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Modern architecture. You either love it or hate it. The same goes for modern art. It's the style that everyone loves to hate – but why?
The beginnings of modern architecture
Modern architecture prides itself on simplicity, though that often comes out looking monotonous or dehumanizing to some. This style of design originated in the 1920s and 30s as architects argued that architectural creative expression should be free from historical baggage and rather architectural forms should follow function.
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One thing to note as we discuss Modern architecture, when talking about the style of architecture it has a capital "M." Rather, when referring to architecture that is in the modern era, or the present, the m isn't capitalized. It's confusing, but it's what the architecture industry uses.
So, why do some architects and some people absolutely insist that Modern architecture is the core of beauty?
The beginnings of Modern architecture date back as early as the late 1800s, but the movement had several notable figures. Within the American Modern movement, it really gained traction with Frank Loyd Wright and Rudolph Schindler. Wright refused to associate his style with any architectural movement. He wanted his designs to be his own.
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Ironically, this captures the message of the Modern architectural movement: shed off all historicity for a design that reflects the current, without baggage or frivolity.
Many of Loyd's buildings were geometric in nature and let the shape of the structure speak to its beauty, without any embellishments.
The early modernist movement in Europe in the early 20th century was pioneered by architects like Otto Wagner, a Viennese architect, and Robert Mallet-Stevens in France. The formation of the entirety of the movement occurred over many decades, though the work of hundreds of renowned achitects.
Modern architecture signals a departure from tradition and an embracing of minimalism and function. It's because of this key concept that many people struggle to get on board.
Why do people hate modern architecture?
From the view of an architect who embraces Modernism, extra ornamentation is superfluous to the architecture and the structure. That ornamentation only serves to provide context to the use of the building, which isn't wholly architecture's place. Modernists view architecture as the artistic expression of form strictly tied to function. It's these ideas that rub people the wrong way.
As humans, we connect with art through past experiences, through emotion, and that's exactly what superfluous decor calls out in us. When architecture is stripped down to pure function, it leaves us as the user or inhabitant as the pure subject. Or even more so, it allows the function of the building to speak to its design. It's a nuanced concept than many don't love.
To many, architecture should elicit emotion regardless of the use of the building. Modernism strips that assumption and provides an artistic take on function.
In watching Modern architecture age, we do see another issue arise. Most of Modern architecture's emotional response is elicited from the building's function as we mentioned. However, how many old buildings are still used for their original use?
Under the concept of form follows function, the form of a Modern structure would be built to reflect the purpose of the structure. But many buildings built in this style are used for different purposes today. This engrains dissonance in the structure. Naturally, this makes the onlooker like it even less.