Contemporary Architecture: A Present-Day Approach to Design and Function
Contemporary architecture is a movement featuring various styles and construction methods. It’s evident in minimalist and experimental designs.
Contemporary architecture is not the same as modern architecture. Instead, it’s an evolving style with a focus on the latest technologies, energy efficiency, and cutting-edge designs.
What Is Contemporary Architecture?
Contemporary architecture uses modern materials, techniques, and technologies. It features a minimalist, sleek design aesthetic and unique building elements.
Structures featuring contemporary architecture may have large windows, open floor plans, solar panels, and green roofs. It’s also common for this style to integrate indoor and outdoor spaces.
Modern vs. Contemporary Architecture: What’s the Difference?
Modern and contemporary architecture are distinct, but people use them interchangeably.
Modern architecture arose in the early 20th century. It emphasizes functionality, simplicity, minimalist lines, and geometric shapes.
Some examples of modern architectural styles include Prairie School style homes, mid-century modern, and ranches.
Contemporary architecture, on the other hand, evolves to reflect cultural, social, and technical changes. It’s not bound to any design principles or trends.
Contemporary architecture features angles, curves, free-form composition, asymmetry, and open floor plans. Huge glass windows, mixed materials, an emphasis on nature, and sustainable designs are also common.
Tracing the Roots of Contemporary Architecture
Contemporary architecture refers to current styles and designs with no set definition. It traces its roots in early 20th-century modernist designs.
The architectural method aims to create a modern aesthetic. The International Style, developed by architects Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Le Corbusier, dominated after World War II. It used steel and glass, functional open floor plans, and minimal ornamentation.
Architectural styles diversified in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. A variety of approaches have been developed and practiced.
Many contemporary architects also incorporate elements of traditional and historical styles.
Contemporary Architecture Characteristics
Contemporary architecture incorporates experimental designs, texture, and minimalist aesthetics. It also integrates art and design.
1. Sustainable, Energy-Efficient Design Elements
Contemporary buildings combine elements that conserve resources and lessen environmental impacts. Common sustainable characteristics include passive solar layout, green roofing, and energy-efficient lighting.
For example, architects enhance solar energy efficiency with south-facing windows, thermal mass, and shading devices. Green walls and roofs provide insulation, reduce stormwater runoff, and improve indoor air quality. Low-flow fixtures and greywater systems are standard in contemporary architecture to reduce water consumption.
2. Integration of Indoor and Outdoor Spaces
Contemporary architecture integrates various designs to blend indoor and outdoor spaces. For example, contemporary buildings may use large windows and glass doors to harmonize each area. Both allow natural light to the interior and provide views of the surrounding environment.
Architects also integrate indoor and outdoor spaces in homes with patios, decks, and balconies. Sliding doors or folding glass walls help connect with the main living areas and create an open, airy feel.
In skyscraper buildings, contemporary architecture connects to outdoor spaces at rooftop gardens, terraces, and balconies. These spaces are ideal for entertaining residents and offer expansive views of the surrounding city.
Installing “green” or living roofs alongside plants and vegetation helps enhance the outdoor experience. Living roofs also insulate the building and reduce energy consumption.
3. Emphasis on Light and Space
Skylights, atriums, and light wells help illuminate the indoor space. Modern architects make provisions for open floor layouts and high ceilings. These designs help create multipurpose spaces for offices, playrooms, and guestrooms.
4. Use of Technology and Automation
Contemporary architectural style includes smart home features, building management, accessibility, and safety systems. Homeowners can use smartphones to control smart home lighting, heating, and surveillance.
Modern structures also have accessibility technologies. Automatic doors, elevators, voice-activated assistants, and tactile pavement are common examples. Security cameras, alarm systems, and fire protection systems are standard in contemporary homes.
Landmark Examples of Contemporary Architecture
The Shard, London, United Kingdom
Renzo Piano, an inventive Italian architect, designed London’s contemporary Shard skyscraper. The Shard is famous for its pyramidal design and glass construction.
The Shard’s interlocking glass pyramid shapes rise to a pointed pinnacle. The building’s glass panels mirror the cityscape, creating movement and dynamism. Its upper stories’ glass panels form a series of “sky gardens” with magnificent city views.
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, United States
New York City’s Guggenheim Museum is home to modern art. Frank Lloyd Wright built it in 1959. The museum’s unique style has made it a modern architectural landmark. Its spiraling, seashell-like shape is one of its most prominent design characteristics.
The museum’s white concrete panels form curved, sweeping patterns across its facade. Spiraling galleries ring the building’s atrium. Visitors climb up the ramp and see the paintings sequentially in this design.
The atrium’s huge, round skylights provide natural light inside the Guggenheim. It fills the building with gentle, diffused light, improving visitors’ viewing experience and calming the atmosphere.
Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York, United States
The 1929-founded MoMA showcases contemporary art. Japanese architect Yoshio Taniguchi designed the building. It’s a notable example of contemporary architecture.
Transparent glass walls define the MoMA building, offering street-level museum viewing. The building’s galleries surround a skylit atrium.
Mercedes-Benz Museum, Stuttgart, Germany
Stuttgart’s modern Mercedes-Benz Museum is a headline example of contemporary architecture. UNStudio designed and completed it in 2006. The museum’s unique style attracts tourists and architecture enthusiasts.
Mercedes-Benz Museum’s double helix shape resembles a DNA molecule. Its interlocking stainless steel panels in sweeping arcs and angles. The structure has galleries around a skylit atrium.
Its design emphasizes Mercedes-technological Benz’s prowess. The double helix symbolizes the company’s long innovation and future commitment history.