Modern vs. Contemporary Houses (Style Spotlight)

modern or contemporary architecture

By John Hill


What's the difference between modern and contemporary architecture? Why the distinction? At its most literal, "contemporary" is the architecture being produced now, the architecture of the moment. "Modern" architecture breaks with the past -- specifically the traditional styles pre-dating the Industrial Revolution.

So in this sense "contemporary" is not limited to a single stylistic thread. And "modern" recalls the early- and mid-20th-century architecture embodying the ideals of the machine age: an absence of ornament, structures of steel or concrete, large expanses of glass, a whitewash (usually stucco-over-brick) or another minimal exterior expression, and open floor plans.

While this starts to define the difference, there is an evident use of the term "contemporary" that refers to a particular strain of design today, such that new postmodern, neo-Classical or other neo-traditional buildings are not included. The term's use is clearly narrower than the literal definition, yet it's still rooted in the now; contemporary architecture is of its time, therefore innovative and forward-looking. In this sense it's rooted in the modern, even if it does not resemble it stylistically.

The gallery below responds to the question, "Modern or contemporary?" Hopefully, it explains their similarities and differences, and helps in the appreciation of both styles.


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Mid-Century Modern Architecture

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