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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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Palacio do Planalto (Highland Palace), Praca dos Tres Poderes (Square of the Three Powers), Brasilia: the public hall with access ramp between the first and second floors

Niemeyer, Oscar (1907-2012)
NOTES: The city of Brasilia was planned and developed in 1956 with Lucio Costa as chief urban planner and Oscar Niemeyer as principal architect. It formally became the capital of Brazil in 1960 and is the seat of all three branches of the Brazilian government.

Coventry railway station

Design Research Unit
NOTES: The station was designed by W. R. Headley who was the regional architect for the London Midland region of British Rail. The symbol and the 'British Rail' logotype were designed by the Design Research Unit.

Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Fifth Avenue, New York

Wright, Frank Lloyd (1867-1959)

French Embassy, Tokyo: the salon

Raymond, Antonin (1888-1976)

Port Murray House, Maidens near Turnberry, Ayrshire

Womersley, Peter (1923-1993)
NOTES: The house has been altered and extended in later years and is scheduled for demolition in 2015-2016.

Model of Eveline Lowe Primary School, Southwark, London

Great Britain. Department of Education & Science. Architects & Building Branch

Factory for Boots Pure Drug Company, Beeston, Nottinghamshire: the 'wets' building

Williams, Sir Evan Owen (1890-1969)
NOTES: This, the D10 Building, is noteworthy for its use of reinforced concrete and glass cladding. It is the earliest example of such a structural system in a large scale industrial building in England. It was Grade I listed in 1971.

Design for a shipping office: interior perspective of the entrance hall

Hawkesworth, Rex (1939-)
NOTES: This is a student drawing (final testmony of study).

Warehouse and distribution centre for Max Factor & Co. Inc., West Howe, Bournemouth, Dorset, at night

NOTES: See also RIBA101075 for a black and white version. This image is from a personal album belonging to John Pantlin.

Apartment building, Am Weissenhof 14-20, Weissenhofsiedlung, Stuttgart

Mies van der Rohe, Ludwig (1886-1969)
NOTES: Weissenhof, located on a hillside overlooking Stuttgart, was an experimental housing settlement designed by sixteen leading architects of the Modern Movement for the 1927 exhibition 'Die Wohnung' (The Home).

TWA Terminal, John F Kennedy International Airport, New York

Saarinen, Eero (1910-1961)
NOTES: Built on the marshy tidelands of Idlewild Golf Course, this airport was originally known as Idlewild. It was renamed John F. Kennedy, on 24 December 1963 in honour of the recently assasinated American president. This image is a scan of an original negative.

Housing, Erich-Weinert-Strasse, Wohnstadt Carl Legien, Berlin

Taut, Bruno (1880-1938)
NOTES: Carl Legien Wohnstadt is a large housing estate in Berlin's Prenzlauer Berg district. It was developed from 1928-1930 by Bruno Taut in collaboration with Franz Hillinger from the design office of the GEHAG (Gemeinnutzige Heimstatten-Spar-und Bau-AG). It was named after the German trade union leader Carl Legien. It is also one of the Berlin settlements of the 1920s on the UNESCO World Heritage list.