8 Defining Features of Modern Architecture


8 Defining Features of Modern Architecture

The term “modern architecture” has been in use since at least the 1800s. At the time, the “gilded” styles of the time were considered “modern”, just as many new buildings and architectural styles are recognizably “modern” today.


If you ask ten different residential or commercial architecture firms, “what is modern architecture?”, you will likely receive ten different answers. Architecture is both an art and a science—what is recognizably “modern” is often rather difficult (and arbitrary) to define. Furthermore, most of the buildings that have been built in the past decade can be better defined by some other architectural style, such as neo-futuristic, gothic revival, and many others.


Additionally, a trend that has been observable throughout the broader architectural community has been an increased blending of architectural schools and styles. In both residential and commercial design spaces, styles of past architectural trailblazers—like Frank Lloyd Wright—are consistently mixed with modern technologies, values, and tastes.


However, while the term modern architecture is indeed rather subjective, there are still some basic themes that most commercial and residential architects will agree are characteristically “modern.” Below, we will discuss eight defining features of modern architecture and the influence these features have had on modern designers.

1. Minimalism

As a direct rejection of ornamental and gaudy design schemes seen in years past, modern architects typically prefer to use a minimalistic design scheme. Minimalism, a broad movement adhered to by both architects and interior designers can be described by Leo Babauta’s recognized need to “Identify the essential. Eliminate the rest.”


Minimalism did not completely eliminate “decorative” features, but in modern architecture, many incorporated decorations also provide some sort of structural function. This is especially common when working with heavier, industrial materials like brick or steel.

2. Clean Lines

Clean lines are another feature of modern architecture. The benefit of incorporating clean lines into a design scheme is that the lines can cause the space to feel much larger and, well, cleaner.


Clean lines are especially common in kitchens. Many of today’s leading kitchen design experts will juxtapose broad, clean lines next to a single very decorative feature (such as a decorative backsplash or essential work of art). Clean lines—a natural consequence of minimalism—are also useful for establishing distinctive spaces within a home.

3. Open Floor Plans

Open floor plans were one of the most important outcomes of the broader mid-century modern movement. The movement grew in the United States between the 1940s and 1970s and was initially inspired by innovative European design schools. The open floor plan captured the spirit of this movement entirely; rather than having formal, segregated spaces throughout a home, an open floor plan makes it possible to use the entire floor plan at once.


Open floor plans have become especially popular in commercial and residential spaces with limited square footage. In addition to being able to see the entire room at once—and thus allow the room to feel more spacious—an open floor also minimizes the amount of space being consumed by walls, doors, and other infrastructural pieces.

4. Industrial Touches

The modern era has been shaped by the evolution of industry. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, a period characterized by heavy industry in the Western World, industrial features emerged as both utilitarian and a show of strength.


Industrial features are especially popular in urban rival design, which can be found throughout Denver and in other major American cities. Industrial touches can include exposed brick, overhead ventilation, ample use of steel, polished concrete floors, and high ceilings. These revitalized spaces maintain the character of the original space while still adapting to modern needs.

5. Connection to Outdoor Spaces

As suggested, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Prairie School of design has had a heavy influence on modern designers. Wright—who is perhaps best known for his iconic Falling Water design in Pennsylvania—sought to incorporate nature both in form and in function.


Modern architecture often features ample balconies and entryways, making it easier to connect to the outdoors. Sliding glass doors also Marketing serve an important, utilitarian function. Additionally, modern designers typically reject the slanted roof features that characterized pre-war Europe in favor of open, flat, and readily accessible spaces.

6. Internationalist Design

The Internationalist Style, as the name implies, can currently be found all around the world. Rather than trying to create an architectural style that would be specific to one country or region, the internationalists notably sought to develop a style that would “fit in” all around the world.


The Internationalist Style can be found in many buildings in Midtown Manhattan, Berlin, Tokyo, and other major cities. Functional design, heavy use of glass, focusing on volume over mass, and clean lines all help combine to create a complete aesthetic.

7. Dematerialization

Dematerialization is a modern architectural philosophy that emphasizes specifically using the “least” and “lightest” functional materials available. Like many other components of modern architectural theory, dematerialization arose as a direct rejection of previous design styles.


The philosophy of dematerialization not only helps modern builders save money on their designs—it also helps them reduce the carbon footprint of each building, which has become an increasingly important need. Over the next few decades, the global spread of this architectural approach will likely continue to grow.

8. Form Follows Function

Lastly, perhaps the most important component of modern commercial and residential architecture is the belief that form follows function. Essentially, this now widely held belief is the explicit philosophy is that the way a particular building should look depends on what the building will specifically be used for.


By emphasizing functionality, architects can maximize the real, tangible value of any given space. While some critics might argue that this approach tends to neglect the importance of aesthetics, others would argue that functionality is an important aesthetic of its own.



The world of modern architecture is complex and constantly changing. Furthermore, the term “modern architecture” is often used ambiguously. If you are in Colorado, there are many boulder architects in the area. No matter where you are, if you are looking for a space that is recognizably modern, consider incorporating these features and philosophies in your design.



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