My very first experience of a Canadian suburb was visiting my prospective in-laws in a leafy Ottawa neighbourhood in 2005. I was struck by the similarities of the houses, a pastiche nightmare of vinyl siding cookie-cutter homes. I had the eerie experience of meeting the neighbor, who lived in a home that was exactly the same, except inverted. I briefly pondered the thought that if the dwellings were all alike did that mean the residents were too?
When I went back this year, after a hiatus of about five years, two new modern homes had sprung up on the street. Their large glassed windows and strong lines initiated a merciful break from the neoclassicism that was middle class Canada. Could it be that these houses were an example of a real change in aesthetics?
Cold and Stark
Many people associate those adjectives with modernism, yet in it's true sense, this type of design is more a question of advocating minimalism and functionality. Two great qualities for any space, considering our busy modern lives. Other characteristics of modernism include clean lines, openness, an abundance of natural light, neutral colours mixed with occasional bold accents, organic and industrial materials as well as an avoidance of excessive decoration. As one its founders famously said "less is more"!
Peter Oudejans, Principal designer for Oudejans Interiors, agrees: "Having recently built a modern home, we incorporated many of the principles of modern design and are delighted with the outcome. The house has vast windows, which keep the interior bright, and the open concept provides a wonderful inclusivity and flow throughout. It is also airy, uncluttered and spacious, achieved through abundant storage, floating stairs, glass railings and wall-hung vanities to name but a few of our tips for enhancing and enlarging spaces."
Why Modernism? Why now?
What has presaged the sudden allure of design that has prompted the new home owner to want more from their homes than just the practicality of living in it? What has birthed this engagement with contemporary architecture, this desire for individualism rather than conformity? The trend to modernism represents a greater change in the zeitgeist that encourages expression, creativity and individual style.
Ironically, this modernist movement has its roots in the past. From the strong lines of Frank Lloyd Wright to Mies van der Rohe, these glorious new homes are both harbingers of history and cutting-edge contemporary.
A Walk Down Memory Lane
Modernism came about as a result of a few factors including the industrial revolution, the advance of new technology, the new patterns of life that these brought about as well as a backlash to traditional architecture and design. The four architects regarded as the pioneers of modernism in design are Frank Lloyd Wright, Mies van der Rohe as well as Le Corbusier and Walter Gropius (the latter having established the Bauhaus).
Robie House (1908-10) is a quintessential example of Frank Lloyd Wright's Prairie style of architecture while Farnsworth House (1946-51) is Mies van der Rohe's demonstration of the open living space and glass wall concepts.
Modern houses come in many shape and forms but generally have multiple roof lines at different levels, interesting overhangs and unusual linear elements are incorporated to create a unique sculptural statement. Extensive use of glass is typical, in particular clerestory windows that are set high up in walls, allowing for light and privacy.
Modernism, in brief, was a rejection of gauche ornamentation and an embracing of minimalism, of style and of individuality. One can easily see the appeal to the millennial generation.
The Rebirth of Modernism
Those who enjoyed the Halcyon days that the eighties and nineties brought will remember the excess; the big shoulder pads, the huge hair and the 'monster' homes. (In fact, the average modern home is 1,000 square feet bigger than it was in 1973.) The days when buyers picked pre-designed homes from catalogues and wanted to fit in with the neighbours, rather than stand out. From furniture to landscaping, keeping up with the Joneses meant conforming to the consumerist culture that pervaded the national psyche.
As the pendulum swings, homes may not be getting smaller, but they are certainly more austere than their neo-classic peers. Evidence is all around demonstrating the growing trend to shift from traditional to modern design in both interiors and exteriors. Now home owners want a space uncluttered by adornments and moulded trimmings--they want simplicity, clean lines... in a word, elegance.
The modernist revival is born out of the desire to tread more lightly on the earth, to blend with the lines of nature just as Lloyd Wright's prairie style followed the lines of the grasslands. An embracing of the natural world, accomplished by bringing the outdoors in through large transparent surfaces, as was exemplified by Mies Van der Rohe's glass 'box'. By incorporating organic elements of the earth, such as wood and metal, the modernist home is more grounded than its lofty counterparts.
The popular use of recycled or upcycled elements reduces the carbon footprint of the home and the demand for increasingly energy-efficient buildings speaks to the emerging desire to live eco-friendlier lives.
As a designer who encourages his clients to choose green options where possible, Oudejans sees the relevance of combining design with sustainability. "Modern design is increasingly ideal for many people in today's world. From the young professional living in a small condo attempting to make the area feel larger, to the busy family with limited time for cleaning ornate spaces and endless objects, to those down-sizing who want to reduce clutter accumulated over the years. Living with less in our lives is truly freeing as well as less costly, less work and definitely less harmful to our planet."
Modernism suits our new moderate approach; it mirrors our desire to take responsibility for the impact we have on the globe and for the growing need to be individuals, to stand out and to take an active and creative role in the fabrication of our homes.
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Why craft boring suspension bridges or arched overpasses when humanity is capable of building massive architectural feats like this to cross a river? The impressive, undulating design, destined to function as a pedestrian footbridge over the Dragon King Harbour River in China, is the product of NEXT Architects. The bridge design involves three individual, swirling lanes hovering over the picturesque landscape of Changsha. The rendering won an international competition associated with a new public park in the area last year, and the project is currently under construction. “The construction with the intersecting connections is based on the principal of the Möbius ring,” states Michel Schreinemachers on the NEXT website. “On the other hand it refers to a Chinese knot that comes from an ancient decorative Chinese folk art,” John van de Water adds.
This image of an 80-story skyscraper, imagined by Dynamic Architecture's David Fisher back in 2008, is a far-fetched rendering fit for Dubai's future rich and famous. Why? Because it rotates. The enormous, towering building would have floors that move ever so slightly, completing a 360 degree rotation every 90 minutes. Forget about fighting for an east-facing apartment, the suites in Dynamic Architecture's creation would have all four cardinal directions covered. And it get's better. The building would be equipped with several giant wind turbines that generate electricity for tenants, and penthouse residents would be able to park their car at their apartments thanks to nifty lifts. While we're not sure this design will ever actually come to fruition (it was scheduled to be up and running in 2010), it's certainly a visual feast worth ogling.
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nvisible architecture is the calling card of science fiction design, and we're happy to report that architects of today are on the case. Of course, there's South Korea's in-the-works, LED-clad Infinity Tower. CNN reported in 2013 that "the invisibility illusion will be achieved with a high-tech LED facade system that uses a series of cameras that will send real-time images onto the building's reflective surface." But there's also the shorter, less flashy structure (pictured above) designed by New York-based architecture firm stpmj. The parallelogram-shaped barn would be made of wood and sheeted with mirror film, at a cost of $5,000. The idea is to "blur the perceptual boundary" between object and setting, according to a statement sent by the architects to The Huffington Post earlier this year. We have to say we're impressed with architects' ability to push the boundaries of what invisible really means.
For his series "Dauphin Island," artist Dionisio González designed dreamlike, futuristic forts made from iron and concrete, fusing the role of artist with that of architect, engineer and urban planner. The peculiar edifices -- the hybrid of a beach house, a bunker and a space ship -- were designed with the residents of Dauphin Island in mind. Located off the coast of Alabama in the Gulf of Mexico, the tiny landmass is known for experiencing perpetual and catastrophic hurricanes. When a storm hits the small island of around 1,200 people, it often washes away much of the coastline, leaving residents to rebuild their homes again and again. González created hypothetical blueprints for his forts, illustrating how his bulbous, concrete structures would better suit the fraught island's populous. You can learn more about the project on his website. Keep in mind, these structures are not yet slated for reality, but they certainly paint an interesting picture of what futuristic island homes could look like.
Dubai's Burj Khalifa is widely known as the world's tallest building, measuring in at a whopping 2,716.5 feet and 160 stories. The structure itself is mesmerizing, but what's even more intriguing is a think tank's bizarre proposal to cover the towering skyscraper in a giant fabric casing made of reflective material. We learned about the project, dubbed EXO-BURJ, in 2014. The strange, sock-like covering would wrap around the entire building, from spire to ground level, in a "super-lightweight, reflective and semi-transparent fabric material," according to a description by the Dubai-based think tank, OP-EN. The temporary "sweater" would reflect the expansive urban scenes around it, turning the Burj Khalifa into a massive mirror in the vein of Christo and Jeanne-Claude.
What is there to do with an outdated, eyesore of a power plant in the future? Why not give the sprawling facilities a green makeover, one that would serve two functions: to beautify the structure and provide a new way of dealing with CO2 emissions. Here's how it would work: The architecture firm AZPA (Alejandro Zaera-Polo Arquitectura) plans to turn the existing Wedel Vattenfall power plant in Germany into a new industrial complex, one that would be built up from the previous facilities and wrapped with a corrugated skin of creeper plants. This strategically-placed skin would not only soften the exterior aesthetic of the plant, but it would create a sheath of creepers to absorb CO2 emissions. AZPA describes the endeavor, imagined in 2013, as "an attempt to resolve the conflict between the natural ecology and the manmade environment."
Earlier this year, the Museum of Modern Art and MoMA PS1 selected The Living’s “circular tower of organic and reflective bricks” -- called "Hy-Fi" -- as the winner of the Young Architects Program’s (YAP) 15th edition. The temporary structure will be built using a new method of bio-design incorporating entirely organic material. As Arch Daily reported back in February, the tower will involve "the unique stacking of two new materials: Ecovative-manufactured organic bricks, made from corn stalks and specially-developed living root structures; and reflective bricks, designed by 3M, that were used as growing trays for the organic bricks before being implemented into the structure." Bonus: According to MoMA's site, Hy-Fi will is the first sizable structure to claim near-zero carbon emissions in its construction process and represents a 100% compostable design. “Recurring to the latest developments in biotech, it reinvents the most basic component of architecture -- the brick -- as both a material of the future and a classic trigger for open-ended design possibilities."
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It's hard not to love this New York design project from Family and PlayLab, which plans to bring a giant filtration system to the murky waters between Manhattan and Brooklyn. The project would take the shape of a 164-foot long floating pool set to take shape in 2016 -- if all funding efforts go as planned. If there are swimming pools in our future, let them look like this. In a statement released at the end of 2013, pool masterminds Archie Lee Coates IV, Dong-Ping Wong and Jeff Franklin announced they are beginning construction on Float Lab, an experimental version of the planned 164-foot +POOL. They raised the funds for the smaller pool (35 feet by 35 feet, to be exact) through their last Kickstarter endeavor. With a launch date planned for this summer, the mini pool will put the team's filtration membranes to the test in real-river conditions. "We dont think about using the river recreationally at all," Coates explained in a previous interview with Huff Post. "So as an architect you think, 'What if we could change that or propose an idea that could change that?' We decided to pitch [+Pool] to the world. We just had no idea the response we would get."
From the outside it resembles a giant, plushy purple jelly bean, and on the inside it looks more like a glowing, colored seashell. But this balloon-like form is actually the world's first inflatable concert hall, entitled "Ark Nova." Iconic British sculptor Anish Kapoor and Japanese architect Arata Isozaki teamed up to create the structure, meant to tour through areas of Japan affected by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. It's a novel idea that could make for an innovative design strategy in many other fields. "I am honored to have been asked to design Ark Nova for the Tohoku area," Kapoor states on the Ark Nova site. "The structure defines a space for community and for music in which color and form enclose. I hope that the devastation can be overcome by creativity. Music can give solace and bring community together and in so doing can help us to see we are not alone."
While wooden skyscrapers might not be as sensational as the previously mentioned rotating tower, the idea of building 34 wooden stories on on top of the other is pretty astonishing. And it might become a reality if Scandinavian practice C.F. Møller and DinnellJohansson -- 2013's winners of the HSB Stockholm architectural competition -- follow through with their rendering for the world's tallest wooden skyscraper. The design (pictured above) is one of three ”ultra-modern residential high-rises” planned for Stockholm’s city center in 2023, but the catch is, only one of these proposals will actually be built.
It's no secret that New York's Gowanus Canal is a breeding ground for toxic waste, polluted runoff, and raw sewage that's -- rather unfortunately -- been dumped directly into the area's bodies of water. But a little project known as "Sponge Park" is hoping to transform the Brooklyn locale into a cleaner, properly filtered sanctuary -- and provide a model for future urban design. The Gowanus Canal Conservancy and the landscape architecture firm dlandstudio announced in the summer of 2013 that they plan to employ a system of landscape buffers and remediation wetlands to slow, absorb, and filter Gowanus' polluted sewer runoff before it reaches the canal. So, not only will the Sponge Park turn 11.4 acres of contaminated fields into a pleasant waterfront arena, it will provide a means of absorbing harmful pollutants that continue to ooze into the industrial battlefield. "In a process called phytoremediation, specially selected plants metabolize pollutants and heavy metals present in the contaminated water," the American Society of Landscape Architects explains on its website. "Dirty water from the combined sewer system is captured in underground storage tanks and slowly released into the landscape."
In 2014, Chinese architecture firm MAD unveiled renderings of Chaoyang Park Plaza, a center of skyscrapers, office blocks and public spaces meant to mimic the appearance of mountains, hills and lakes depicted in Chinese landscape paintings. The complex is now under construction in Beijing, and will result in an expansive sky line seemingly ripped from the pages of a futuristic novel. "By transforming features of Chinese classical landscape painting, such as lakes, springs, forests, creeks, valleys, and stones, into modern 'city landscapes,' the urban space creates a balance between high urban density and natural landscape," MAD writes on its website. "The forms of the buildings echo what is found in natural landscapes, and re-introduces nature to the urban realm." Lucky for Beijing, the innovative skyline is already under construction.
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