What is Modern Architecture?
Modern architecture is the term used to describe the simplified, unornamented building styles of the late 19th and the 20th centuries. These building styles are also known by other labels like International Style, Neue Sachlichkeit or New Objectivity, and Functionalism. Modern architecture developed as a reaction to the design excesses of the Victorian and the Edwardian period.
Proponents of the modern style wanted designs that were more in keeping with the social and political developments of a new age. It also became possible to implement these new design ideas as a result of new technological and engineering developments. Materials like glass, steel, iron and concrete began to be widely used in construction.
The architects who designed in the modern style were mainly inspired by machine aesthetics. They determined the form of a building according to its functional requirements and the materials to be used. Simplified forms were preferred and all unnecessary details were banished.
Some prominent modern architects were Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright in the USA, Otto Wagner in Vienna, Victor Horta in Brussels, Le Corbusier in France and Antoni Gaudi in Barcelona. The German architects Ludwig Mies Van der Rohe and Walter Gropius ran the famous Bauhaus school that was a major influence on the modern movement. At the outbreak of the Second World War, many of the leading Baushaus figures fled to the USA from Europe and took their design ideas with them.
Modernism proved very popular in the USA. For a long time, nearly 50 years, modernism was the definitive style used to build commercial, institutional and public buildings. The style did not catch on that well with single residential dwellings.
Notable buildings in the modern style are William Le Baron Jenney’s Home Insurance Building in Chicago and the Seagram building by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe in New York. Modern architects were also concerned with city planning. Le Corbusier designed the city of Chandigarh in India and was involved in designing Brasilia in Brazil.
The principle problem with modern architecture was its uncompromising focus on functionality and rectilinear forms. There was no inclination to give designs more humanizing touches and no concession to local styles. This made modern style buildings appear rather stark and sterile.
Critics of modern architecture argued that aesthetics and accessibility were as important as functionality. Furthermore, the insistence on rectilinear forms was stifling creativity. Disenchanted with the modern styles, many architects began to move towards the more organic designs of post-modernism.