demolished in 1973

The rigid ideological and rules of modernist architecture became unpopular from 1960 to the 1970s that brought a new wave of thinking known as post-modernism, a movement of expressive architecture that makes brave use of form and ornamentation.


  1. Jeremiah, D. (2000). Emergency, Economy and Modernisation: 1940–1953. In: Architecture and Design for the Family in Britain, 1900–70. Manchester: Manchester University Press. pp. 123–163.
  2. Hopkins, Owen. (2014). Architectural Guides a Visual Guide. pp.148–200.
  3. Kelly, Martin. (2019). Significant Eras of The American Industrial Revolution. Last accessed 27 October 2020.
  4. Spacey, John. (2017). Architecture: Modern vs Postmodern. Last accessed 27 October 2020.
  5. Brutalism.,scale%20use%20of%20poured%20concrete. Last accessed 27 October 2020.
  6. Spotlight: Frey Otto. 2020. Last accessed 27 October 2020.
  7. Crystal Palace. 2020. Last accessed 26 October 2020.
  8. Frank Llyod Wright, Fallingwater. Last accessed 26 October 2020.



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Ariya Yosea Wicaksono

Architectural Student of Institute Teknologi Sepuluh Nopember