Modern or Contemporary: What Is the Difference?

What is the distinction between modern and contemporary architecture? Why the distinction? In their most literal,”contemporary” is the design being produced today, the structure of this moment. “Modern” architecture contrasts with the past — specifically the conventional styles of prior to the Industrial Revolution.

So in this way”contemporary” isn’t limited to one stylistic thread. And”contemporary” recalls the ancient – and mid-20th-century architecture embodying the ideals of the machine age: an absence of ornament, constructions of concrete or steel, large expanses of glass, a whitewash (usually stucco over brick) or another minimal exterior saying, and spacious floor plans.

While this starts to specify the difference, there is an evident use of this term”contemporary” that refers to a particular breed of layout today, such that new postmodern, neo-Classical or other neo-traditional buildings aren’t included. The word’s use is obviously narrower than the literal definition, yet it’s still rooted in the today; contemporary architecture is of its period, therefore innovative and forward-looking. In this sense it’s rooted in the contemporary, even if it does not resemble it stylistically.

The photographs that follow respond to this question,”contemporary or contemporary?” I hope the answers will elucidate the similarities and differences between the styles, further aiding the appreciation of both styles of design.

Hugh Jefferson Randolph Architects

Modern. In the instance of the picture, the question is a trick one, because we’re taking a look at a house from 1939. It features expansive glass in a semi-circular volume, a cantilevered upper floor, corner windows, and a whitewash finish. This house in Austin, Texas was the inspiration for its four-condo job in the space by Hugh Jefferson Randolph.

Hugh Jefferson Randolph Architects

Modern. The nearby four-condo job by Hugh Jefferson Randolph is obviously rooted in the modern structure of its nearby predecessor: whitewash surfaces predominate, corner windows are evident, and cantilevers and overhangs are available. Another aspect of the modern style they share is an intentional asymmetry, a departure in the Nordic bilateral symmetry which was prevalent prior to the 20th century.


Contemporary. The MuSh Residence is an obvious departure from the previous job. Instead of white, the strong walls are covered in zinc with randomly spaced reveals. A cantilever is found, but its relationship to the main quantity is much more complicated (not just an extension of it, like the very first photograph ), and it’s offset by a notch on the other side. The house might be boxy and flat-roofed like most contemporary structure, but its own idiosyncrasies make it contemporary through and through.


The MuSh Home (the title and switching upper-lower situation make it quite contemporary also ) is really comprised of two cube-like buildings: a three-story house (previous photograph ) and a two-story quantity with garage adjacent to the street; involving is a courtyard. The shorter quantity has the exact same literal and skin expression of flow via glass. The makeup is much more free-form than contemporary buildings.

Amitzi Architects

Modern. A Few jobs by Amitzi Architects of Israel adopt the tenets of modern structure, or What’s also Known as the International Style, following the 1932 MoMA exhibition curated by Philip Johnson and Henry-Russell Hitchcock of the Identical name. That display reiterated the ideals of modernism as a style, combining architects and buildings throughout the world through the articulation of volumes, windows and walls. House L does it well it seems like it might have been created 70 decades back.

Amitzi Architects

Modern. House K from Amitzi Architects features simpler volumes compared to House L, but the strong walls are treated to the identical whitewash. The window treatment is of note ; the louvered screens cut down on direct sunlight. Though hermetically sealed office buildings — the high modernism of Mies van der Rohe — provide the impression that contemporary structure ignores climate, many ancient – and mid-20th-century contemporary buildings used architectural components in reaction to sun, wind, etc.. This simple house is rooted in that contemporary vein.

Belzberg Architects

Contemporary. Like the previous example, the Skyline Residence in Los Angeles uses architectural components to cut down on direct sunlight. Nevertheless the layout by Belzberg Architects articulates the flat wood planks in a fashion that is contemporary: they angle and overlap, providing a feather-like look. The form of the house is also rather intriguing…

Belzberg Architects

… And the front of the house gives an indication of what’s happening: the second-story cantilever produces a carport but additionally a surface for watching films, something quite LA.. This”drive-in theatre” represents a hybrid state: it is a house and a cinema. This further roots the house in a contemporary style rather than a contemporary one, since the latter preserved distinctions between different elements of life (live-work-play, etc).

Hanrahan Meyers Architects

Modern. This extended and low house in upstate New York is an easy composition of rock and glass floating beneath the landscape onto a plinth of sorts. The roof overhang, supported by slender round columns, shields the full-height glass wall from summer sunlight. Each component — roofs, walls, plinth — unite to create a solid horizontal composition that recalls the contemporary houses of Mies van der Rohe.

Stelle Lomont Rouhani Architects

Modern. Another Miesian house is the house on Long Island by Stelle Architects. A solid bar with pool supports and sits perpendicularly to the glass box. The open floor plan is more evident from the transparency through the box. This house is obviously contemporary, nearly orthodox except for the manner in which it is raised above the surrounding dunes.

Kanner Architects – CLOSED

Contemporary. Full-height glazing does not solely a contemporary building make. What initially seems like a glass box framed in red is a contemporary interpretation of a single, sheared and changed in the center. Here the ribbon-like continuity of this stucco-red framework has become the most overt expression, a sharp departure from the clear arrangement and framing of contemporary houses.

Jensen Architects

Contemporary. This last photo illustrates one vein of contemporary structure: sustainability. This extreme instance, a demonstration home named ScrapHouse spearheaded by Public Architecture, is fully made of salvaged materials: railroad ties, street signs, shower doors, and sometimes even phone books. As engaging designer Jensen Architects indicate,”some materials were re-invented to their intended purpose,” a thought which makes this job as contemporary as could be. Form does not exist until the building is accomplished, it’s driven by the irregular design palette of salvaged materials.

Next: Modern vs. Contemporary — the Interiors Edition

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