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Modernism Style Guide

Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s observation that “less is more” has come to define the Modernist doctrine in architecture, whereby buildings and their components are reduced to simple forms expressed by geometry, largely devoid of ornamentation.

What to look for in a Modernist building:

  • Asymmetrical and geometric forms, rectangular or cubist shapes
  • Minimal or an absence of ornamentation
  • Steel frames and/or reinforced concrete
  • Flat roofs
  • Large windows
  • Open plan

Explore these galleries from the RIBA Collections illustrating the main features of Modernism.


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Design for hotel lobby, possibly in Nigeria

R. Seifert & Partners

Model demonstrating the assembly of a prefabricated concrete construction system for Westville Road Primary School and Brandlehow Road Infants School, Hammersmith, London

Goldfinger, Erno (1902-1987)
NOTES: Goldfinger invented his own prefabricated concrete system for the building of Westville Road Primary School and Brandlehow Road Infants School. A crane moved across a concrete platform, dropping the uprights into holes prior to positioning the cross beams into the grooves, as demonstrated in this model.

Design for Clarke's Close (the Finsbury Estate), Finsbury, London: perspective view showing housing blocks

Emberton, Franck & Tardrew
NOTES: The Finsbury Estate was also known as the Clarke's Close Estate RD project.

Homewood, Esher, Surrey: the living room

Gwynne, Patrick (1913-2003)

Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ the King, Liverpool: paving detail and the junction of the flying buttresses with the outdoor podium

Frederick Gibberd & Partners
NOTES: This building comprises three independent types of structure: an in-situ reinforced concrete frame which holds together the main body of the cathedral; the sixteen load-bearing brick or concrete perimeter buildings, and the flat slab of the outdoor podium supported by concrete columns of load-bearing brick walls.

Chamberlain Hall of Residence, Highfield Campus, University of Southampton: the Junior Common Room

Basil Spence & Partners
NOTES: The University of Southampton gained full university status with the granting of its Royal Charter in 1952 after which student numbers swelled. Basil Spence was commissioned in 1956 to draw up the masterplan for expansion of the campus and was responsible for many of its faculty buildings and halls of residence.

Euston Station, Euston Road, London: the ticket booking area

Moorcroft, R. L.
NOTES: This modern complex of buildings replaced the original Euston Station, designed by Philip Hardwick, which opened in 1837 and was demolished in 1961-1962.