What is Modernist design?
New and innovative technologies of construction emerged in the first half of the 20th century, in particular, the use of glass, steel and concrete. These new forms paved the way for the idea that form should follow function. Modernist designers embraced minimalism and rejected ornamentation.
Despite the way it sounds, it created strong, powerful, beautiful and functional buildings which retained their dominance until the late 1970s, when this principle style for institutional and corporate buildings was replaced by postmodern architecture.
Following this initial revelation of design in the 1920s, designers started to become noticeable faces. They were no longer just behind the scenes tools, but rather became known for their work.
As countries started to recover from the first world war, there was a return to prosperity and luxuries. The 1920s was a period of excitement and freedom in the social and cultural aspects of life. The devastation the First World War was coming to an end and more people started to indulge in interior design as a form of personalisation.
The rapid industrialisation of the interwar period was part of the driving force behind Art Deco– a Fench inspired style that emerged when France wanted to reinvent herself in the modern age. In celebrating the age of the machine, Art Deco largely consumed much of the modernist movent of the early 20th century. It succeeded Art Nouveau’s curves and organic, ornamental shapes.
The media caught onto this exciting and new stylistic change, and began to produce interior makeover shows such as Changing Rooms and it widely influenced the making and design of our homes. The Vintage style made a comeback and was revived in all chic interiors.
This is a trend that has continued through the decades and is evident in the interior styles of the 21st century. We are still in an eclecticism era and we continue to match old vintage themes and furniture with modern features.
Modernism became the single most important design philosophy of the 20th century. The elimination of ornament was accompanied by embracing minimalism. By the 1930s, it was associated with an analytical approach as opposed to a purely aesthetic and ornamental practice. It was based on the function of buildings and strict, rational use of materials.
Modernism as a style was characterised by an emphasis on volume, complex compositions but minimal ornamentation. In Britain, modernist designs of the 1930s to the early 60s had a profound impact on the design of most public housing projects.
Modernist architects of the 20th Century aimed to present an honest expression of how they use materials in construction. This frequently meant using reinforced concrete, visible steel frames and curtain walls.
This brutalist form became the norm by the 1950s and despite its name, brutalism wasn’t dubbed so because of its aggressive and confrontational lack of comfort in design. Rather, the term is taken from Beton Brut- French for raw concrete. And it actually demonstrates effective use of the material in strong and beautiful buildings.
Since the 1960s, architecture has taken many forms. Those who are inspired by and adhere to the modernist movement follow its ‘less is more theme’. With regards to interiors, modernist design is all about minimal ornamentation accompanied by a tendency towards neutral colour palettes.
One theme that has undeniably remained a popular design strategy are open-plan interiors. Along with systemic use of materials, calculated construction and minimal ornamentation, modernist designers aimed to fill a space with light to create feelings of spaciousness. This remains to be a popular choice for residential, commercial and public design.
How to spot a Modernist building today
Many original modernist buildings still stand today, others have been constructed since the 1960s and are intended to fit into the modernist style. Each of which will have the following characteristics:
- Geometric and asymmetrical forms- these might take the shape of rectangles or cubist shapes.
- The use of reinforced concrete, often supported by steel frames.
- A stark absence or minimal use of ornamentation.
- Flat roofs- this feature lends itself to the cubist shape the building will likely carry.
- Open Plan.
- Large windows.
Naturally, the design style that followed was postmodernism. This style was associated with the colourful and charismatic style of architecture and interior design that emerged in the late 1970s.
Spotting the difference in architectural design between only a decade (the 60s-70s) is therefore easy to do.