not just a modernist

There seems to be a misunderstanding about those of us who think of ourselves as modernist architects. Some think that we only appreciate or like modern architecture. It is the palette we prefer when we design and we talk about those projects the most. Nevertheless, if that is what you think then you really don’t know us very well. That would be a bit like…

…listening to one type of music

…liking only one type of food

…having only one favorite color

…playing or following only one sport

…having only one friend

I believe it is really difficult to appreciate modern architecture without knowing where we’ve come from and where we’ve been. Despite the attempt to break from the past, we can’t ignore the past since it’s our source for learning, precedent, inspiration, form, and even failures.

I love all of these giants of the past. They had real attitude and they set the course to where we are today. Despite the complex forms, beautiful details and rich ornament, I still prefer clean lines, great composition, and those crazy round black glasses. I just can’t help myself.

The only problem we have now is we need a new name. Modern architecture is now historic architecture, so what does that make us? Traditionalists? Historicists?

Today’s architecture needs a new name. Got any ideas?

photos are from the Wikimedia Commons (used under the Creative Common License)

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not just a modernist

10 thoughts on “not just a modernist

    1. Perhaps, but Louis XXXIV was a bit self conscious when he built Versailles. I believe the gothic church competition in Medieval France had a bit of that too. It gave us great architecture.

  1. Hi, I just found your blog and already love it!
    And I have one of those hyperbolic questions for you: do you see yourself and your fellow architects more as helping professionals (“how can I help you?..at your service” type) or creative workers (see your work as an opportunity to express yourself, your ideals of beauty etc.)?

    1. I don’t know if I have an answer. Maybe I need to consider that and write about it. If you sort through my blog posts, especially earlier ones, I may begin to answer this. However, now I must go and consider this…thanks for making my head hurt.

  2. Ha! I’ve often thought myself that today’s architecture needs a new name. And I too wonder what to call it. The last great “movement” of architectural style was Deconstruction and before that Post Modern. I, personally would go with Minimalism as there is a generation of architects, like us, who are designing to an ultimate efficiency and honesty in form, color, material and structure. Perhaps we’ve moved beyond needing to define the dominant architectural style as a “style”. Perhaps architecture, today, just IS. 🙂

  3. Great perspective Lee! I think most modern(ist) architects absolutely have as great an appreciation for historical styles as you’ve indicated – it’s just that we want to work in our own way, and represent our own time. Though as you’ve also indicated, modernism is now a ‘style’ of the past. I’m not sure one new term can capture the essence of the many ‘styles’ of architecture today, but Neo-modernism – in the sense that there has been a return to, and re-evaluation of, the philosophies of the industrial age masters, combined with the ever-evolving technological advancements in construction and materials – does certainly seem to represent a large chunk of it. Or perhaps – Re-modernism?

    1. “…it’s just that we want to work in our own way, and represent our own time…” That says it all. I don’t know if a term is out there as I’ve questioned. However, the term modern has become a hand grenade at times.

  4. Rob Dean says:

    In my office we treat Modernism as an historical style, and in reality that is all that it is. But that’s significant, and that’s enough. The Modern Movement never was Truth, and there never was a New Architecture, although Modernism helped to bring a lot of new grammar into our language of form as buildings moved from being piled-up heaps of stuff toward being assembled kits of parts.

    But that was a long time ago, and there is no comparable transition of language underway today. Somehow, one of the impacts of Modernism has been to make current architects feel that their output lacks significance unless it has a self-conscious stylistic descriptor, and to be definable as a Movement.

    The closest thing to Movement Architecture prior to modernism was perhaps the 19th century competition between the romantics and the classicists, but that fits more into a discussion of competing styles than of Movements. Historians have no trouble placing that era into perspective, even if the practitioners of the time lacked perspective.

    If anything, the current movement in the creating of buildings is largely around the architect, to find sources of form that aren’t quite so self-conscious and – shall I say – pretentious. Thus the growing power of construction managers, interior designers, landscape designers, and urbanists. That’s obviously not good for us as architects, but it’s also not good for architecture as an art.

    If you look at other creative fields that do their work within the world of commerce, nobody would say there is a Movement that needs a name in advertising layout, or in automobile styling, or industrial design – and yet these fields arguably exert greater cultural power than current-day architects.

    Architects would do well to search for beauty, in a form that rises out of the needs of the society around them, rather than devising forms and descriptors calculated to set themselves into a self-limited class.

    Trends will emerge and evolve from this search, but leave it to the historians to do the naming – and don’t elevate Style to a surrogate for Truth.

    1. For the most part I think you’re right on target. I am not looking for a name or a movement any more than the next guy, but it became difficult when the modernists used a generic term that is now indicative of a style. My somewhat tongue and cheek final comment about a new name simply is to ease the awkwardness at times of telling someone we are designing a modern building of our time rather than of a style. Perhaps it’s all sematics. Thanks for your thoughtful response.

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