What is Modernism?

The National Trust for Historic Preservation defines modernism as the following:

“…a design language with emphases on form rather than ornament, structure and materials rather than picturesque constructions, and the rational and efficient use of space.

The Modern movement in architecture in the United States flourished beginning in the 1930s, and encompassed individual design movements with their own individual ways of expressing Modern ideals. These include the International, Expressionist, Brutalist, New Formalist, and even Googie movements, to name a few. Technical innovation, experimentation, and rethinking the way humans lived in and used the designed environment, whether buildings or landscapes, were hallmarks of Modern architectural practice.”

While many communities were slow adopters of modern architecture’s ideals, wealthy individuals pioneered the way by hiring architects cities that attracted new design such as Los Angeles, Miami, Dallas, and Phoenix.

In today’s historic preservation movement, critical issue revolves around preserving the original design intent.  As with any rehabilitation or adaptive use project, one is constantly faced with value judgments regarding the condition of materials, retaining authenticity, and meeting new programmatic demands.

This is where current preservation principles and philosophies present a fundamental dilemma.  Wheras once the significance was found in the details of brickwork and stone carvings, new design relies on the sleekness of forms, geometry, and transparency of modern design.  That authenticity of the original design and the core concepts of post-World War II ideals take on additional significance.