Modernism - Picture Dictionary of Modern Architecture

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Modern Beinecke Library, Yale University, Gordon Bunshaft, 1963
Picture Dictionary of Modern Architecture: Modernism Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut. Photo by Barry Winiker/Photolibrary Collection/Getty Images (cropped)

Modernism wasn't just another style. It presented a new way of thinking about architecture. These photos illustrate Modernist, Post-modernist, and other 20th and 21st century approaches to building design. As you view the images, notice that modern architects often draw on several design philosophies to create buildings that are startling and unique. Architects, like other artists, build on the past.

The 1963 Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library at Yale University Library is a Modernist building designed by SOM's Gordon Bunshaft.

When did the modern era of architecture begin? Many people believe the roots of 20th century Modernity are with the Industrial Revolution (1820-1870). The manufacturing of new building materials, the invention of new construction methods, and the growth of cities inspired an architecture that became known as Modern.

In 1896, the same year American architect Louis Sullivan gave us his form follows function essay, the Viennese architect Otto Wagner wrote Moderne Architektur—an instruction manual of sorts, A Guidebook for His Students to This Field of Art:

"All modern creations must correspond to the new materials and demands of the present if they are to suit modern man; they must illustrate our own better, democratic, self-confident, ideal nature and take into account man's colossal technical and scientific achievements, as well as his thoroughly practical tendency -- that is surely self-evident!"—Otto Wagner, Modern Architecture (3rd ed., 1902), translated by Harry Francis Mallgrave, Getty Center Publication, p. 78

Yet the word comes from the Latin modo, meaning "just now," which makes us wonder if every generation has a modern movement. British architect and historian Kenneth Frampton has attempted to "establish the beginning of the period."

"The more rigorously one searches for the origin of modernity...the further back it seems to lie. One tends to project it back, if not to the Renaissance, then to that movement in the mid-18th century when a new view of history brought architects to question the Classical canons of Vitruvius and to document the remains of the antique world in order to establish a more objective basis on which to work."—Kenneth Frampton, Modern Architecture (3rd ed., 1992), p. 8

The 1963 rare books library at Yale University does everything one would expect of modern architecture. Besides being functional, the building's aesthetic rejects Classicism. And see those panels on the outer walls? The facade is built with thin pieces of Vermont marble, allowing a filtered natural light through the stone and into the interior spaces—a remarkable technical achievement with natural materials and a modern design by SOM architect Gordon Bunshaft.

Learn More About the Beinecke Library:

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Expressionism and Neo-expressionism

Rear View of Einstein Tower (Einsteinturm) in Potsdam is an Expressionist work by architect Erich Mendelsohn, 1920
Picture Dictionary of Modern Architecture: Expressionism and Neo-expressionism Rear View of Einstein Tower (Einsteinturm) in Potsdam is an Expressionist work by architect Erich Mendelsohn, 1920. Photo ©Marcus Winter via Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic CC BY-SA 2.0)

Built in 1920, the Einstein Tower (Einsteinturm) in Potsdam is an Expressionist work by architect Erich Mendelsohn.

Expressionism evolved from the work of avant garde artists and designers in Germany and other European countries during the first decades of the twentieth century. Key features of Expressionism are:

  • distorted shapes
  • fragmented lines
  • organic or biomorphic forms
  • massive sculpted shapes
  • extensive use of concrete and brick
  • lack of symmetry
  • many fanciful works rendered on paper but never built

Neo-expressionism built upon expressionist ideas. Architects in the 1950s and 1960s designed buildings that expressed their feelings about the surrounding landscape. Sculptural forms suggested rocks and mountains. Organic and Brutalist architecture can often be described as Neo-expressionist.

Expressionist and Neo-expressionist Architects

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Black and White Model of Tatlin's Tower (left) by Vladimir Tatlin and Sketch of Skyscraper on Strastnoy Boulevard in Moscow (right) by El Lissitzky
Model of Tatlin's Tower (left) by Vladimir Tatlin and Sketch of Skyscraper on Strastnoy Boulevard in Moscow (right) by El Lissitzky. Photos by Heritage Images / Hulton Archive / Getty Images (cropped and combined)

Russian architect Vladimir Tatlin launched the constructivist movement when he proposed the futuristic, glass-and-steel Tatlin's Tower.

During the 1920s and early 1930s, a group of avant-garde architects in Russia launched a movement to design buildings for the new socialist regime. Calling themselves constructivists, they believed that design began with construction. Their buildings emphasized abstract geometric shapes and functional machine parts.

Constructivist architecture combined engineering and technology with political ideology. Constructivist architects tried to suggest the idea of humanity's collectivism through the harmonious arrangement of diverse structural elements.

The most famous work of constructivist architecture was never actually built. In 1920, Russian architect Vladimir Tatlin proposed a futuristic monument to the 3rd International in the city of St. Petersburg (then known as Petergrado). The unbuilt project, called Tatlin's Tower, used spiral forms to symbolize revolution and human interaction. Inside the spirals, three glass-walled building units - a cube, a pyramid, and a cylinder - would rotate at different speeds.

Soaring 400 meters (about 1,300 feet), Tatlin's Tower would have been taller than the Eiffel Tower in Paris. The cost to erect such a building would have been enormous. But, even though Tatlin's Tower wasn't built, the plan helped launch the Constructivist movement. By the late 1920s, Constructivism had spread outside the USSR. Many European architects called themselves constructivists. However, within a few years Constructivism faded from popularity and was eclipsed by the Bauhaus movement in Germany.

Constructivist buildings have many of these features:

  • Glass and steel
  • Machine-made building parts
  • Technological details such as antennae, signs, and projection screens
  • Abstract geometric shapes
  • A sense of movement

Constructivist Architects:

Learn More:

  • Lost Vanguard: Russian Modernist Architecture 1922-1932 by Richard Pare, 2007
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  • Soviet Modernism 1955-1991: Unknown History by Az W, the Vienna Centre of Architecture (Architekturzentrum Wien), 2012
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Bauhaus design Gropius House, modern, white, built in 1938, Lincoln, Massachusetts
Picture Dictionary of Modern Architecture: Bauhaus The Gropius House, built in 1938, Lincoln, Massachusetts. Photo by Paul Marotta/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

Architect Walter Gropius used Bauhaus ideas when he built his monochrome home in Lincoln, Massachusetts.

Bauhaus is a German expression meaning house for building, or, literally, Construction House. In 1919, the economy in Germany was collapsing after a crushing war. Architect Walter Gropius was appointed to head a new institution that would help rebuild the country and form a new social order. Called the Bauhaus, the Institution called for a new "rational" social housing for the workers. Bauhaus architects rejected "bourgeois" details such as cornices, eaves, and decorative details. They wanted to use principles of Classical architecture in their most pure form: functional, without ornamentation of any kind.

Generally, Bauhaus buildings have flat roofs, smooth façades, and cubic shapes. Colors are white, gray, beige, or black. Floor plans are open and furniture is functional. Popular construction methods of the time—steel-frame with glass curtain walls—were used for both residential and commercial architecture. More than any architectural style, however, the Bauhaus Manifesto promoted principles of creative collaboration—planning, designing, drafting, and construction are tasks equal within the building collective. Art and craft should have no difference.

The Bauhaus school originated in Weimar, Germany (1919), moved to Dessau, Germany (1925), and disbanded when the Nazis rose to power. Walter Gropius, Marcel Breuer, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, and other Bauhaus leaders migrated to the United States. The term International Style was applied to the American form of Bauhaus architecture.

About the Home on This Page:

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Oslo City Hall in Norway, Venue for Nobel Peace Prize Ceremony
Picture Dictionary of Modern Architecture: Functionalism Oslo City Hall in Norway, Venue for Nobel Peace Prize Ceremony. Photo by John Freeman/Lonely Planet Images Collection/Getty Images

When American architect Louis Sullivan coined the phrase "form follows function," he described what later became a dominant trend in Modernist architecture. Louis Sullivan and other architects were striving for "honest" approaches to building design that focused on functional efficiency. Functionalist architects believed that the ways buildings are used and the types of materials available should determine the design.

Of course, Louis Sullivan lavished his buildings with ornamental details that did not serve any functional purpose. The philosophy of functionalism was followed more closely by Bauhaus and International Style architects.

Toward the end of the 20th century, the term Functionalism was used to describe any practical structure that was quickly constructed for purely practical purposes without an eye for artistry. However, for Bauhaus and other early Fuctionalists, the concept was a liberating philosophy that freed architecture from frilly excesses of the past.

Architect Louis I. Kahn sought honest approaches to design when he designed the Functionalist Yale Center for British Art in New Haven, Connecticut. Looking much different than the functional Rådhuset in Oslo, Norway, both buildings have been cited as examples of Functionalism in architecture.

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International Style

United Nations Headquarters from the East River in New York City, the Chrysler Building skyscraper in the background
International Style of the United Nations Secretariat building seen from the East River in New York City, the Chrysler Building skyscraper in the background. Photo by Bruce Yuanyue Bi / Lonely Planet Images / Getty Images

The United Nations Secretariat building in New York is a famous example of the International Style.

International Style is a term often used to describe Bauhaus-like architecture in the United States. The name came from the book The International Style by historian and critic Henry-Russell Hitchcock and architect Philip Johnson. The book was published in 1932 in conjunction with an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. The term is again used in a later book, International Architecture by Walter Gropius, founder of Bauhaus.

While German Bauhaus architecture had been concerned with the social aspects of design, America's International Style became a symbolism of Capitalism: The International Style is the favored architecture for office buildings and is also found in upscale homes built for the rich.

Features of American International Style:

  • geometric, monolithic skyscrapers
  • flat roof
  • glass curtain wall
  • no ornamentation
  • stone, steel, glass construction materials

By the mid-twentieth century, many variations of the International Style had evolved. In southern California and the American Southwest, architects adapted the International Style to the warm climate and arid terrain, creating an elegant yet informal style known as Desert Modernism.

Examples of International Style:

One of the most famous examples of the International Style is the United Nations Secretariat building (shown here), originally designed by an international team of architects including Le Corbusier, Oscar Niemeyer, and Wallace Harrison. The smooth glass-sided slab, one of the first uses of curtain-wall cladding on a tall building, dominates New York's skyline along the East River. The United Nations Secretariat building was completed in 1952 and renovated in 2012. Other New York City buildings that are International in design include The Seagram Building and MetLife Building.

Learn More:

  • "Revival of an Icon" by Joann Gonchar, AIA, Architectural Record, September 2012
  • The International Style by Henry-Russell Hitchcock and Philip Johnson, 1997
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Desert Modernism

Desert Modernism Kaufmann House in Palm Springs, California. 1946. Richard Neutra, architect.
Desert Modernism Kaufmann House in Palm Springs, California. 1946. Richard Neutra, architect. Photo by Francis G. Mayer / Corbis Historical / Getty Images (cropped)

Architects in southern California and the American Southwest adapted ideas from the European Bauhaus movement to the warm climate and arid terrain.

Desert Modernism was a mid-twentieth century approach to modernism that capitalized on the sunny skies and warm climate of southern California and American Southwest. With expansive glass and streamlined styling, Desert Modernism was an regional approach to International Style architecture. Rocks, trees, and other landscape features were often incorporated into the design.

Characteristics of Desert Modernism:

  • Expansive glass walls and windows
  • Dramatic rooflines
  • Wide overhangs
  • Steel and plastic combined with wood and stone
  • Open floor plans
  • Outdoor living spaces incorporated into the overall design

Architects Associated With Desert Modernism:

See examples of Desert Modernism:

Examples of Desert Modernism may be found throughout southern California and parts of the American Southwest, but the largest and best-preserved examples of the style are concentrated in Palm Springs, California.

Also important were the Alexander Houses, sophisticated homes that the Alexander Construction Company built in Palm Springs, California.

Sources for this Article:

  • Palm Springs Modern: Houses in the California Desert by Adéle Cygelman, Rizzoli Reissue edition 2015
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  • Palm Springs Weekend: The Architecture and Design of a Midcentury Oasis by Andrew Danish and Alan Hess, 2001
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Berlin Holocaust Memorial by Peter Eisenman
Picture Dictionary of Modern Architecture: Structuralism Berlin Holocaust Memorial by Peter Eisenman. Photo (cc) cactusbones/

The Berlin Holocaust Memorial is a controversial Structuralist work by architect Peter Eisenman.

Structuralism is based on the idea that all things are built from a system of signs and these signs are made up of opposites: male/female, hot/cold, old/young, etc. For Structuralists, design is a process of searching for the relationship between elements. Structuralists are also interested in the social structures and mental processes that contributed to the design.

Structuralist architecture will have a great deal of complexity within a highly structured framework. For example, a Structuralist design may consist of cell-like honeycomb shapes, intersecting planes, cubed grids, or densely clustered spaces with connecting courtyards.

Architect Peter Eisenman often brings a Structuralist approach to his works.

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The Bank of China Tower, 1990, by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Ieoh Ming Pei
Picture Dictionary of Modern Architecture: Formalism The Bank of China Tower, 1990, by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Ieoh Ming Pei. Photo by Guy Vanderelst/Photographer's Choice Collection/Getty Images

Architect I.M. Pei has been praised for the "elegant formalism" of his Bank of China Tower in Hong Kong.

As the name suggests, Formalism emphasizes form. The architect is interested in visual relationships between the building parts and the work as a whole. Shape, often on a monumental scale, is the focus of attention. Lines and rigid geometric shapes predominate in Formalist architecture.

You will find Formalism in many Modernist buildings, especially in Bauhaus and International Style architecture. Architect I.M. Pei has often been praised for the "elegant formalism" of his works.

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Picture Dictionary of Modern Architecture: High-tech Centre Pompidou in Paris, France
Picture Dictionary of Modern Architecture: High-tech Centre Pompidou in Paris, France. Photo by Patrick Durand / Sygma / Getty Images (cropped)

The Centre Pompidou (1977) in Paris is a High-tech building by Richard Rogers, Renzo Piano, and Gianfranco Franchini.

High-tech buildings are often called machine-like. Steel, aluminium, and glass combine with brightly colored braces, girders, and beams. Many of the building parts are prefabricated in a factory and assembled on site. The support beams, duct work, and other functional elements are placed on the exterior of the building, where they become the focus of attention. The interior spaces are open and adaptable for many uses.

The High-tech Centre Pompidou in Paris, France appears to be turned inside out, revealing its inner workings on the exterior facade. Norman Foster is another well-known architect who often designs this way.

See more images of Centre George Pompidou:

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Massive Concrete Detailing Is Distinctive to the Brutalist Style Of Modern Architecture on Boston's City Hall in 1969
Massive Concrete Detailing Is Distinctive to the Brutalist Style Of Modern Architecture on Boston's City Hall in 1969. Photo by Paul Marotta / Getty Images Entertainment / Getty Images (cropped)

Rugged reinforced concrete construction, or Béton Brut, lead to an approach popularly known as Brutalism.

The Bauhaus architect Le Corbusier used the French phrase béton brut, or raw concrete, to describe the construction of his rough, concrete buildings. Brutalism grew out of the Bauhaus Movement and the béton brut buildings by Le Corbusier and his followers.

Heavy and angular, Brutalist buildings can be constructed quickly and economically. Common features include:

  • Precast concrete slabs
  • Rough, unfinished surfaces
  • Exposed steel beams
  • Massive, sculptural shapes

The Prizker Prize-winning architect Paulo Mendes da Rocha is often called a "Brazilian Brutalist" because his buildings are constructed of prefabricated and mass-produced concrete components. The Bauhaus architect Marcel Breuer turned to Brutalism when he designed the 1966 Whitney Museum in New York City and the Atlanta, Georgia Central Library.

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Seattle Public Library looks like an open book in glass.
Picture Dictionary of Modern Architecture: Deconstructivism Seattle Public Library central branch, 2004, designed by Rem Koolhaas, Seattle, Washington. Photo by Charlie Schuck/The Image Bank Collection/Getty Images (cropped)

The Seattle Public Library by Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas is an example of Deconstructivist architecture.

Deconstructivism, or Deconstruction, is an approach to building design that attempts to view architecture in bits and pieces. The basic elements of architecture are dismantled. Deconstructivist buildings may seem to have no visual logic. They may appear to be made up of unrelated, disharmonious abstract forms. Deconstructive ideas are borrowed from the French philosopher Jacques Derrida.

In the summer of 1988, architect Philip Johnson was instrumental in organizing a Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) exhibit called "Deconstructivist Architecture." Johnson gathered works from seven architects (Eisenman, Gehry, Hadid, Koolhaas, Libeskind, Bernard Tschumi, and Coop Himmelblau) who "intentionally violate the cubes and right angles of modernism."

"The hallmark of deconstructivist architecture is its apparent instability. Though structurally sound, the projects seem to be in states of explosion or collapse....Deconstructivist architecture, however, is not an architecture of decay or demolition. On the contrary, it gains all of its force by challenging the very values of harmony, unity, and stability, proposing instead that flaws are intrinsic to the structure."

Deconstructivist architects reject Postmodernist ways for an approach more akin to Russian Constructivism.

For examples of Deconstructivism in architecture, look at early works by:

About the Seattle Public Library:

Rem Koolhaas' radical, deconstructivist design for the Seattle Public Library has been praised... and questioned. Early critics said that Seattle was "bracing for a wild ride with a man famous for straying outside the bounds of convention."

Fast Facts:

  • Grand Opening: May 23, 2004
  • Budget: $165.9 million
  • Library program area: 362,987 square feet
  • Construction: Concrete (enough to fill 10 football fields 1-foot deep), steel (enough to make 20 Statues of Liberty), and glass (enough to cover 5 1/2 football fields).
  • Glass Curtain Wall: The exterior "skin" is insulated, earthquake-resistant glass on a steel structure. Diamond-shaped (4 by 7 foot) glass units allow natural lighting. In addition to coated clear glass, half of the glass diamonds contain aluminum sheet metal between glass layers. This triple-layered, "metal mesh glass" reduces heat and glare. The Seattle Library was the first U.S. building to install this type of glass. The glass is cleaned at least twice a year. Storm water running off the building is stored and used for irrigating the landscape around the building.

The library's website has additional Building Facts About the Central Library.

Pritzker Prize Laureate Koolhaas told reporters that he wanted "the building to signal that something special is going on here."

Some have said the design looks like a glass book opening up and ushering in a new age of library use. The traditional notion of a library as a place devoted solely to books has changed in the information age. Although the design includes book stacks, emphasis is placed on spacious community spaces and areas for media such as technology, photography, and video. Four hundred computers connect the library to the rest of the world, beyond the views of Mount Rainier and Puget Sound.

Source: MoMA Press Release, June 1988, pages 1 and 3. PDF accessed online February 26, 2014

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Picture Dictionary of Modern Architecture: Minimalism The Minimalist Luis Barragan House, or Casa de Luis Barragán, was the home and studio of Mexican architect Luis Barragán. This building is a classic example of the Pritzker Prize Laureate's use of texture, bright colors, and diffused light.
Picture Dictionary of Modern Architecture: Minimalism The Minimalist Luis Barragan House, or Casa de Luis Barragán, was the home and studio of Mexican architect Luis Barragán. This building is a classic example of the Pritzker Prize Laureate's use of texture, bright colors, and diffused light. Photo © Barragan Foundation, Birsfelden, Switzerland/ProLitteris, Zurich, Switzerland, cropped from courtesy The Hyatt Foundation

The Minimalist home of Mexican architect Luis Barragán is reduced to dramatically lit lines and planes.

One important trend in Modernist architecture is the movement toward minimalist or reductivist design. Hallmarks of Minimalism include:

  • Buildings are stripped of all but the most essential elements
  • Emphasis is placed on the outline, or frame, of the struture
  • Interior walls are eliminated
  • Floor plans are open
  • Lighting is used to dramatize lines and planes
  • The negative spaces around the structure are part of the overall design

Modernist architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe paved the way for Minimalism when he said, "Less is more." Minimalist architects drew much of their inspiration from the elegant simplicity of traditional Japanese architecture. Minimalists were also inspired by a movement of early twentieth century Dutch artists known as De Stijl. Valuing simplicity and abstraction, De Stijl artists used only straight lines and rectangular shapes.

The Mexico City home of the Pritzker Prize-winning architect Luis Barragán is Minimalist in its emphasis on lines, planes, and open spaces.

Architects known for Minimalist designs include:

  • Tadao Ando
  • Luis Barragan
  • Yoshio Taniguchi
  • Richard Gluckman

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De Stijl

Photo of modern house of white painted concrete and glass
Picture Dictionary of Modern Architecture: De Stijl Rietveld Schröder House, 1924, Utrecht, Netherlands. Photo ©2005 Frans Lemmens / Corbis Unreleased / Getty Images (cropped)

The Rietveld Schröder House in The Netherlands is a prime example of architecture from the De Stijl movement. Artists like Dutch painter Piet Mondrian and architects like Gerrit Thomas Rietveld made bold, minimalist geometric statements in 20th century Europe. In 1924 Rietveld built this house in Utrecht for Mrs. Truus Schröder-Schräder, who embraced a flexible home designed with no interior walls.

Taking the name from the art publication The Style (De Stijl), the movement was also known as neo-plasticism, influencing designers around the world well into the 21st century. Who would think that De Stijl and Dutch Modernism could be so influential?

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Nakagin Capsule Tower in Tokyo, Japan, 1972, by Japanese architect Kisho Kurokawa is an example of the Japanese Metabolism movement in architecture
Nakagin Capsule Tower in Tokyo, Japan, 1972, by Japanese architect Kisho Kurokawa is an example of the Japanese Metabolism movement in architecture. Photo by Paulo Fridman / Corbis Historical / Getty Images (cropped)

With cell-like apartments, Kisho Kurokawa's 1972 Nakagin Capsule Tower in Tokyo exemplifies the 1960s Metabolism Movement in Japan.

Japanese Metabolism Movement:

When: 1960 – 1970s
Where: The urban design philosophy and ideas of metabolism were presented at the 1960 World Design Conference in Tokyo.
Why: The origins of the movement date back to 1946, post World War II Japan, when Kenzo Tange established the Tange Research Laboratory at Tokyo University. Urban reconstruction of Japanese cities destroyed during WWII was the problem to be solved. Tange's Japanese students challenged the Western ideas of static urban planning.
Who: Fumihiko Maki, Masato Otaka, Kiyonari Kikutake, and Kisho Kurokawa. Other students and associates of Kenzo Tange, such as Arata Isozaki, are also associated with the movement.
Characteristics: organic urban design and reconstruction, recycling, organic growth and change, prefabrication, expansion and contraction based on need, megastructure infrastructure (core), attachable / detachable substructure, replaceable units (cells or pods), sustainability

About Nakagin Capsule Tower:

"Kurokawa developed the technology to install the capsule units into a concrete core with only 4 high-tension bolts, as well as making the units detachable and replaceable. The capsule is designed to accommodate the individual as either an apartment or studio space, and by connecting units can also accommodate a family. Complete with appliances and furniture, from audio system to telephone, the capsule interior is pre-assembled in a factory off-site. The interior is then hoisted by crane and fastened to the concrete core shaft. The Nakagin Capsule Tower realizes the ideas of metabolism, exchangeability, recycleablity as the prototype of sustainable architecture."—Works and Projects of Kisho Kurokawa

Learn More:

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Organic Architecture

The iconic Sydney Opera House, downtown Sydney, in 2010
The iconic Sydney Opera House, downtown Sydney, in 2010. Photo by George Rose/Getty Images News Collection/Getty Images

Designed by Jorn Utzon, the Sydney Opera House in Australia is an example of Organic architecture.

Frank Lloyd Wright said that all architecture is organic, and the Art Nouveau architects of the early twentieth century incorporated curving, plant-like shapes into their designs. But in the later half of the twentieth century, Modernist architects took the concept of organic architecture to new heights. By using new forms of concrete and cantilever trusses, architects could create swooping arches without visible beams or pillars.

Organic buildings are never linear or rigidly geometric. Instead, wavy lines and curved shapes suggest natural forms.

Examples of Organic Modernism:

  • Frank Lloyd Wright used shell-like spiral forms when he designed the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York City
  • Architect Eero Saarinen is known for designing grand bird-like buildings such as the TWA terminal at New York's Kennedy Airport and Dulles Airport near Washington D.C.
  • Architect Jorn Utzon borrowed shell-like forms for the Sydney Opera House in Australia.

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Michael Graves Designed Swan and Dolphin hotels near EPCOT in Orlando, Florida
Picture Dictionary of Modern Architecture - Postmodernist Buildings and Design Michael Graves Designed Swan and Dolphin hotels near EPCOT in Orlando, Florida. Photo courtesy Swan & Dolphin Media

Combining new ideas with traditional forms, postmodernist buildings may startle, surprise, and even amuse.

Postmodern architecture evolved from the modernist movement, yet contradicts many of the modernist ideas. Combining new ideas with traditional forms, postmodernist buildings may startle, surprise, and even amuse. Familiar shapes and details are used in unexpected ways. Buildings may incorporate symbols to make a statement or simply to delight the viewer.

The key ideas of Postmodernism are set forth in two important books by Robert Venturi: Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture and Learning from Las Vegas.

Postmodern Architects:

Further Reading:

Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture
In this groundbreaking book, published in 1966, Robert Venturi challenged modernism and celebrated the mix of historic styles in great cities such as Rome.
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Learning from Las Vegas
Subtitled "The Forgotten Symbolism of Architectural Form," this postmodernist classic called the "vulgar billboards" of the Vegas Strip emblems for a new architecture. Published in 1972 and revised in 1977, the book was written by Robert Venturi, Steven Izenour, and Denise Scott Brown.
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Curving Computer-designed Parametricism of Zaha Hadid's Heydar Aliyev Centre, 2012, Baku, Azerbaijan
Picture Dictionary of Modern Architecture - Parametric Design Parametricism: Zaha Hadid's Heydar Aliyev Centre opened 2012 in Baku, Azerbaijan. Photo by Christopher Lee/Getty Images Sport Collection/Getty Images

Computer-Aided Design (CAD) moves to Computer-Driven Design in the 21st Century

When architects began using high-powered software created for the aerospace industry, some buildings started to look like they could fly away. Others looked like big, immobile blobs.

In the design phase, computer programs can organize and manipulate the relationships of a building's many interrelated parts. In the building phase, algorithms and laser beams define the necessary construction materials and how to assemble them. Commercial architecture in particular has transcended the blueprint.

Algorithms have become the design tool of the modern architect.

Some say that today's software is designing tomorrow's buildings. Others say that the software allows exploration and the real possibility of new, organic forms. Patrik Schumacher, a partner at Zaha Hadid Architects (ZHA), is credited with using the word parametricism to describe these algorithmic designs.

About Heydar Aliyev Centre:

Location: Baku, The Republic of Azerbaijan
Architectural Design: ZHA - Zaha Hadid and Patrik Schumacher with Saffet Kaya Bekiroglu
Opened: 2012
Design concept: "The design of the Heydar Aliyev Center establishes a continuous, fluid relationship between its surrounding plaza and the building’s interior....Fluidity in architecture is not new to this region....Our intention was to relate to that historical understanding of developing a firmly contemporary interpretation, reflecting a more nuanced understanding....Advanced computing allowed for the continuous control and communication of these complexities among the numerous project participants."

Learn More:

Source: Design concept, Information, Heydar Aliyev Centre, Zaha Hadid Architects [accessed May 6, 2015]