The Evolution Of Modernism In Architecture And Its Impact on the 21st Century

From a movement that eschewed ornamentation in favour of function, to a solution for social issues, Modernist architecture has been influencing building design since before the Second World War.

Key principles such as anti-historicism, function, progress and social morality translated to high expectations, ones that often did not meet the real needs and wants of families and communities.

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In the 1970s, Modern architecture was declared “dead” and many Modernist buildings were demolished. Yet, to this day, Modern-era buildings such as English architect Maxwell Fry’s Kensal House remain celebrated prototypes of social housing solutions 80 years after being built.

Furthermore, the marriage of technology and design employed by Modernists gave us once-radical developments like the skyscraper.

What role will this famed, albeit flawed, architectural style play as we move into the future? Let’s explore


Characteristics of Modernist Buildings

Aside from the underlying principles of Modernist architecture, famously summarized by American architect Louis Sullivan as “form follows function,” the design style has a specific and recognizable aesthetic.

The mixed use of cubic and cylindrical shapes feel asymmetrical, while flat roofs and the absence of ornamentation or moldings create a clean and simplified look compared to previous heavily decorated styles.

As for materials, the use of metal, glass and exposed concrete gave Modernist buildings an industrial or utilitarian appearance. A fitting description based on Modernist architecture pioneer Le Corbusier’s declaration that a house is “a machine for living in.”

Stark, neutral colours like white, cream or grey were another mark of Modernist architecture.


 Modernist Architects

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

While Le Corbusier, widely regarded as the most important architect of the 20th century, is perhaps the most well-known Modernist, another architect was actually the first to put Modern design principles into practice.

Walter Gropius, founder of the famed Bauhaus design school, pioneered Modernist architectural features such as the glass curtain wall on his building Fagus Factory in 1911. By the late 1920s, Modernism had taken hold in Europe and begun to spread to America.

While Frank Lloyd Wright refused to be associated with any one design movement, his belief that buildings should live in harmony with their surroundings – illustrated by his iconic Fallingwater – became another highly influential faction of the Modernist movement.




Modernism in Edmonton


Photo Credit: Hip Architects


By 1951, Modernism’s influence on Canadian architecture was evident, and Edmonton saw its first curtain wall building: the AGT Building (now known as the Legislature Annex).

Modernist projects such as the Northern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium, the Northwest Utilities Building (Milner Building) and the CN Tower soon followed.

1967 saw the construction of one of Edmonton’s most famed Modernist buildings: the award winning Stanley Engineering Building. Designed by Hemingway and Laubenthal Architecture, the building includes an exposed steel structural frame wrapped on the exterior of a curtain walled glass box.

Postmodernism and Beyond

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Postmodernism, a reaction to the formality of Modernism, brought a shift from the flawed beliefs that one-size solutions could fit all.

The idea of progress – that we are gradually heading down a path towards a universal goal – was replaced by ideas of plurality and diversity. Not a path, but a network of connections and reconnections. Whereas Modern thought emphasized direction, order, coherence and stability, Postmodern thought emphasizes fragmentation, multiplicity and contingency.

Moving into the 21st century, Postmodernism split into several different architectural styles including:

  • High-tech architecture
  • Neoclassicism
  • Deconstructivism


However, no single architectural style claims prominence today, perhaps proof that the plurality introduced by Postmodernism allows for more freedom of expression

A Look Into the Future

Simply known as “contemporary”, the architecture of today encompasses dozens of different styles – some highly conceptual.

Often sculptural in form, recent projects – such as Frank Gehry’s Walt Disney Concert Hall and Philip Nikandrov’s Evolution Tower – employ advanced technology and new building materials to create buildings that often resemble works of art.

And, while many of today’s buildings were designed by architects already famous in the last century, a new method of creation via collectives and multinational agencies has begun to take hold. Furthermore, with increasing importance placed on sustainable design and building practices, the future of architecture looks to be filled with innovative, forward-thinking individuals.

Who We Are, Were, and Will Become

Design Credit: Douglas Sollows Architecture

Lenmak operates with the same innovative and forward-thinking initiative. Whether it’s our cladding, roofing, trim or curtain wall systems, we too believe that diversity is key.

As for sustainability, it’s at the forefront of our minds.

For example, our Aluminaire panel systems are 100 percent recyclable, contain no harmful chemicals and are custom manufactured to reduce waste and save energy. But it’s not just about the future at Lenmak – it’s about who we are now, who we were then, and who we will become.

*Cover Image Credit: Feather




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