10 Major Variations of Modernist Architecture


Modernist architecture is an architecture style that flourished across the globe since the early 20th century until the 1980s. The main principles of modern architecture are functionalism, minimalism, rejection of sophisticated decoration, and the use of glass, steel, and reinforced concrete. Over the years of its popularity, many variations developed from the style. Here are the ten major variations of modernist architecture.


Expressionist architecture emerged in the early 20th century along with the expressionist visual and performing arts that had already dominated Germany. It is one of three dominant styles of modern architecture along with International Style and Constructivist architecture.

It's quite hard to describe this variation of modernist architecture. Most of the time, it is defined by what it is not. One thing for sure, Expressionist architecture is usually not symmetrical. Expressionists tried to avoid traditional box shapes and refused to base their designs on historical styles. They leaned more toward abstraction, resulting in somewhat surreal designs. Expressionist buildings were meant to evoke extreme emotions, making them tend to stand out from the structures around. To achieve this, Expressionist architects often used unusual forms and incorporated unconventional building techniques using brick, steel, and glass.

Centennial Hall in Wroclaw, Poland, by Max Berg (1911-3), early landmark of Expressionist architecture | Source: wikimedia.org

Art Deco

Art Deco, is an art movement that first appeared in France just prior to World War I. This style of visual arts, architecture, and design influenced the designs of nearly everything, ranging from everyday objects like radios and vacuum cleaners to buildings, trains, and ocean liners. In architecture, Art Deco represented luxury and exuberance, combining modern styles and refined craftsmanship and rich materials. Art Deco came in the presence of bold geometric forms a la Cubism and Vienna Secession, with bright, extravagant colours a la Fauvism and Ballet Russes, exotic materials, and exquisite craftsmanship. However, the art movement did last long. It ended when World War II was about to start and replaced with more functional and unadorned styles of modern architecture and International style.

The crown of General Electric Building, also known as 570 Lexington Avenue (1931) by Cross & Cross firm, New York City | Source: reddit.com


Constructivism in architecture refers to a branch of modern architecture that flourished in former USSR in 1920s and emerged from constructivist art. Aimed to reflect modern urban space and industrial society while obviating decorative stylisation in favour of the industrial assemblage of materials, Constructivism carried a strong sense of austere abstraction. Straight lines and forms like cylinders, rectangles, cubes, and squares were combined with non-objective elements. The principles of Constructivism were borrowed from Suprematism, Neo Plasticism and Bauhaus. Just like Art Deco, the architectural movement didn't last very long. It fell out of favour circa 1932, but the influences of it are undoubtedly still felt today.

Zuyev Workes' Club (1927-9) by Ilya Golosov, a prominent work of Constructivist architecture | Source: divisare.com

International Style

The third major branch of modern architecture was developed in the 1920s and 1930s. The name "International Style" itself was coined in an exhibition in at the Museum of Modern Art in 1932. The museum's two curators, namely Henry-Russell Hitchcock and Philip Johnson defined the style that was based on contemporary European architecture. In the event, they introduced the radically modern architecture design to the American audience.

Hitchcock and Johnson formulated the three essential design tenets of the International Style: volume over mass, regularity in the facade, and rejection of all ornament. The emphasis on volume means International Style preferred thin, flat planes, typically alternating with areas of glass, to create the building's form, as opposed to a solid mass. International Style is also characterised by the use of lightweight, mass-produced industrial materials.

Barcelona Pavillion (1928-9) by Ludwig Mies Van der Rohe and Lilly Reich | Source: ignant.com

De Stijl

In 1917, Dutch artists and architects founded De Stijl, an art movement that encouraged pure abstraction and universality by reducing everything to its essential, both in form and colour, which is the very spirit of modernist architecture. Correspondingly, De Stijl movement is said to be a reaction against the "Modern Baroque" introduced by the Amsterdam School movement, which is the Dutch version of expressionist architecture. To an extent, De Stijl also carried the spirit of minimalism by simplifying visual compositions down to vertical and horizontal lines and using only primary colours.

Rietveld Schröder House in Utrecht by Gerrit Rietveld (1924), the only building realised completely according to De Stijl principles | Source: holland.com


Bauhaus was originally a German art school founded in 1919 by architect Walter Gropius. The main objective was to create a Gesamtkunstwerk or "comprehensive artwork", in which painting, sculpture, and architecture were brought together to form a single work of art. This unity of art style became so influential in architecture, interior design, industrial design, graphic design, and typography. Many Bauhaus alumni would later introduce the spirit of the movement through their projects around the world. Some examples of Bauhaus design are Marcel Breuer's Wassily Chairs and The White City in Tel Aviv that consists of over 4000 buildings designed in Bauhaus style by German Jewish architects who emigrated after the rise of Nazi.

Bauhaus-style building in The White City | Source: grandeflanerie.com

Mid-century Modern

Mid-century Modern is a design style that includes interior, architecture, graphic and product design that was popular in the USA from around 1945 to 1969. In architecture, mid-century modern was brought from Europe by some of the key figures of Bauhaus movement who fled to USA post World War II such as Marcel Breuer, Walter Gropius, and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. The style's main features are clean, simple lines, emphasis on function, contemporary aesthetic, and absence of decorative embellishments. In 1983, Cara Greenberg, through her book Mid-Century Modern: Furniture in the 1950s, reaffirmed the mid-century modern term after it was already employed as a style descriptor as early as the mid-1950s.

MIller House by Richard Neutra (1937) | Source: archdaily.com


Brutalism as an architectural style emerged in the 1950s out of the eartly 20th-century modernist movement. It was first found in Great Britain, highly influenced by the post-war spirit. Characterised mostly by its monolithic appearance, Brutalist buildings are usually massive with rigid geometric shapes and large-scale use of poured concrete—always left exposed. Brutalism was perhaps the branch of modern architecture that truly held minimalism so high it rejected any kind of ornamentation. Brutalist architecture used generally monochrome colour palette, keeping the 'blocky' appearance as simple as could be. As it was so extreme, the movement began to subside in the 1970s after it gained criticism for being so cold, unwelcoming and soulless to the point it appeared inhumane.

Boston City Hall by various architects (1968) | Source: dezeen.com

Fascist Architecture

Although not as well-known, Fascist architecture is also a branch of modernist architecture which emerged in Western Europe in the early 20th century. It was greatly influenced by the Italian Rationalist architecture, which, in a sense, was the Italian version of International Style. In Nazi Germany, Fascist architecture was highly valued by Hitler for its signature spaciousness. He utilised it to unify Germany for "mass experiences", in which citizens could gather and participate in community events and listen to his and his fellow Nazi party leaders' speeches.

Fascist architecture took some design cues from Ancient Rome. Fascist buildings were generally astronomical in size with sharp non-rounded edges and very symmetrical. The buildings were purposely built to convey a sense of intimidation through their sheer size. However, they were also very plain, with almost no embellishment, and lacked complexity in design. The main focus, other than to make a strong impression, was for the structure to last the entirety of the fascist era; therefore limestone and other durable stones were mostly used as its primary material.

New Reich Chancellery by Albert Speer (1938) | Source: artsandculture.google.com

Googie Architecture

Googie architecture is a variation of futurist architecture originated in Southern California around the same time Streamline Moderne was introduced to the USA in the 1930s. It took its inspiration from car culture, jets, the Space Age, and the Atomic Age and was popular among coffee houses, motels, and gas stations. The characteristics of Googie are curvaceous, geometric shapes with upswept roofs and bold use of glass, steel, and neon. Googie often includes symbolic of motion from Space Age design, like boomerangs, diagrammatic atoms and parabolas, and flying saucers. Nowadays, many Googie buildings have been destroyed, but some examples have been preserved, such as the oldest McDonald's stand in Downey, California.

Oldest McDonald's restaurant | Source: businessinsider.com

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