Architecture 101: Spotlight on Modern/Contemporary

Posted by    |    September 15th, 2012 at 5:15 am

“Less is More.”
Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, pioneering modernist architect

Form follows function, free flowing space, “skin and bones” design- benchmark descriptors of the Modern and Contemporary architectural movements.  The terms modern and contemporary are often used interchangeably.  However, in architectural terms, they are actually quite different.  Lets dive in and explore first how Modernism came to be, how it is woven into the fabric of American architecture and how  contemporary artists are taking modern design to an entirely new 21st century standard.

The Modernist Architectural movement arose in the mid 20th century mostly as a response to the Industrial Revolution.  New manufacturing and production techniques allowed for new and improved building materials such as steel, glass and machine cut brick and stone.  As these materials began to become more readily available, their usage flowed naturally into the development of new building techniques, creating a “machine aesthetic”- the clear use of modernized materials and equipment in the structural design of both living and working spaces.  In addition, Modernism arose as a response to the lavish and often excessive elements of Victorian design, bringing to life the concept of “form following function,” and dismissing the Victorian elements of decoration and ornamentation.  Early modernist architects, including Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Frank Lloyd Wright, championed the notion that the shape and style of a building should be based on its function, and the materials and techniques used in designing such structures should speak for themselves in terms of scope and scale. 

Although mid 20th century Modern architecture was heavily influenced by the use of steel, glass and stone, and its structural support elements remain largely visible to the point where they contribute significantly to the overall aesthetic of the dwelling, mid-century designers remained steadfast in their commitment to blending the structure with its surroundings, paying careful attention to how the lines of the building fit into the natural landscape.  Despite their linear, bold and often asymmetrical design- through the use of windows, angles and other strategically placed design elements- many such dwellings allow for maximum enjoyment of the outdoors. 

As Modernization gave way to the Information age, the commitment to living spaces designed to maximize function and utility grew.  Although the majority of new construction still tends to follow traditional elevations and curb appeal, the interior spaces found in most new construction pulls its concept from early modernist elements like free flowing space, natural light and open floor plans.  Contemporary architecture drawing directly from Modernism features warmer, updated and more aesthetically pleasing characteristics than its mid 20th century predecessors.  Clean lines, asymmetry and the use of structural elements remains, but the whole package speaks directly to the needs of modern homeowners- outdoor living spaces, stainless kitchens and user friendly floor plans. 

The city of Dallas offers a wide range of Modern and Contemporary styled homes.  In fact, almost every neighborhood features its own unique sprinkling of these highly styled gems:  Downtown, North Dallas, Uptown, Turtle Creek and University Park stand out among others.  Many mid century authentic Modernist homes have been remodeled to reflect the trend toward the softer, more forward thinking Contemporary style so desired by many discerning homeowners.  High windows, low pitched roofs, cantilevers and balconies, and irregular shapes define most Dallas Contemporary architecture, while interior spaces allow for maximum use of natural light and open free-flowing floor plans designed with today’s family in mind. 

Drawing from post Industrial Revolution design standards and trends, and maximizing the use of natural elements in architecture, Modernist and Contemporary homes call to homeowners with nostalgia for the most recent past and respect for an imminent future.  Such dwellings offer ease of living, transitional space design and pleasing aesthetics rooted in modern history and brimming with forward thinking vision.