Modern Architecture

Modern architecture breaks away from cookie-cutter design and traditional aesthetics.  It strives to create home designs that go beyond “standard” ideas and instead pursue projects inspired by layout, location, and function.  Frank Lloyd Wright’s mentor, Louis Sullivan famously stated that, “Form follows function”.  This idea is expressed by Modernisms’ tendency to have land or the function of a project dictate much of the design ideas.  For example, Wright was famous for building with the land – his residential homes almost always relied on the lot to determine how the building was to be laid out.  Wright believed that a building should be “one with the land” and not simply plopped down on top of it. Modernist architecture takes inspiration from the project itself – if the project is meant to showcase something, house something particular, or be occupied by a particular person, Modern architecture’s aim is to design for each unique situation and to be inspired by its purpose.

The Modern Movement of architecture represents a dramatic shift in the design of buildings, away from the traditional forms and construction techniques of the past and toward a new era of design. The styles of the Modern Movement, Art Deco, Moderne and International, began in Europe and spread to the United States in the 1920s. European architects Eliel Saarinen, Le Corbusier, Walter Gropious and Mies van der Rohe emphasized radically new designs in the early in 20 th century, abandoning past building precedent and exploring new materials and technology in their work. The Art Deco style and subsequent Art Modern style were promoted at the 1925 Exposition des Arts Decoratifs in Paris. Embracing a sleek, sharp edged appearance with distinctive decorative details, the Art Deco style presented an exotic new look for buildings. The smooth wall surface of the Art Deco style was carried over into the development of the more streamlined, less ornamented Art Moderne style. The impact of both the Art Deco and Art Moderne styles was soon eclipsed by the development of the International style, which left a lasting impression on the urban landscape especially.  The International style with its starkly unornamented appearance of rectangular shapes, punctuated with bands of windows, announced a new “modern” view of the style and purpose of architecture.  Inspired by the Cubism of modern art in Europe, the boxy shapes of International style buildings embodied a new social theory of architecture as well.

Deconstructivism in architecture

Deconstructivism in architecture was born in the late 80s of the twentieth century.

Its characteristic feature is the idea of fragmentation. It also manipulates the surface and the cover of the construction. It is dominated by curvilinear shapes, which are supposed to disturb and dislocate the skeleton of the object. The structure of the building has a feeling of controlled chaos and stimulating unpredictability.

Deconstruction is a continuation of an earlier architecture style – postmodernism. However, it stands in opposition to the limiting rules of modernism, including materials fidelity, purity of form or forms functioning. Deconstructivism in architecture rejects the rule of ornament as a side effect or an item of decoration.

Deconstructionists often drew their inspiration from Russian constructivism. Delighted by the new, experimental forms and geometric structure destabilization. Today, in their work, architects need a computer. It helps in the creation of projects in destructivism and inexpensive mass production of subtly differing elements.

In 1988, an exhibition titled “Architecture deconstructionism” in the Museum of Modern Art was organized. It crystallized a new style in architecture and has brought fame to artists who took part in it.

The best example of deconstructionism complexity of this architecture is the Vitra Design Museum designed by Frank Gehry. It is a white, bare cube-shaped building, which was deconstructed using geometry evoking abstract expressionism and cubism.

Structuralism in Architecture

Structuralists have created two distinct aesthetics:

– in 1959, Aldo van Eyck created a so-called “aesthetics of numbers” also known as spatial systems architecture, which treats the structure of buildings as a system of living cells. Examples of this idea are: Amsterdam Orphanage by van Eyck (1960), in which dividing cells are growing in any direction, and “Cubic Houses” in Rotterdam, designed in 1984 by a disciple of van Eyck, Piet Blom.

While the project of van Eyck is the realization of idea related to reality, so Blom’s project is an example of extreme architectural imbecility combined with complete contempt for the future users of these buildings. I bet, Blomit would make a better project for rabbit hutches. Such a project can not be assessed in terms of architecture, and the responsibility for this achievement borne in equal parts designer and his teacher.

– In 1961 John Habraken formulated the basis of “architecture of joyful diversity”, also known by the term “structure and chance”. This concept assumed the participation of citizens in defining the principles of building, so it is called the “participatory architecture“.

Expo’67 in Montreal was devoted to the problems of housing. Habitat, housing complex designed for this exhibition by Israeli architect Moshe Safdie, is a practical realization of structuralist concepts.
Habitat is an attempt to reconcile conflicting goals. On one hand, intensive development, on the other hand individualized living space – one word – an attempt to build a residential block consisting of piled-up, separate individual houses. Regardless of the aesthetic discussion, this test proved to be very expensive to implement and did not solve the growing urban problems.


One of the most influential manifestos for the Structuralist movement was compiled by Aldo van Eyck in the architectural magazine Forum 7/1959. It was drawn up as the programme for the International Congress of Architects in Otterlo in 1959. The central aspect of this issue of Forum was a frontal attack on the Dutch representatives of CIAM-Rationalism who were responsible for the reconstruction work after World War II, (for tactical reasons, planners like van Tijen, van Eesteren,  Merkelbach and others were not mentioned). The magazine contains many examples of and statements in favour of a more human form of urban planning. This congress in 1959 marks the official start of Structuralism, although earlier projects and buildings did exist. Only since 1969 has the term “Structuralism” been used in publications in relation to architecture.

Semiotics of Architecture

Semiotics provides a theoretical framework to study different systems of signification and patterns of meaning formation. It is mainly based on concepts adapted from linguistics.

As linguistics studies natural language, semiotics studies various sign systems. Structuralist linguistic studies originate from the work of Ferdinand de Saussure. This field of study can be traced down to the linguistic studies of contemporary philosophers like Noam Chomsky.

Some other writers that have contributed to Semiotic studies are Roland Barthes, Louis Hjelmslev and Umberto Eco.

The basic unit of linguistics is the SIGN (gösterge). But in the Semiotics of Architecture we define this basic concept as the CODE which is much more suitable for our purpose.

The linguistic SIGN is schematized as below:
        Sd              Signified (gösterilen)
        Sr               Signifier (gösteren) 

This unit is nothing else but the word or the concept of the written or spoken language, we call this the natural language. The upper side of the diagram here represents the nature as a homogeneous substance originally without the cultural classifications and categorizations of the human mind. The word TREE in written script or spoken sound defines and signifies an entity in the nature, namely the natural TREE that can take endlessly various shapes. The concept of TREE refers to a TYPE which represents many different examples (TOKEN).

One of the basic assertions of the structuralist thinking is that without the natural language and the related concept formation we would not be able to differentiate anything in nature. The analogy in architecture is someone not trained as an architect looking at a building and has very little to say about it: S/he would probably call it beautiful or ugly or interesting and might not recognize anything else.

It is not necessary for architectural codes that they are understood by the users to function effectively. The users usually get aware of problems only in the absence of solutions (or never at all).

The CODE in architectural design is very different from the linguistic SIGN in its nature. We can schematize the architectural CODE as below:

    Sd                a coded problem
    Sr                a coded solution

The linguistic SIGN defines a communicative signification, a relationship of standing for, representing, recalling or referring,

the architectural CODE, on the other hand, basically defines a functional signification, a relationship of realizing, fulfilling or carrying out a TASK. It is usually in the form of a coded solution to a coded problem.

The main idea here is that architects usually work with coded solutions and their knowledge about the problems they have to deal with is mainly based on the CODES they use by habit or convention. This kind of knowledge is basically referred to as TACIT knowledge. A CODE may also be defined as the epistemological unit of architectural knowledge.

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